Mother Stanislaus, S.S.F.
The story of Theresa Hegner
a young orphan girl, who became a dynamic leader of her religious community, dedicated to serving those who most needed her.

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Theresa Hegner changed her world.  She was a builder, not of buildings, but of community, of schools and of religious faith and dedication.

Her entrance into the world, was far from monumental.  Nor could it have foretold the greatness that she would achieve.

Her father, William Hegner was born in 1820, in Wiedingen, Amt Sigmaringen, Germany.  No record has been found to indicate just when he emmigrated to America 

Her mother, Anna Mary Romans was born 2 June 1828 in Stundwiller, Alsace Lorraine, France, the daughter of Antoine Romens and Marie Barbe Fischer.  On  30 June 1830 the Romans family docked in Baltimore, and found their way to Columbiana Co. Ohio. 

William Hegner married Anna Mary Romans 22 Apr. 1847 in St. Philip Neri Catholic Church, Dungannon, Columbiana Co. Ohio, and their first four children are born here.   Anna Mary's family, including a brother Anthony Romans and sister Catherine Haessly, migrated to Fond du Lac Co. WI ca. 1854, and William and Mary followed. 

Theresa Hegner was born in 1863, near New Cassel, a small community located in the southeast corner of Fond du Lac county, Wisconsin.   At this time in the early formation of the State of Wisconsin, very few Catholic Churches had a resident priest.  Rather, the one or two priests tending to their flock traveled the 150 mile stretch from West Bend to Green Bay and back, saying Mass as they passed through small area communities.    For this reason, baptisms and marriages were sometimes found a distance away from the residence.    We find that Theresa Hegner, born near New Cassel in Fond du Lac Co. WI  was baptised several days leter in St. Theresa's, Theresa, (Dodge Co. ) WI.

The Hegners resided in the Town of Ashford, Fond du Lac Co. WI for 10 years, before tragedy struck the family.  While returning home from the local village, after celebrating the birth of his newest daughter, William's horses bolted and he was thrown from the wagon and killed.   Mary was left with 7 surviving children, the oldest was Elizabeth, age 15, and the youngest was Sarah, only seven days old.   Theresa was a mere 2 years old when her father died.  With the aid of relatives and neighbors, the family managed to survive until 1872, when Anna Mary Hegner died. 

On her deathbed, Theresa's mother pleaded with the local priest to take her two youngest daughters, ages 7 and 9,  under his charge, and oversee their care personally. 

It was at this time, that the New Cassel priest was attempting to secure a religious order of nuns, to establish a boarding school for the children of his parish.   The priest found two women, recent immigrants from Germany, who were traveling throughout the midwest looking for a parish to sponsor them.  These nuns had belonged to a religious order in Germany, but when the Kaiser barred all religious from acting as teachers to young children, and disbanned the religious orders,  the women decided to leave Germany, rather than continue as lay teachers. 

When Father Michels met these two women, they had only one condition.   They did not want to join another religious order, but rather wanted to found their own, based on their previoius religioius life in Germany. Father Michels was only too willing to agree to their condition, especially if it meant having teachers for his largely German community.  Anna Mary Hegner's untimely death put additional pressure on him, to complete this quest.  He first placed Theresa with the Mauch family. Shortly thereafter, when the boarding school building was completed in New Cassel,  Father Michels presented thesisters with two boarders, Theresa and Sarah Hegner,  ready and waiting to be placed in their permanent care. 

On May 18, 1874, Theresa Hegner, then age 9,  asked to join the religious order, but was told she should re-apply when she was a little older.  But Theresa never waivered, and was soon recorded as the first new member of School Sisters of St. Frances, a religious order that Theresa would remain with, and eventually become Superior General.

Oct 4, 1880 - Theresa Hegner professed her first vows as a member of the School Sisters of St. Francis, taking the name of Sister Stanislaus.  The fledgling religious community had grown so much in the 6 years in New Cassel, that when the novices had to prostrate themselves in the overcrowded  chapel during the singing of the "Mortuae estis", Theresa's feet were outside the chapel.  She nudged her companion and said: "My head and heart are in the convent even if my feet are in the world."

In 1888 Sister Stanislaus was among the religious who relocated to the new motherhouse in Milwaukee. In September that same year she begins teaching needlework and painting in the new St. Joseph Academy.
One of the more memorable events in the early years of her convent life, was after the great fire in 1890 that destroyed the new but poorly build motherhouse.  Sister Stanislaus  was among the sisters who went, day after day, from April until Christmas of that year,  begging in the streets of Milwaukee, for provisions and funds after the entire religious order was left destitute after the fire.

