School Sisters of Saint Francis


by Jennifer Tomazic

MILWAUKEE -- The School Sisters of Saint Francis attract talented artists into their community but they don't want to keep the artwork all for themselves.

Recently, the Sisters let folks from Leslie Hindman Auctioneers have a look around the attic and they couldn't believe their eyes: paintings farther than the eye could see. A whole attic full of them.

The walls of the motherhouse are already lined with pieces, so the School Sisters of Saint Francis gave Leslie Hindman Auctioneers nine paintings and sculptures to put up for auction. The pieces caught the attention of bidders and caught Sister Barbaralie Stiefermann off guard.

"I thought, who is going to really buy a portrait if you don't know the person or if it doesn't have any sentimental value to you," said Sister Barbaralie, who is the director of the Alfons Gallery at the Southside motherhouse.

The piece Sister Barbaralie was referring to was the portrait of a janitor at the motherhouse and it was painted by Sister Elisabeth Fictner in the 1920's. She was just one of a many talented Sisters who were sent to Europe for professional training.

Current Sister Janet Peterson is keeping the tradition of great artists alive with her drawings and pottery. She recently had a book, "The Song of Saint Francis," published with her pencil drawings, poems, and prose.

"Sometimes I like to think of it as my legacy. As something I'd like to leave behind for other people to be inspired by," said Sister Janet.

She gets inspiration from her beautiful surroundings.

"It's really enriching to do artwork. It's an opportunity not to keep things all bottled up inside," said Sister Janet.

On Thursday afternoons, she can be seen drawing in the Alfons Gallery gift shop at the motherhouse. The art gallery is one of the only public ones within a religious community.

"We don't just do things for our satisfaction or our own honor and glory," said Sister Barbaralie. "I would think the Sisters in the spirit world at this time would be thrilled that their art is still their legacy, that it's still with us, and that there are still people who appreciate their art."

Besides just displaying the artwork of the Sisters, the Alfons Gallery also has space for local artists to display their work for a period of time. Sister Barbaralie says she never has to seek out an artist-she is constantly getting requests.

"I think this is a wonderful ministry that we are doing," said Sister Barbaralie.

Margaret O'Neil with Leslie Hindman Auctioneers thought so too. She was up on a ladder for an entire day looking through the attic at the motherhouse.

"To come across such a passionate body of work that the nuns have worked so hard on for decades is really true to Milwaukee culture," said O'Neil, Business Developer with Leslie Hindman Auctioneers.

That's what makes the art so desireable---because it is so authentic and touches the soul of Milwaukeeans. Art enthusiast Angie Torres was interested in the janitor painting by Sister Elisabeth and came up with her own theories of who he was when CBS 58 caught up with her before the auction.

"That guy looks like he could be a bartender or a cheese maker," said Torres. "This pocket of Sisters who did all these paintings is incredible. Who would have knowing about the finesse and diligence and time spent in pursuing this artistic endeavor."

To see more works by the School Sisters of Saint Francis and for information on the Alfons Gallery, log onto


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