The Visual Arts Heritage of the School Sisters of St. Francis

Christ the King/S.S.S.F. Atelier
Christ the King/S.S.S.F. Atelier

The School Sisters of St. Francis have a rich heritage in art dating back to 1904, thanks to co-foundress Mother Alfons Schmid, who vigorously promoted art and music within the community.

Among our gifted sister artists was Elizabeth Fichtner. Born in Baden, Germany, Sister Elizabeth came to America and entered the commun­ity in 1905. She and two other outstanding artists, Sisters Berchmans Schmidt and Johanna Endres, were sent to Munich, Germany, from 1909 to 1912 to study at the Alte Pinakothek, one of the world's oldest and most renowned art galleries. When they returned to the United States, they attended classes at the Chicago Art Institute and nearby Milwaukee art schools. One of their instructors was the well-known Carl Maar.

Because of the success of their education, art as a full-time ministry became a tradition here. On the fourth floor of the motherhouse, in
a large room with a vaulted ceiling, sisters sat at their easels painting under skylight. In high schools and at Alverno College, all institutions established by our community, professional artists were hired to share their gifts. The sisters highlighted here are only a few of our many sisters who became professional artists.

Sister Elizabeth Fichtner was famous as a copy artist of the Old Masters, a respected art form in her time. Many of her large paintings hung in the convent's parlors, the collections of which burgeoned through time. In 1991, the sisters opened Alfons Gallery and gift shop--uncommon treas­ures in a religious community.

Elisha/S. Helena Steffensmeier
Elisha/S. Helena Steffensmeier

Another sister, Helena Steffensmeier, was invited to include her contemp­orary works in many national art exhibitions. She was featured on "CBS Sunday Morning" with Charles Kuralt, as well as the Catholic programs "Heart of the Nation" and "Real to Reel:' Her work also appeared in numerous national publications, including U.S. Catholic Church Art, Designing and Stitching and Applique, and Seasons of Friendship. Sister Helena was prolific, producing sizable wood and stone carvings, stitcheries and paintings. Her works grace many hallways of St. Joseph Center as well as other institutions of the School Sisters of St. Francis.

Our Lady and Child/S. Lucinda Hubing
Our Lady and Child/S. Lucinda Hubing

The much-decorated artist, Sister Lucinda Hubing, enjoyed a renowned career, with 45 national and local awards to her name. Her works in enamel were displayed as part of the highly-acclaimed Smithsonian Institution's international travel exhibitions. Sister Lucinda completed advanced studies at the Cleveland Art Institute under Kenneth Bates, who is con­ sidered the "father of enameling" in the United States. She also studied with renowned Croatian sculptor and architect Ivan Mestrovic, and French painter and illustrator Jean Charlot at Notre Dame University. Because of the great volume and superb quality of her works, the National Museum of Women Artists in Washington, D.C., requested slides of her pieces to open a scholar's file in her name. Refusing to be confined in a studio with her painting and sculpting, Sister Lucinda conducted art tours every year between 1959 and 1994, visiting 52 countries all together.

Over the years, many of our sisters' paintings were given as gifts to benefactors or sold to eager collectors. The art displayed in our corridors today are only a portion of the permanent collection of the School Sisters of St. Francis.
Observant visitors will notice that sisters in the early 1900's did not sign their paintings--an act of humility. In atelier style, they collab­orated on large oils. An example is the painting St. Francis and Brother Creatures on the first floor by the information desk. One sister rendered St. Francis and the other figures, another the animals, and still another the scenery.

Eucharist/S. Elisabeth Fichtner
Eucharist/S. Elisabeth Fichtner

In the second floor foyer, the painting Christ the King, also in atelier style, protrays the young, the elderly, the poor, and a laborer giving homage to the King. It was painted around the time that Pope Pius XI instituted the Feast of Christ the King in 1925. This piece represents our sisters' concordance with the

St. Francis and Brother Creatures/S.S.S.F. Atelier
St. Francis and Brother Creatures/S.S.S.F. Atelier

encyclical Rerum Novarum written by Pope Leo XIII on the Duties of Capital and Labor, which emphasized the rights of the working class.

This year, 2017, marks the 100th anniversary of St. Joseph Chapel. This architectural wonder and historic landmark is the greatest work of art of the School Sisters of St. Francis. In the priest's sacristy, Sister Elizabeth Fichtner and other sisters painted nine murals on the seven sacraments and incoporated images

of people who lived in the area in the 1920's.

The middle mural portrays the Adoration of the Eucharist with a mother and father with a baby and young child, a teenager, women, elderly men, a young man bent in penitential posture, and a dark-complexioned man with a black beard and turban.

All were welcomed at the table.

We hope you enjoy the exquisite artwork throughout the motherhouse during your visit to St. Joseph Chapel, where harmony, beauty, and peace await.

Art history researched and compiled by S. Barbaralie Stiefermann.