SSND at St Francis de Sales in St. Paul, MN

St. Francis de Sales Convent, located at 421 Daly Street in St. Paul, Minnesota, closed in November 2019, marking the end of a 135-year presence of the School Sisters of Notre Dame at the parish and school. We honor the SSND who worked there with the following photos and excerpts from the convent/school chronicles.


St. Francis de Sales School, n.d.

[1884] “On August 27, 1884, three Sisters, Marie Ermelinda Adams, Marie Leodegar Buscher, Maria Nicoline Schwan, accompanied by the Superior of the Red Wing Convent, Sister Mary Bathildis [Koestner], left the Milwaukee Motherhouse to found this convent. However, because on the following Sunday, the consecration of the new church would take place and because on that occasion, a dinner was to be given for the benefit of the building fund; and in the school locale, the pastor thought it best for the Sisters to wait in Red Wing until the celebration was over. The following Thursday, September 2, early, two candidates arrived in Red Wing from the Milwaukee Motherhouse, and bound for the new mission also: Helena Boschert, Catherine Koetting. Now that all were together, they continued the journey in company of Reverend Father Brown and Sister Bathildis. After a short ride, they arrived in St. Paul at about 2 p.m. They looked around. All was strange. But the Reverend Father Brown and Sister Bathildis guided us to the right street car. After a half hour, we arrived at our destination. We first turned our steps to the Rectory where Father Stariha welcomed us heartily, and led us into his office. We conversed for awhile, and then he took us to our convent quarters. It was half past three.

Some things were there, but all through each other. A small refreshment was prepared after which Sister Bathildis returned to Red Wing. In the following days, the convent and school were put in order as far as was possible.”

[1885] “The new convent, which had been begun on June 1, was completed on August 28. Finally, one of the Sisters, a doubting Thomas, was convinced of the reality of a nice convent. In regard to the spaciousness of the house, nothing more could be desired except a chapel. For this, a room had been planned in the beginning, but it had to be used as a bedroom. The hope and the longing to possess a chapel remained fresh in the hearts of all.

The following week, we moved in. The entire day, one saw a procession of Sisters carrying books, pictures, etc. into the new house. In the evening, all were heartily grateful to rest once more in a real bed; for the past months, the school benches had served as beds. What a job, running around until everything was in order.”

[1886] “A fierce storm came to St. Paul on May 1; the hail fell like hen’s eggs. The wind roared, the rain poured down; everyone was in great fear. The Sisters’ first refuge was in prayer. The noise of the storm was so great that the loud prayers the Sisters said was out-stretched arms could not be heard. A new alarm: the window panes fell in! The wind blowing into the house determined Sister Superior to take off the doors from their hinges and lean them against the windows. All the Sisters helped. This lasted about an hour. Such fear and such terror none of us had ever experienced. Many thought that the last hour had come, since every minute it appeared that the house with its inhabitants would be carried away by the storm. The damage to the church, school, rectory, and convent came to $500. The pastor saw to it that the next day the window panes were put in again.”

[1891] “Since the male teacher was dismissed, the Sisters took over the boys’ class in September. With the permission of Mother Commissary, the Sisters also took charge of the adult choir. They were to receive $150 a year for this service…”

[1894] “On June 17, the annual needlework and handwork exhibition was held. Included, also, were writing and penmanship exhibits. First Holy Communion was administered to 48 children on June 24. On June 25, school closed with Holy Mass and the distribution of report cards in the school hall.”

[1899] “Because of the overcrowded conditions of the classrooms, and due to a lack of good heating in the building, the parish had decided to enlarge the school by an addition of six new classrooms, and put in steam heat during the vacation time. At the same time, a part of the school would be set aside for a convent which would enlarge the space so far. Because of the increase in personnel, the quarters had become cramped, and now two new teachers would be needed. All this would cost the young parish $10,000—not a small amount—but the members went to it with a generous and sacrificing spirit because of the spirit of the pastor.”

7th grade class, 1905.

[1900] “School reopened in September as usual. This year, the older boys’ class had a male teacher who also conducted the adult choir, and so Sister Agnes was relieved of the latter burden. We now had 10 classrooms!”

[1905] “One June 23, school closed after the usual events, and again, the names of the pupils who had excelled in diligence, deportment, and attendance were read in church. The following September, they received a gold medal engraved with the achievement.”

