Fond du Lac diocese receives $7.9 million gift from religious community

Episcopal Diocese of Fond du Lac
Posted Apr 26, 2024

Cross of the Sisterhood of the Holy Nativity.

The Episcopal Diocese of Fond du Lac is a recipient of a gift from the Sisterhood of the Holy Nativity (SHN) of $7.9 million. The religious order for women was founded in 1882, established by Charles Chapman Grafton, who became Bishop of Fond du Lac in 1889. The order began with three sisters and six novices, with Sister Ruth Margaret Vose (1826-1910) its first mother superior. The Convent in Boston moved to Providence, Rhode Island in 1888 and to Fond du Lac, Wisconsin in 1905.

The Sisters’ primary work historically was parochial including teaching, preparing theology candidates, and pastoral care. This work was done in Massachusetts, Maine, Rhode Island, New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Nevada, Oregon, California, West Virginia, and several other locations across the Midwest.

The work in Wisconsin centered at the cathedrals in Fond du Lac and Milwaukee as well as the former Grafton Hall girls’ school in Fond du Lac. From 1890 until the 1940s, several sisters lived at the Episcopal mission church on the Oneida Reservation and helped introduce lacemaking to Oneida women. Convent activity included training novices, making altar breads, making devotional items and embroidered altar cloths, and a rigorous schedule of study, devotion, and recreation.

As a declining number of women were entering religious orders, the order made a decision to no longer accept novices in the early 2000s. Over the past few years, a revised board structure was established as the remaining Sisters began end of life planning for the order. The gifting of assets to continue ministry is a part of that planning.

The diocese is one of many recipients of the Sisters’ gifts. The Cathedral Church of Saint Paul, Fond du Lac, and St. Peter’s, Ripon — congregations long associated with the Sisters of the Holy Nativity — are also recipients of significant gifts from the order. Information concerning the disposition of these gifts will be shared by the Cathedral and St. Peter’s in due course.”

The Rt. Rev. Matthew Gunter, who serves the order as Bishop Visitor, shared the news with the diocesan Board of Trustees at its meeting on April 17, 2024. The Sisters have directed that $1,000,000 be used for theological education and $6,900,000 be used for congregational development. “These purposes reflect the historic work of the order and their deep, historic connection to the Diocese of Fond du Lac,” Bishop Matt told the Trustees.

An Ad Hoc Committee of the Bishop, Standing Committee President, Trustees Vice-President, and Diocesan Treasurer, assisted by the diocesan Business Manager, presented options of use to the Trustees. Four were recommended as best use and adopted by the Trustees.

Sharing the Blessing

Nearly $500,000 will be shared with congregations by funding their 2024 pledges to the diocese. Payments for the remainder of the year will end with those already received being returned. “Each congregation will be in a better financial position from the beneficence of the Sisters,” the Committee noted.

Assessment Support Grants

$2,000,000 will be invested to provide grants to eleven congregations who will see an increased assessment if the three Wisconsin diocese have reunion. “The grants will allow for a transition period to ease into full assessment without hindering diocesan ministry,” the Committee noted.

Permanent Endowment

A “Sisters of the Holy Nativity Permanent Endowment” will be funded by over $2.2 million. The principal is retained with earnings distributed to a diocesan budget for congregational development. “This will ‘lock up’ part of the gift to continue in perpetuity,” the committee noted.

Designated Endowment

A “Sisters of the Holy Nativity Congregational Development Fund” will invest over $2.2 million. Earnings will be distributed to a diocesan budget for congregational development. Principal will be available for congregational development initiative projects. “There is a flexibility to give significant financial support for something like a new ministry or church plant,” the committee noted.

Fuller details about these funds and their uses will be available after the next Board of Trustees meeting on May 22.

“As we have said throughout our conversations regarding reunion of the three dioceses in Wisconsin,” Bishop Matt explained to the Trustees, “we need to enhance our efforts to strengthen our congregations, develop disciples, and grow the church and its mission in the context of an era of great change and anxiety. This gift will enable a Diocese of Wisconsin to better be about that. I am grateful for the history of ministry the Sisterhood of the Holy Nativity has with the Diocese of Fond du Lac as well as those of Eau Claire and Milwaukee. This gift will enable us to honor that heritage of faithfulness for decades to come.”

Being A People of God’s Mercy and Delight through Vital Congregations, Prayer and Worship, and Missionary Church.

The Diocese of Fond du Lac is a part of the Episcopal Church, USA and the worldwide Anglican Communion with over 3,700 baptized members worshipping in 33 locations across the northeast and northcentral area of Wisconsin.

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