Holy Family College will live on in our hearts

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Bishop Ricken

Dear brothers and sisters,

As you may have read in the last issue of The Compass, the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity in Manitowoc made the difficult decision to cease operations at and formally close Holy Family College on Aug. 29, 2020, the last day of the college’s summer academic term. Under this plan, the college will discontinue all classes and operations at the end of August. This is without a doubt, sad news as we continue to struggle in this COVID-19 world, but I am proud to acknowledge the tremendous legacy this institution has left the faithful of northeast Wisconsin and beyond.

Long before the 1869 establishment of their religious community in Manitowoc, the Baltimore Council in 1852 declared education a priority for every parish in the United States when it said, “bishops are exhorted to have a Catholic school in every parish and the teachers should be paid from the parochial funds.” It is a decree the bishops of Green Bay took seriously then, and I continue to take seriously today.

Before I say anything further, let me begin with a heartfelt thank you to the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity for their dedication to the field of education throughout their 150-year history. These faithful sisters founded Holy Family College in 1935 and over the years adapted to the various needs of the changing professional community on the Lakeshore and beyond.

To all those who have been affiliated with Holy Family College over its long history, you are in my prayers. The good work done at the college was pivotal within the Diocese of Green Bay. May the Lord continue to bless the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity and all those who were educated by and served the community of Holy Family College!

To help put some framework around the impact of the college, I offer this history, as chronicled in the Diocesan 150th Jubilee book.

The sisters founded Holy Family College in 1935, but it has roots that go back much further. Holy Family College was founded as an academy in 1885, with the purpose of preparing young women who entered the religious community for the apostolic work of teaching.

In the 1920s, as many states began requiring state education certificates or a degree, the sisters were sent to teachers’ colleges to pursue academic degrees. As the Depression took its toll, the superior of the community, Mother Generose Cahill, had a wing constructed at the convent so the sisters could earn their degrees there. It achieved four-year college status in 1935 and became Holy Family College.

The college began admitting laywomen on a regular basis in 1957 and became coeducational in 1969. In 1972, after becoming separately incorporated, the college was renamed Silver Lake College of the Holy Family. And in an effort to return to their Franciscan Catholic college roots, on Sept. 20, 2019, they took back the name Holy Family College.

The diocese was a partner with the college in recent years, offering educational programs for those working in church ministry. Today we call this the Emmaus Program. The program began in 1986 and in 1995 became the first Diocesan Formation Program accredited through the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. We are eternally grateful for the relationship we shared with Holy Family College over these many years.

For 85 years, this institution of higher education has been a part of the fabric of the Lakeshore area, the Diocese of Green Bay and beyond. The sisters made this decision after careful consideration, much discussion and a lot of thought as well as a detailed analysis of the college’s fiscal position. The COVID-19 pandemic only made things harder and confirmed the decision to close.

Since the announcement on May 4, other higher education institutions have come forward to offer their thanks for past relationships with the college and support to the students, faculty and staff during this time of transition. We are a community here in northeast Wisconsin and as such we suffer this loss together. Holy Family College is closing its doors, yet its impact on the lives of many will allow it to live on in our hearts and in the history of our area for years to come.

Follow Bishop Ricken on Twitter, @BpDavidRicken.