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Mother Agnes Hazotte moved the Congregation of Sisters of St. Agnes from Barton, Wisconsin to Fond du Lac, Wisconsin on August 1, 1870. The congregation settled on twelve lots of property on the south side of Division Street which had been purchased by Mother Agnes. In 1877, ground was broken on the first wing of a new motherhouse which would dominate that part of Division Street for nearly 100 years.

  • CSA motherhouse after the first wing was completed in 1877.
  • CSA motherhouse as it appeared in 1887 after the chapel wing was added..
  • Panoramic view showing St. Agnes Hospital on the right, the convent in the center, and the two-story frame house that served as the original motherhouse on the far left.
  • Garden in the back of the CSA motherhouse, c. 1940s.
  • Aerial view of the motherhouse, c. 1975.
  • Two sisters watch the demolition of the motherhouse in 1975.

In 1870, Father Nicholas Pickel, pastor of St. Mary’s parish, invited the Sisters of St. Agnes to move their motherhouse from Barton to Fond du Lac, assuring Mother Agnes Hazotte that the pastors of all three parishes would welcome them. During an earlier visit to Mount Calvary, Father Francis Haas also had encouraged Mother Agnes to move from Barton. Recognizing the greater opportunities the second largest city in Wisconsin offered the congregation, Mother Agnes quickly made up her mind and purchased for $6300 twelve lots of property on East Division Street that included a frame house and new barn and stable. The sisters made the move on August 1, 1870.

Shortly after their arrival, the sisters opened St. Agnes Academy to students of all religious denominations in the city. Classes were taught in the barn on the newly acquired property and some students boarded in a rented house a few doors down from the motherhouse. The tuition paid by these students helped support schools for poorer children in the community. In 1872, Mother Agnes built a two-story brick-veneered house for $338, which housed the school on the first floor and a chaplain’s residence on the second floor. St. Agnes Academy closed in 1888.

The congregation also opened a convent school 1874, which was later known as St. Agnes High School. This school educated the candidates and novices in the classics, physics, math, and government, as well as teaching methods. St. Agnes High School operated at the motherhouse until 1957, after which aspirants were enrolled at St. Mary’s Springs Academy.

As more women entered the community, the need for a larger motherhouse took on great urgency. In 1876, Mother Agnes purchased another two and one-half acres and hired Wilhelm Schickel as the architect, who planned a four-story E-shaped structure. The financial panic of 1876 delayed the start of the project, but groundbreaking finally occurred on May 1, 1877. The first wing of the brick and stone convent cost $41,373.33, and housed 120 sisters and 22 orphaned children.

Sister Claude Feldner described the convent as such:

The basement held the kitchen, refectories, vegetable cellar, and trunk rooms. The first floor contained administration,chapel, and the assembly hall. The second floor had a balcony looking over the chapel for the infirm, and sisters’ rooms and dormitories. On the third floor there was a huge wooden water tank which sometimes overflowed. The candidates slept in a dormitory on four-and-a-half, an attic with wooden rafters, primitive washroom facilities (pitchers and basins) and ever-present bats.

A three-day fair was held on October 9-12, 1877, to raise money and celebrate the opening of the convent, which was officially blessed by Father John Huber on November 3.

In 1887, the chapel wing was completed on land Mother Agnes had purchased the previous year. The chapel boasted a three-story-high vaulted ceiling and a fresco of the martyrdom of St. Agnes painted by German-American artist Wilhelm Lamprecht in 1890.

In 1909, two wings were added to the motherhouse that included an elevator and music practice rooms. In addition, the congregation purchased more land next to the convent. A few years later Mother Antonia Schmitz installed new lighting fixtures, where there had been kerosene lanterns, and purchased etched glass doors and twelve statues for the chapel. The doors would follow the sisters to all but one of their future motherhouses.

In 1933, the congregation embarked on building the final wing of the motherhouse which would house the aspirants, candidates, and novices. And in 1936, they opened Marian College in the new east wing of the motherhouse, primarily to train teachers, but they also offered general education and theology courses. In 1965, the congregation opened a new 28-acre campus for Marian College at National Avenue and Division Street.

By the 1970s, the convent had reached the end of its lifespan and would require expensive renovations to remain up to code. At the same time, adjacent St. Agnes Hospital needed to expand in order to provide modern health care to the Fond du Lac community. It was decided to raze the motherhouse in 1975 and have the sisters move into St. Agnes Hall, the former St. Agnes School of Nursing at 475 Gillett Street. 

The last Mass was celebrated at the motherhouse at 390 E. Division Street on March 19, 1975.

Lorimer, CSA, Margaret. Ordinary Sisters: The Story of the Sisters of St. Agnes, 1858-1990. Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. Congregation of Sisters of St. Agnes, 2007.

Image Sources(Click to expand)

Congregation of Sisters of St. Agnes Archives

Congregation of Sisters of St. Agnes Archives

Congregation of Sisters of St. Agnes Archives

Congregation of Sisters of St. Agnes Archives

Congregation of Sisters of St. Agnes Archives

Congregation of Sisters of St. Agnes Archives