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130 Years & Counting! Highlights from Alverno's History

Early Years


Mother Alexia Hoell
“Impossible is a word I do not know.” -Mother Alexia Hoell


Mother M. Alexia Hoell, co-foundress of the first School Sisters of Saint Francis congregation in the United States, is considered the first president of Alverno College.  She established and presided over St. Joseph Convent in Milwaukee, Wisconsin as Superior General to the community of sisters.   The need to educate future teachers was realized with the creation of St. Joseph Normal School in 1887.  The Normal School would later evolve into Alverno Teachers College and, finally, Alverno College. Mother Alexia served the Milwaukee Province of the School Sisters of St. Francis until 1907 when she returned to Germany to establish a German Province for the community.

 

Alexia Hall which opened in January 2015, was
named to honor Mother Alexia.
Alexia Hall


Seeking a New Home and Founding a New Community

They began as three: Emma Franziska (Mother Alexia) Hoell, Paulina (Mother Alfons) Schmid, and Helena (Sister Clara) Seiter. Their fervent desire was to help those in need.  On August 27, 1873, these three brave women left the port of Bremen  Germany aboard the Koeln, setting their sights for America. Their intentions, to found a congregation of Franciscan Sisters.

Their journey took them from New York to Philadelphia, then on to Chicago. Awaiting an invitation to begin work on a new congregation, the women finally received word that the destiny of their Franciscan order would be in Wisconsin.  The sisters first settled in New Cassel (now Campbellsport), Fond du Lac County, Wisconsin, establishing their community on April 28, 1874.

On May 18, 1874 an orphan, Theresa Hegner made application to join the New Cassel community.  The eleven year old orphan, who later became known as Mother Stanislaus, would assist Mother Alexia and Mother Alfons in the formation of the educational institution that is now known as Alverno College.


The first Motherhouse in New Cassel (Campbellsport,) WI

As the Sisters’ numbers grew, a new convent was needed to accommodate their flourishing order.  Their new home was eventually built in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on a parcel of land that was purchased in 1886. The new convent and grounds, built near Milwaukee’s southwest city limits, would be the future home to the St. Joseph Normal School, the precursor of Alverno College.


This image is from the book, He Sent Two: The Story of the Beginning of the
School Sisters of St. Francis
by Sister Mary Francis Borgia, O.S.F. 
The book, which was published in 1965, is part of the Alverno College Library
collection, call # 271.973 R846.


In November 1887, St. Joseph's Normal School, the precursor of Alverno College, was founded to teach School Sisters of St. Francis to be parish teachers. It was housed in a wing of the convent. The first teachers were Sr. Josepha Murnane, Sr. Maria Stresser, and Sr. Seraphim Schroeder. In 1890,  St. Joseph Normal School received a charter from the state of Wisconsin to grant degrees.


This image is from the book, He Sent Two: The Story of the Beginning of the
School Sisters of St. Francis
by Sister Mary Francis Borgia, O.S.F. 
The book, which was published in 1965, is part of the Alverno College Library
collection, call # 271.973 R846.

 

These are the ruins of the first Motherhouse of the School Sisters of St. Francis
on Layton Blvd. in Milwaukee. It was destroyed by fire on March 31, 1890.

SSSF Motherhouse after 1890 fire

 

The sisters, eager to continue their work in Milwaukee, had a second
Motherhouse erected. It was completed and opened on January 5, 1891.
Rebuilt SSSF Motherhouse
This image is also from the book, He Sent Two: The Story of the Beginning of the
School Sisters of St. Francis
by Sister Mary Francis Borgia, O.S.F. 
The book, which was published in 1965, is part of the Alverno College Library
collection, call # 271.973 R846.

 

This second structure eventually housed Alverno Teachers College, St. Joseph Convent Conservatory of Music and  Sacred Heart School of Nursing. The Motherhouse still stands at 1501 S. Layton Blvd. Milwaukee, Wisconsin and now serves as the World Headquarters for the School Sisters of Saint Francis.

 

With the guidance of Mother Alexia, the School Sisters of St. Francis established Sacred Heart Sanitarium. Built on land adjacent to the Motherhouse, the sanitarium was located at 1545 South Layton Boulevard. It opened its doors in December 1893.

Sacred Heart Sanitarium
Opening its doors in December 1893,  Sacred Heart Sanitarium would be the future
home of Sacred Heart School of Nursing (precursor to the JoAnn McGrath School
of Nursing) which was established in 1930.

 

In 1907 Mother Alexia chose to return to Germany permanently in order to work more fully with the German Province for the School Sisters of St. Francis that she had helped to establish there in 1895. Mother Alfons Schmidt, co-foundress of the community and St. Joseph Normal School became the next leader of the School Sisters of St. Francis.

 

 

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