[1906] “This year, for the first time, we had graduation for one boy and three girls who had passed their 8th grade state examinations and received their diplomas.”

[1907] “This year, the parish installed two new water closets, a bathtub, and made other installations.”

“An epidemic of smallpox broke out in our school. It lasted about two months. At one time, there were 80 of our pupils in quarantine. All the children and the Sisters were vaccinated. The school, however, was closed for only one day.”

[1908] “During the night of April 4, a thief, an unwelcome visitor, came to the Sisters’ bedroom, but was frightened when the Sisters awoke, and he left without taking anything.”

[1911] “On August 28, it was 25 years that Sister Damascene [Heiligenthal] had been active here in St. Francis parish. Two hundred of her former pupils surprised her with a short program and visit. They gave her as a gift, a desk and chair and an old shoe containing $65.”

[1915] “During the months of February and March a new bedroom was prepared on the third floor. Electric lights took the place of gas lighting.”

[1917] “As a surprise on December 26, we finally had a chapel after 30 years! At midnight, the Eucharistic Savior came to be with us ALWAYS! The large sleeping room was emptied two hours before midnight; a large table which the Sisters had brought in, served as an altar. All other articles were brought from church before midnight; even the portable organ was obtained from school. All fatigue was forgotten in the thought that soon the dear Savior would always be with us. The chapel and the sleeping quarters were blessed and at midnight, the first Holy Mass was offered, the Sisters sang Christmas carols and received Holy Communion. Father Bajec gave a short talk after Mass and prayed the Litany of the Infant Jesus. At first, the chapel resembled only a prayer room, but gradually, it took on a different appearance.”

[1918] “Beginning on November 6, our schools were closed because of the bad influenza epidemic. The Sisters used this time well to prepare for the state examinations, or planned to use it thus, but the good Lord planned otherwise. On November 7, Sister Fridiana Haus became ill with what was thought her usual severe headache and asthma. No one thought there would be a serious result; not even she thought so. On the contrary, she thought that in two or three days she would be up again. However, on November 8, near noon, she became worse. The priest and doctor were called. She, herself, asked for the Last Sacraments and received them before the doctor arrived. When he finally came, he said it was a very serious lung fever and gave up all hope for her. On November 9, Mother Isidore [Schumacher] came to visit her. Mother thought that Sister was very sick, but did not think that she would die, and so went back home. In the evening, about ten o’clock, the priest was called and after a few minutes, all were kneeling at the deathbed. A burning fever seemed to be eating up Sister’s life, but she prayed along with us, since she could move her lips. She renewed her vows and made the sign of the cross. At last, after twelve, she died with no apparent death struggle. Sister Fridiana was a peaceful soul and a good religious.” [Sr. Fridiana died at age 30, one of the estimated 20-50 million people worldwide who died of the “Spanish flu” pandemic]

[1925] “In November we received the long desired permission to raise funds for the altar in our new Motherhouse chapel. Teachers and pupils set to work enthusiastically to make it a success. A fishpond, candy, cake, and paper sale, besides several raffles and a little program, literary and musical, netted the sum of over $700.00. A collection taken up in the church through the kindness of our Rev. Pastor and a personal donation from him brought the sum up to $1100.00.”

Sr. Judith Svoboda and her class. Sr. Judith worked at the school from 1933-1942.

[1926] “Sept. 13 school opened when it was found that there was not sufficient room in the building for the 725 children. Rev. F.X. Bajec decided to convert the Hall into two classrooms and one meeting room. Work was begun at once and the extra class of fifth grade boys temporarily occupied the basement of the church.”

“The work on the new classrooms proceeded very slowly and it was not until after Christmas that the commercial and the 7th and 8th Gr. girls moved in…”

[1931] “April 13. A singular blessing was with our children at a spelling contest where all the prizes went to our school from the entire district.”

“Sept. 9. For the past twenty-nine years, the boys and girls in our school had been separate. This year we made the attempt in mixing at least the four lower grades. We also introduced two recesses in place of marching around the block.”

6th grade class, 1939-1940 school year.

[1933] “Sept. 5. School opened with an enrollment of 672 pupils. Boys were admitted to the High School.”

