‘One Mission, Many Missionaries’ documents history of Bay Settlement Franciscans

By Patricia Kasten | The Compass | February 19, 2021

Ministry continues today with immigrants and refugees

Editor’s note: This is the last in a two-part series. Click here to view part one.

GREEN BAY — When the Sisters of St. Francis of the Holy Cross decided to make a historical video about their 150-plus years of ministry in the Green Bay Diocese, the result was “One Mission, Many Missionaries.” As noted earlier (Feb. 12, 2021), some of that mission covers the 90 years that these Franciscan sisters served at what is now the National Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help in Champion. Yet there’s a lot more to the story.

Also important to that mission were the immigrants — a part of their ministry that continues today with Hispanic and Somali immigrants and refugees to this area of the state.

Dan Larson, of Com-Video Productions, LLC of Green Bay, shares some footage of the “One Mission, Many Missionaries” video, with Srs. Martin Vandervest (seated) and Nancy Langlois, executive producer, at the sisters’ motherhouse. (Renae Bauer | Sisters of St. Francis of the Holy Cross)

Sr. Ann Rehrauer, community president, said Crosier Fr. Edward Daems, their priest-founder,  believed that new immigrants “were feeling, in a sense, at a loss. He came, and the Crosiers came and the Norbertines came, to help share and provide for the faith, because that brought (immigrants) both a sense of comfort and consolation.”

She added that Fr. Daems also realized that immigrants “could never take their place as citizens without an equal education in terms of math, reading and an ability to speak the language. So it was a dual mission in terms of faith development, but also the educational mission.”

That mission led the community into starting vacation Bible schools very early on.

“There were parishes that didn’t have schools, especially rural parishes,” Sr. Ann explained. “And many (parish members) were immigrants.”

“From our earliest days,” she added, “that has been part of our history and part of our commitment — not just to those who are financially poor, but for those who come to a new land and need the same sense of comfort and consolation that the faith gives, but also the same sense of skills that educational ministry brought.”

The work with those from other lands continued.

In this undated photo, young women pray at St. Francis Prepatory Novitiate, now known as the National Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help.

“In the summer,” Sr. Nancy Langlois explained of the mid-20th century, “when the immigrant communities came to pick cherries and cucumbers and pickles, our Sr. Jean Marie (Ambrosius) would work up there in Oconto. Once a week, the sisters would go up to those communities — to play with the children and work with the adults.” Sr. Nancy spearheaded the video production over a two-year span of research and scripting.

The sisters also taught religious education in more remote areas of the diocese — Pound, Peshtigo, Lena, Klondike and Coleman. This led to a parish-based weekend program, called REAP (Religious Education Area Programs), offering a speaker for parents, age-group classes, Mass and a meal. Those lesson plans later became part of “The Green Bay Plan,” a faith education approach which was used throughout the world in the 1970s and 1980s.

The sisters have also been involved in health care from the start.  

“Fr. Daems was very instrumental in the healing ministry,” Sr. Nancy noted. “Many people in this area looked upon him as a doctor because of his knowledge of herbal medicine. So the sisters learned that from him.”

That work included Fr. Daems teaching his skills to the community’s founding members: Srs. Pauline La Plante, Christine Rousseau, Pius Doyle and Mary Van Lanen.

Sr. Nancy worked at McCormick Home in Green Bay from 1984-93. That senior care facility was founded in 1921 by the McCormick Sisters, Sarah and Amelia, at a time when there were few options for care for the elderly outside of the home.

As Franciscans, the sisters are involved with ecology — their current motherhouse is a model of energy efficiency and a love of nature. This has always been important to their ministry because they follow the Rule of St. Francis, now the patron saint of ecology.

When people watch the video, the sisters say they hope they see not just the story of their community, but the story of faith in northeast Wisconsin.

“We want people to know the whole story,” Sr. Ann said. “That it’s more than the apparition and the (Peshtigo) fire. It’s about baptismal call, but it’s also about inspiration. … So I think that one of my hopes in terms of the video is that people will see, in this story, the parallels in their own lives in the sense of the call to ministry. … 

“So, yes, the sisters did some fine things,” added Sr. Ann. “Adele did some fine things and touched people’s lives. But each one of us has that capacity. So I am hoping that the people who see this, that they see their own gift of being able to preach the Gospel in words and also by their lives. To, in fact, carry out that same mission, that same spirit of prayer, that same spirit of hospitality that helps to nurture faith, in their children, in their grandchildren, but also in kindness to the neighbors.” 

The video “One Mission, Many Missionaries” can be viewed at vimeo.com/425500310.

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