Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Sisters of Mercy in Fond du Lac

Happy New Year!

In the course of taking an inventory of the books in the Historical Society Library, I came across a series of books that were published by the Capuchins of Mt. Calvary.  I have previously written about the Journal of Fr. Fidelis Steinauer in an earlier post.

There are two more books in this series:  Bonaventure's Memoirs, a translation from the German of the 1904 memoirs of Fr. Bonaventure Frey, OFM Cap., one of the cofounders of the first permanent Capuchin foundation in the Americas; The History of Mount Calvary, A translation of the book written for the 50th Jubilee of the Province of St. Joseph in 1907 by Fr. Corbinian Vieracker OFM Cap. 1857-1907.

Both of these books are of interest to any local historian.

I then found an even more valuable book, a biography of Bishop Henni, who was the first Bishop of the Milwaukee Archdiocese.

I did find a surprise notation in this book, when I noticed a reference to The Sisters of Mercy as being affiliated with St. Joseph Church in Fond du Lac, running an orphanage.  Wait a minute......the Agnesians have always served St. Joes (my home parish) and this has to be a mistake.  I have never heard of the Sisters of Mercy.

Luckily, the book  is very well referenced, and the 'Sisters of Mercy' information came from The History  of Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, published in 1880 by Western Publishing, page 606.  Well, off I zoomed to my copy of that book, and I was surprised to read:

  • St. Joseph's Convent of Mercy and Orphan Asylum - In January, 1876, the Sisters of Mercy purchased the S.E. Lefferts place on East Second Street, for $4,500, and converted it into a convent and asylum. In each of the years 1876, 1877 and 1878 the county voted $300 aid to the Sisters.  With this, and the personal means belonging to each, the building was raised another story, fences were built and other improvement made. .....Sister Mary Agnes is the Mother Superior, in whom rests the title to all property. She has sixteen associates. There are twenty-four orphan children now being clothed, fed and educated at the asylum. They are taught whatever trade they seem best adapted to follow. Thirty have found good homes through these Sisters...........The amount of good they quietly and secretly do is incalculable....They are, of course, Catholic.
Of course, I had to dig a little further.  The first reference indicates that the Sisters of Mercy remained at St. Joseph's until 1906, when they moved to Milwaukee.  I checked out the 1880 census for the city of Fond du Lac, and sure enough I found them listed under the heading of St. Joseph's Convent of Mercy and Orphan Asylum, with a Mother Superior, an Assistant Superior, a Mistress of Nurses, eight teachers, five housekeepers and twenty-eight young girls, most between ages 2-12.

I could find nothing in the 1900 census, but then found a second reference to the Sisters of Mercy, which indicated that they moved to Milwaukee in 1896, not 1906, which would explain why they are not found in Fond du Lac in 1900. 

You never know just what you will discover when you browse in a library!


  1. Sister Mary Agnus is my great grand aunt on my mothers side of the family - I was wondering if you found any pictures of the nuns or my aunt

  2. No pictures found yet, but now I know that I should keep my eyes open for them.

  3. I have a relative who was one of the girls in this orphanage. She's in the 1880 Census, listed as Tilley Kramer. I am wondering if there are any records of these children. I'd love to know what became of her.