[1934] “Heart and soul in the celebration were the Sisters of the Convent, for the day marked the 50th anniversary of their coming to St. Francis. Ven. Mother Superior M. Andrina [Aalbers] escorted by Ven. Sister M. Francella [Gerold] and Sister M. Theodoretta [Zaborowski], School Supervisor, came from Mankato and graced the day by their presence. Sister M. Agnes [Deters], who had labored so faithfully for 45 years as musician at St. Francis was permitted to come from Hoka and be out guest for the day. Sister M. Cherubim [Seubert], our golden jubilarian of this year and stationed here for 47 years had many an interesting anecdote to relate. The Superiors and companion from the city mission accepted the invitation to be with us for the solemn high Mass after which the day was spent in a truly conventual style.”

[1937] “Sept. 7, 1937. Opening day of the school. We enrolled 577 children. The High School had to be discontinued on account of lack of room.”

SFdS 1939

8th grade class, c. 1939. Caption on the back reads: “This gives you and idea how the interior of our new school looks.”

[1938] “On January 11, 1938 our new school was opened. This was an eventful day. At 8 o’clock a Solemn High Mass was celebrated in thanksgiving’ after that the children marched in procession from the church to the main entrance of the new school, while the old school bell which had called the children for fifty-four years, rang is farewell from the Old and its Welcome to the New School. At the door the children were met by the Rev. Pastor, James Zachman and by the Rev. Assistants, N. Gillen and H. Thissen. The children’s eyes fairly bulged out of their heads as they marched into the new building to the music of a R.C.A. Phonograph Radio. During the first day the classes took turns in visiting the various parts of the building.”

[1940] “July 27. Ven. Mother Superior, M. Andrina kindly sent Sister M. Odulpha [Urban] to assist us in reconditioning our bedding during the summer. May God reward her for every stitch she made.”

[1941] “July 16. Sister M. Salome [Mahr] was taken to St. Joseph’s Hospital. In order to destroy a cancerous growth radium was applied twice. Sister returned home to recuperate.”

“Sept. 8. An operation was performed. After several weeks she was permitted to come home, but had to return each week to take a series of twenty Xray treatments. We hope that an ultimate cure might be affected.”

[1945] “Nov. 1. This year for the first time we succeeded in getting a gymn [sic] teacher. Mr. Rob. Byrnes from St. Thomas College is our physical Ed. Teacher for the boys of the 8th Grade and High School as well as our coach. He is doing very satisfactory work.”

[1947] “Oct. 29. The X-ray Unit came to St. Francis de Sales School. This gave the pupils over 15 yrs. of age an opportunity to have their chest X-rayed free of charge. The Sisters and neighbors of the school also took advantage of this. The number of pupils and adults who were X-rayed was 127.”

8th grade class, 1945.

[1950] “June 11. Members of the parish and friends were invited for an ‘Open House’ in the new convent. The ladies of the Altar and Rosary Society sponsored a silver tea. The proceeds were to be used for new furnishings in the convent. Open house 1-5 p.m.”

[1953] “July 4. The new summer house, although not entirely complete was used for the first time. 120 S.S.N.D.’s spent the day with us. Guests arrived at 9:30 and left at 4:30. Busses transported the Sisters both ways. In the afternoon we had an illustrated lecture on Padre Pio and Theresa Neumann by Father Carty…The building of the summer house was to be a surprise for the Sisters. Letters were sent to the parishioners asking for donations. They received about $900.00. When the building was completed it cost approximately $1500.00.”


[1954] “March 1. Annual School Carnival Day. Jerry Neaven was chosen King, and Marlene Thell, Queen. This year we had introduced many new features to make the carnival more attractive. Hat Parade, cake walk, wheels and jack pot, besides bingo, fishpond, movies, dart game, candy, pop, ice cream, and hot dogs. It was a great success.”

“June 3…During the last month of school we tried to raise a great deal of money to install new laundry equipment in the convent. We had popcorn sales and doughnut sales. Sister M. Barbara [Mardian] bakes 413 dozen doughnuts which we sold at 50¢ a dozen. Up to now we had taken in $766.89…We could easily have sold 500 dozen doughnuts; they were bought as soon as they were bagged. Some of the children bought as many as 6 and 8 dozen at a time. The doughnuts were delicious.”

[1955] “March 22-23. These are red-letter days for achievement. A big paper drive was on and they went all out and brought together four large truck loads amounting to 39 tons which brought an income for the school fund of $323.40.”

