Alive with Franciscan joy

Jubilee Day -- Moments to remember

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Ordinary encounters are now treasured memories and examples of living religious life
Sister Carolyn
Sister Virginia
Sister Mary Paul
Sister Bridget
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Sister Jeanne

by Sister Elise Cholewinski

I remember how, when I had the opportunity 20 years ago to visit the Holy Land, Sister Carolyn Zahringer was my roommate. Although we had never lived together and I didn’t know her very well, I found her to be a wonderful companion, someone with whom I could easily share the special joys of each day. She took a real interest in what impressed me as we traveled from one site to another, and did not hesitate to share her feelings about what touched her deeply.

I remember going through a very difficult summer program many years ago. I arrived home at the convent on a July day, just before dinner. As I anxiously entered the dining room, out of nowhere came Sister Virginia Churas. She put her arms around me and gave me a big hug, and I have cherished that moment ever since.

I remember lying on a gurney in a hospital, waiting to be wheeled into the operating room for knee surgery, and I was a basket case! Sister Mary Paul Thetreau, with a background in nursing, sat by my side, and in a gentle manner, along with a little teasing, calmed my fear, at least a little!

I remember bringing a friend to see our convent, and we concluded our tour in the library, where we met Sister Bridget Stumpf. Before I knew it, she was holding open a book about icons and explaining them in great detail in a way that revealed the depth of her spirituality.

I remember finishing giving a retreat and being ready to leave the retreat house on a Sunday afternoon, when I bumped into Sister Jeanne Jarvis. She had come from some distance, just to spend time in prayer. Sometime later I would hear her say that she just wanted to be “saturated with Jesus”.

On this Sunday, August 12, we will celebrate our Jubilee Day and will honor these five Sisters. The convent chapel will be filled, the liturgy will be beautiful, and wonderful words will be spoken about the 345 years of service that these Sisters have collectively given to God’s people. As big as the number is, as impressive as the celebration is, I will treasure those one-on-one moments when each of these Sisters touched my heart and spoke to me with great clarity the meaning of religious life.

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Some places never leave us

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Our lives are forever changed by God, Mary and our 90 years of ministry at the Shrine
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by Sister Elise Cholewinski

Where is the Shrine?  For the Sisters of St. Francis of the Holy Cross, the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help is located just a few miles from our convent, near a town called Champion, Wisconsin.  It is holy ground where, in 1859, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to a young woman named Adele Brice.  In 2010 the apparitions received ecclesiastical approbation (official church approval), and the place has now become a national shrine, visited by thousands of people each year.

For 90 years following Adele’s death our Sisters took care of "The Chapel" (as it was known then) in the midst of Belgian farms. We operated, at succeeding stages in its history, a boarding school, a crippled children’s home, a girls’ high school, and a retreat house.  In 1992 the Community relinquished the property to the Diocese of Green Bay.

Continuing the celebration of our Community's 150th anniversary, the Sisters and Associates gathered on Mother’s Day to honor Mary and to honor the time that the Sisters spent at "The Chapel".  Many stories were shared about healings that occurred at the shrine, lives that were touched by prayer at that holy place, and the ministry that the Sisters carried on there, reflecting the Blessed Mother’s devotion to her Child.  As we moved through the events of the afternoon, I sensed within me something of the aura of the Shrine that is still with us.  It is so much a part of who we are today, as we identify prayer, presence, and hospitality to be the essence of our charism.

We leave some places, but some places never leave us.  The Shrine will be enshrined in our hearts forever.


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Moving forward, looking back

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

While not always evident, especially in times of uncertainty, God is with us always
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by Sister Elise Cholewinski

When I first entered the Community of the Sisters of St. Francis of the Holy Cross, I only knew one of the Sisters. I was focused on developing new prayer forms, studying theology, and learning the fundamentals of living religious life.  After making my religious profession, I was sent out to teach.  Eventually I would pursue advanced degrees in education and receive training in spiritual direction.  My ministries would evolve. 

All along the way I heard stories of the founding of our Community and the ways in which the Sisters continually adapted to changing times and circumstances.  As I recall those stories now, I can appreciate to a degree that I couldn’t before, the awesome ways in which they compassionately responded to the needs of the times in the Diocese of Green Bay.

During 2018 our Sisters celebrate the 150th anniversary of their beginning.  In 1868 Father Edward Francis Daems, a Crozier priest from Belgium, along with three women who departed from their Dominican Order in Racine, responded to the need for Catholic education in the wilderness of northeastern Wisconsin by opening a school at Bay Settlement, a few miles from Green Bay.  Over the years the Community would experience tremendous growth and great loss, expansion of ministries and diminishment of members, clear vision and unanswered questions.  Looking back over their history, the Sisters realize how profoundly graced they have been.  God’s faithfulness to them has been the thread winding its way through the decades of their service to God’s people.

