Sister Phylis Franzen

Sister Phyllis FranzenSister Phyllis’s motto as a teenager was “God to love, souls to save, and life to sacrifice.” In living out that motto, she followed the call to religious life after two years at Alvernia High School by joining the School Sisters of St. Francis.

During her formation in Milwaukee, she made it known that she desired to become a nurse. This required her to take college classes (at the time, Alverno College classes were still taught at the St. Joseph Convent motherhouse) and do practicum work at what was then Sacred Heart Sanitarium. Since that time, her whole life in community has been dedicated to serving others by ministering in the health care field.

After working at Sacred Heart for six years, her desire to serve the missions took her to Polyclinica, the first School Sister ministry in Honduras. It was founded by sisters from our European Province and the staff at that time included German, Spanish, and North American sisters. It was there that she learned to speak Spanish and some German. Sister Phyllis fondly recalls this time as one in which she found a deep sense of the international scope of our congregation’s ministry. Women from all three cultures ministered together to meet the medical needs for the people.

Her next call took her to La Libertad, a small village in Honduras. Her days were spent serving in the clinic and making home visits. With only a part-time doctor and no emergency hospital in the village, the clinic met the many needs of the poor villagers in the most resourceful and creative ways.

 Sister Phyllis recalls her experiences in Honduras as significant times in her life. She became familiar with Latin culture and customs and gained an understanding of the problems facing people who were forced to “make do” with little or nothing. 

When she returned to the United States, Sister Phyllis continued to practice her nursing skills and continued her education. She studied community health nursing at the University of Colorado and did course work to become a pediatric nurse practitioner. 

Back in Milwaukee, Sister Phyllis put her experience and education to work at Guadalupe Clinic. The clinic staff included volunteer doctors, nurses, and medical residents in pediatrics, obstetrics, and gynecology. She used her skills and talents as the manager at the clinic on Milwaukee’s near south side, where she ministered to the growing Spanish-speaking population. She used her Spanish language ability and understanding of the Latin culture and immigrants.  With her administrative and nursing skills, she capably served the families of the local low-income area.

She names this as her happiest time in ministry. She recalls a time when she was working with a child who had an ear infection and he told Sister, “I can’t breathe through my ear.” Another time, she asked a little boy, “Where is your heart?” He responded by pointing to his sister. 

Sister Phyllis’s heart has always been with the patients and clients she has served in her years as administrator, nurse, and nurse practitioner. Now in her retirement, she reflects on how her commitment has been most life-giving.  She thinks of the changes the community has made in sisters’ routines, prayers, and habits, but what is important to her is her commitment rather than the incidentals.

Sister Phyllis remembers the support of her companions on her journey. She recalls especially the changes that came about in religious life because of Vatican II. She said that to her, it was like an explosion that opened her to scripture. Along with her life in service as a health care provider, she considers that to be her greatest satisfaction in religious life: scripture, community, and nursing. 

We thank and bless Sister Phyllis for her commitment to her spirituality and ministry as she celebrates 75 years as a School Sister of St. Francis.