“Nov. 10. Mr. Paul Calder showed two films on being prepared for the atom bomb. He gave an inspiring talk in preparedness ending the talk with a plea to the assembly to add an extra Hail Mary to their night prayer for a blessing on the Russian people.”

[1961] “November 3: Sisters moved in to their new recreation room ‘Cozy Cove.’ The storage room was painted and remodeled with a door entering the typing room. The Sisters are happy for this cozy atmosphere.”

[1966] “Jan. 25. A thrilling surprise…a visit of Vic Powers, Tony Oliva and Frank Quilici. The two Twins players distributed photographs to each child, an exciting afternoon for all.”

[1967] “Feb. 1. The eighth grade girls gave a fashion show. The girls made their dresses in their Home Ec. classes at the public school. All grades assembled in the gym. It was very good.”

[No chronicles exist for St. Francis convent from 1969-1983 and 1985-1992]

[1984] “May 20: The parish had a celebration in honor of Jim Pacholl who will retire this year after being coach at St. Francis de Sales for 37 years. The twelve o’clock Mass was in his honor. This was followed by a reception in the school gym.”

Sr. Sheila McCall working with a small group of students at St. Francis-St. James School, c. 1990s.

[1994] “August 8-11, ’94. Sister M. Sheila [McCall] attended the Symposium at St. Thomas University sponsored by the School Sisters of Notre Dame and St. Thomas University. It truly was a very great educational and inspirational experience.”

[1997] The chronicle lists the sisters living at the convent and provides a description of their work. For example, Sr. Brigid Grzeskowiak, who professed in 1933 and arrived in 1977, was retired, but was “very active in the house: Phones, doorbells, Thank you notes.” Sr. Marie Sperl, who professed in 1939 and arrived in 1947, was a jack-of-all-trades: “Library volunteer at SF/SJ on Tuesdays. On call to answer phones at the rectory; Church work, Church laundry; Mission sale for girls; Parish garage sale; Care for flowers in the convent garden; takes care of pop cans.”

Sr. Sheila McCall, who professed in 1935 and arrived in 1989, worked as a tutor for grades 3-5 in math, reading and spelling. She also worked as a Eucharistic minister to five home-bound persons and she crocheted things for the poor. Sr. Judith Svoboda, who professed in 1933 and arrived in 1996, “Retired after 64 years as teacher and librarian; community service and some volunteer work. Sews cancer pads for the cancer home.”

[1997-1998] “Men of the parish continued the redecoration that was begun last summer. The final enhancement included the following: Convent paint job in all the rooms and closets on all three floors. New lights and fans in the dining room, the hallways and all of the bedrooms. These were donated by the Casinos. A new set of the Way of the Cross along with lights and fans supplied by the parish.

The work was done by the following men: Don Quinlan, Jack Nash, Dick Wiggen, Herb Cook, John Hermann, Gene Hudalla. We were impressed not only by the sustained time and effort of these men over a period of 10 months, but by the spirit of cooperation and sense of humor that we witnessed.”

[2002] “Dec. 8. The St. Francis Community hosted an SSND party for the Metro Area sisters. The group prayed Vespers, played games, and enjoyed a meal together.”

Sr. Esther Wagners teaching students at St. Francis-St. James School, 2001.

[2004] “Aug. 19. Five sisters went to Notre Dame Center on Faithful Citizenship. It focused on protecting human life after birth, affordable and accessible health care, affordable housing, living wage, food security, quality education, non-discrimination, and peacemaking. Sister Jeanne Wingenter was the presenter and facilitator of discussion.”

[2006] “Jan. 23. Eight sisters supported the congregation of Liberty Temple Church in our west 7th neighborhood by participating in an evening Community Ecumenical Service to denounce the cross burning they had experienced January 17th.”

[2009] “Six sisters attended the Craft Sale at Good Counsel. Sister Veronica Horvat had a table where she sold cards and other hand crafted items. Sister Yolanda Latessa donated bakery.”

Sisters still living at St. Francis de Sales, 2019.

[2011] “Four sisters went to St. Catherine University for a public town hall to hear from Congresswoman Betty McCollum, State Senator Richard J. Cohen, DFL 64A and Ramsey County Commissioner Rafael Ortega of District 5 and to join a conversation about issues affecting our community.”