We live our lives forward; we understand them backward.  It is in viewing the past that we obtain a vision for the future.  It is said of Father Daems that he came and he stayed.  As we move forward in the wilderness of the modern Wisconsin, our challenge is to do the same.  We have come.  We will stay.  Our fidelity will be another thread winding its way along an unknown path.


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Like a bolt from out of the blue

Monday, January 8, 2018

For today's Baptism of the Lord, be aware of God's relentless call and the endless possibilities when we say 'yes'
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by Sister Elise Cholewinski

When Jesus stepped out of the waters of the Jordan, having just undergone His baptism, it must have hit Him like a bolt from out of the blue to hear the words of the Father:  “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” How did Jesus handle this emotional shock?  He spent time in the desert, sorting it out, coming to grips with His vocation.

It was an awesome September morning, my first day of college. The large windows in the auditorium were open, and I could see the bright blue sky and the lush green trees waving in the wind.  The orientation was about to begin, and as I focused on the stage, I found myself asking, “What if this room was the chapel in a convent?”  A bolt from the blue!  My immediate response was, “No!  I can’t do it!”  My life was planned, but I would spend the next six years sorting it out.

My desert was not the rocky, barren hill country of Judea, but the college campus where I had a full scholarship, my home, and later an apartment and a classroom in a public school.  I had money, independence, and a relationship that could have gone somewhere.  The questions that eventually arose centered on whether or not I was simply shadowing my twin sister, pursuing her desire to enter religious life.

Jesus came forth from His baptismal retreat a strong and determined person, conscious of His mission.  He soon thereafter would announce to the people of Nazareth that the Scriptures were being fulfilled through Him.  My own desert experience strengthened my self-knowledge and the awareness of my personal call.  On the day I entered the convent I passed my sister on the sidewalk, stepped up to the building, grabbed the handle, and opened the door myself.

The Lord’s invitation opens up a world of possibilities.  It truly is like a bolt from out of the blue.  All we have to do is open the door and step inside.


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From darkness to light

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Do you see the similarities between our Advent-to-Epiphany journey and that of religious life?
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by Sister Elise Cholewinski

December leads us from the darkest days of the year to the dawn of that moment when the sun begins to stay out a minute or two longer each day.  When January arrives, the sky is distinctly brighter than it was a month before.  How beautifully the Church captures this shift from darkness to light in its liturgical year.  On the first weekday of Advent Isaiah presents us with a vision of all nations streaming toward the house of the God of Israel, beckoning us to walk in the light of the Lord.  On Christmas we celebrate the incarnation of Jesus, the Light of the World, and we hear that the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.  Finally, when Epiphany arrives, we see how the light of the star draws people from foreign countries to meet the Christ.  Winding our way through these seasons is like turning on a three-way light bulb.

So is religious life.  A person experiences the twinkling of the light of a call in her heart in the midst of the false values of this world.  Upon entering religious life, she moves into an environment that fosters the development of a deep personal relationship with Christ.  This culminates in a commitment to God through her vows, which fuels the fire that sends her forth to engage in the missionary activity of the Church.

The two journeys are so similar and they continually repeat themselves.  We hear the call, we meet the Christ, we make a commitment.  Our God keeps turning on the switch!


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Come, Spirit of Joy

Friday, December 1, 2017

Advent is nearly here ... what does your heart desire?
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by Sister Laura Zelten

In her beautiful book of meditations, “Fragments of Your Ancient Name,” Joyce Rupp writes:

Come, Spirit of Joy, come!
Be reborn in us. Birth enthusiasm.
Leap into our minds with gladness.
Dance away dismal discouragement.
Toss out griping and antipathies.
Topple old fortifications of blame.
Chase away what creates sadness.
Loosen all that keeps out your joy.
Hasten our footsteps to happiness.
Fulfill the designs of your heart. 

God indeed has plans for each of us and God desires our happiness that in our lives we might fulfill the designs of God’s heart. It is through living out our particular vocation that we are called over and over again to fulfill God’s designs in the world. 

Advent is a season of hope, joy and expectation. There is an energy in the air as described in Joyce Rupp’s poem. People are busy preparing for the celebration of the birth of Jesus. In my prayer life, it is an invitation to open myself to God, to be ready for the unexpected. During Advent, I give myself time to reflect on how God is calling me.  I “take stock” of my life to re-examine and renew my commitments in light to my personal relationship with God and others.