In March of 1895, Sister Stanislaus becomes superior of Sacred Heart Sanitarium, and in 1898 a convent and sanitarium are established in San Remo, Italy, with Sister Stanislaus as superior.

July 24, 1907, Mother M. Alfons, one of the two founders of the community, was elected as second mother general, and on July 26, 1913, Sister Stanislaus is elected as Mother Alfons' assistant.
As Mother Alfons' health begins to decline, more and more of the day to day operations of the religious order fall to the charge of Sister Stanislaus.    It is during this period that the religious order continues to grow, with many grade schools and high schools being built and staffed by the religious order:
St. Francis House of Studies is erected in Brookland, Washington D. C. in 1917.
Construction of a new west wing begins at the Milwaukee motherhouse in 1922.
Alvernia High School in Chicago is dedicated in 1925.
Madonna High School is dedicated in 1928.

Mother Alfons (Schmid) dies at the motherhouse in Milwaukee on Nov. 12, 1929 and on Jan 6, 1930, Mother Stanislaus Hegner is elected third superior general of the School Sisters of St. Francis.

And she continues to build.

In Sept 1930 the School of Nursing opens at Sacred Heart Sanitarium.
On July 19, 1931 the St. Joseph Middle School in Tsingtao, Shantung, China opens with three sisters.
The first mission at Tegucigalpa, Honduras, Central America opens with five sisters on Dec 3, 1932.
Aug. 18, 1933 is the opening date for the St. Labre Indian Mission in Ashland, Montana.
Sept 1, 1936 - St. Paul's Indian Mission, Hays, Montana is opened with four sisters.
Dec. 16, 1936 the European province of the order, opens missions in West India, and the two year program of St. Joseph Normal School expands to a four-year program.
Jan 4, 1937 Mother Stanislaus starts negotiations with Marquette University's administrators concerning a teacher's college.
Oct. 26, 1938 - dedication of St. Joseph Hospital, Beaver Dam, WI
Jan 8, 1940 - Alverno College of Music admitted to the National Association of Schools of Music.
June 7, 1940 - Sacred Heart School of Nursing establishes a psychiatric nursing program at St. Mary's Hill.
Sept 7, 1940 - four sisters leave Milwaukee to open St. Francis Mission for African-Americans in Yazoo City, Mississippi

1942 - Mother Stanislaus resigns, and Mother M. Corona Wirfs is elected superior general.

March 23, 1942 - Alverno Teachers' College is accredited by and given membership in the American Association of Teachers Colleges.

June 20, 1944 - Mother M. Stanislaus (Theresa Hegner) died and is buried in Mt. Olivet Cemetery, Milwaukee.  Alverno College had been her dream, her vision, and she worked tirelessly toward the end, to raise the donations for the college building funds, but she did not live to see her dream completed.


When I first began my own genealogical research, I visited with a cousin, George Annen, who was the nephew of Mother Stanislaus.   He remembered her fondly, and related to me several stories concerning his infrequent visits with Mother Stanislaus.

When he would stop at the convent to visit with her, she always greeted him warmly, usually from her office.  She would ask about family members, catching up on family happenings.  Just outside her office door, Mother Stanislaus kept a little "poor box".  This was for donations to her latest "cause" or building fund, and she never failed to lead George out of her office and straight to this "collection box" whenever he visited.  He never once got away without a visit to this collection box.

One time when George went to visit Mother Stanislaus, she was not in her office.  George was directed to her room.   Now the room she had was very spartan, just a cot, a small table and a three-legged stool.  As he approached her room, he could hear a terrible racket coming from within.  He picked up his pace, thinking that something dreadful was happening.   As he reached the open door to her room, he was startled to see Mother Stanislaus on her knees in prayer, while her little three-legged stool flew all around the room by itself.  When she realized George was standing in her doorway, and as she spotted the stricken look on his face, she brushed his concerns aside, telling him "don't worry about that. That's just the devil trying to distract me from my prayers."


*** St. Philip Neri Catholic Church records, Dungannon, Columbiana Co. Ohio
*** He Sent Two, The Story of the Beginning of the School Sisters of St. Francis, by Sister M. Francis Borgia, O.S.F., The Bruce Publishing Company, Milwaukee 1965.
*** Stanislaus...with feet in the world, by Barbaralie Stiefermann, OSF  published 1990 
*** Interview with George Annen, 1970 by Tracy Reinhardt