In this special liturgical time of waiting anew for the coming of Christ in our hearts and in our world, I will work to receive that invitation and pray, “Come, Spirit of Joy, come! Be reborn in me!”

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The Kitchen Crew – Keeper of the Keys

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Beyond food, our cooks nourished our souls by listening to our stories as we came and went
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by Sister Elise Cholewinski

In our former motherhouse the kitchen was located on the lower level, not far from the entrance to the garage.  In addition to the stoves and counters and all the other equipment that goes with the Community’s kitchen, there was a special rack on the wall, just inside the door.  It contained the keys for all of the vehicles. This meant that as Sisters came and went they always had to stop in the kitchen.

Stopping in the kitchen to get or return keys was not just an ordinary act; it was a moment of reprieve and rejuvenation.  The dear Sisters working at preparing, cleaning up from meals, or processing vegetables from the garden, really wanted to know how a Sister’s day was going.  Was she on her way to a celebration or to a special commitment in her ministry?  Was she coming home from an exciting experience or bringing disheartening news?  It was in the coming and the going that Sisters shared their stories with other Sisters who offered them support, encouragement, and affirmation.  Their stories were received and honored.

The month of November is a time to remember.  We celebrate the feasts of All Saints and All Souls, and recall those people whom we have personally known in our lifetimes.  When I think of the Sisters who have gone before us, it isn’t always those who were in leadership positions or made outstanding contributions to the Church that comes to mind, although their work was surely significant.  I often picture the Sisters in the kitchen.  They were the keepers of the keys, the keys to love and acceptance, joy and peace.  They radiated the warmth that made us happy to be a part of the community.

Kitchen -near -garage
Car keys hung behind the wooden door seen here on the left.

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God calls you and me

Friday, November 3, 2017

This week, listen for God's invitation felt in your heart or heard in a quiet moment 
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by Sister Laura Zelten

It's National Vocation Awareness Week, an annual celebration of promoting vocations in the Catholic Church in the United States. During the week, it’s a great time to think about how God is calling you to live out your faith!

This week consider how God is calling you -- yes, God is always calling you -- but this week is a good time to seriously consider the invitation! Maybe it’s time to revisit and reimmerse yourself into a commitment you’ve made, maybe it’s time to acknowledge that nudge in your heart that you’ve been feeling. Whatever it may be, you can be assured that God is drawing you close and wants the best for you.

Our prayers are with you and we are with you! If you have questions about how you feel God is calling  you, or what to do with a “nudge”, or how to go about figuring stuff out, let us know. We’re glad to be with you on the journey.

Nudge Sister Laura at vocations @ (spaces added to minimize spamming).

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Feast of St. Francis of Assisi

Monday, October 2, 2017

God calls each of us to radical Gospel living, to work always in rebuilding the church
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by Sister Laura Zelten

As a Sister of St Francis of the Holy Cross, I follow in the footprints of St. Francis of Assisi.  He is considered one of the greatest saints because he lived a radical commitment to following Jesus and trusting God to provide for all his needs. St. Francis possessed a willingness to live among the poor, to understand their struggles and to bring them to Jesus through his preaching.  He imitated Jesus in everything that he thought and did. He encountered Jesus daily, living a deep Christian way of life. 

The charisms of St. Francis flow forth into every person who becomes a Franciscan.  Today as a Franciscan Sister, I am called to live simply, compassionately, humbly, gently and joyfully. Each Sister is called to the radical Franciscan commitment to following Jesus and to trust God to provide for her.  Living the Gospel through prayer, presence and hospitality helps us to know Jesus and to reach out to our brothers and sisters.  It is about hearing today the words Jesus spoke to Francis 800 years ago: "Rebuild the Church!” 

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Exaltation of the Holy Cross

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

A prayer from youth connects with a Community's charism
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by Sister Elise Cholewinski

“O dearly beloved cross, I embrace thee, I kiss thee, I joyfully accept thee from the hands of God.”

This statement, which was part of a prayer from the Stations of the Cross that we prayed on Friday evenings during Lent at St. Josaphat Church in Oshkosh, has stayed with me since my adolescence.  I felt something when I prayed it, and I sense now that those moments were times when I was experiencing a distinct call to religious life. 

Now I am a Sister of St. Francis of the Holy Cross, and as a Community we claim being rooted in the cross as part of our charism.  For me this means recognizing every event in life as a participation in the Paschal Mystery, the death/resurrection of Jesus.  It is a belief that in every death-dealing situation, new life is rising.  This basic trust gives us a reason to rejoice as we celebrate the Exaltation of the Holy Cross on September 14.  Isn’t it amazing how God mysteriously leads through the prayer of our youth.




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