National News

Wisconsin Franciscan Sisters Religiously Cheer on Their Green Bay Packers

By Suzanne Weiss

MANITOWOC, Wis. (CNS) — On the far west side of Manitowoc, atop a hill overlooking picturesque Silver Lake, sits the historic Holy Family Convent.

Members of the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity at Holy Family Convent in Manitowoc, Wis., give a boisterous cheer as they watch the Green Bay Packers face the Detroit Lions Jan. 9, 2022. (Photo: CNS/Suzanne Weiss, courtesy The Compass)

Motherhouse to the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity, its hallowed halls, accented with reverent artworks, are serene and hushed.

There is one room in the 19th-century building, however, where it can get quite spirited. And it was so Jan. 9, when the Green Bay Packers faced the Detroit Lions that Sunday afternoon during the last game of the 2021 regular season.

On the second floor of the convent, the sisters gather in a spacious lounge to regularly watch their beloved Packers play. Furnished with rows of easy chairs facing a 54-inch flat-screen TV, the lounge has splashes of green and gold –the team colors — that contrast with the sisters’ black-and-white habits.

“This is the loud group,” said Sister Barbara Mathe with a grin. In another room, just down the hall, more sisters were gathered to cheer on the Packers quietly, she explained.

On one wall of the lounge hangs a framed Packers jersey that reads, “Thank Heaven for 87.” It is autographed by former Packers wide receiver Jordy Nelson.

A nearby Christmas tree was decorated in green and gold. Other memorabilia the sisters have accumulated over the years include a football autographed by Packers players, a cheesehead hat, caricatures of Packers Coach Matt LaFleur and general manager Brian Gutekunst, and an autographed photo of the late Reggie White, former Green Bay defensive end.

A core group of sisters has been Packers fans “forever,” Sister Barbara told The Compass, newspaper of the Diocese of Green Bay.

Describing herself as “an avid follower,” she has been a Packers fan for as long as she can remember.

“Bart Starr, Forrest Gregg, Jerry Kramer, Paul Hornung … all the old-timers,” Sister Barbara said, as she ticked off names of the greats she has admired. “And Vince Lombardi, of course, because of how he carried himself and how he coached the players. He was a players’ coach, like Matt LaFleur — he’s a players’ coach.”

She’s also seen games in person. “Oh, yes, I’ve been to Packers games. I’ve even been to games where it was snowing so hard you could hardly see. I’ve been to Packers games in the rain,” said Sister Barbara, originally from Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

After missing much of last season because she contracted COVID-19, she was excited to be able to rejoin her fellow sisters in the lounge.

Because the Packers had already clinched the NFC’s No. 1 seed prior to this game, the sisters got to watch not only their favorite starters, but promising reserves as well.

“This is an awesome season,” Sister Barbara said. “I really admire the character of (wide receiver) Davante Adams. He carries himself like a gentleman. And I think our running backs (Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon) are terrific. What a tandem.”

And when the Packers aren’t doing well? “We watch anyway and we commiserate with each other, and say, ‘Next week,'” she said.

Initially, the sisters followed their favorite team on a small TV.

“Mike Sherman, the former Packers coach, came here and saw our baby TV and gave us a large-screen TV so we could actually see the Packers games,” Sister Barbara said with a laugh.

That TV “wore out. It was used so much,” added Sister Paula Vanden Hogen. She started following the Packers more closely as the enthusiasm of the other Packer fans-sisters at the motherhouse began rubbing off on her.

“It’s been an exciting season. Challenging, but exciting. I think the Super Bowl is in sight for the Packers,” said Sister Paula, originally from Little Chute, Wisconsin.

The road to the Super Bowl comes one step closer for the Packers Jan. 22, when they play the San Francisco 49ers, who defeated the Dallas Cowboys Jan. 16.

Wearing a Christmas-style Packers hat while watching the game, Sister Carol Seidl explained that when she taught, students would give her Packers gloves, scarves and socks “galore.”

The Packers loomed large in her life growing up in Luxemburg, Wisconsin. Her father had season tickets to the Packers and attended the “Ice Bowl” in 1967 — the NFL Championship Game between the Packers and the Cowboys.

Her brother recently loaned her his four-volume book set on the history of the Packers and gave her a DVD about former offensive lineman Jerry Kramer, both of which she will share with her fellow Packers enthusiasts at the convent.

Sister Christine Stoller, who likes to knit during breaks in the game, grew up in a family of Packers enthusiasts. She is a native of the Algoma, Wisconsin, area.

“My mother loved (wide receiver) Donald Driver. She would get up and do her little dance when he did something good. She wore his jersey,” Sister Christine said.

Her brother, a retired professional photographer, used to photograph home games during the Bart Starr era.

“They had a lot of injuries this season, but they did well. They have a shot at the Super Bowl. Maybe this is the year,” Sister Christine said.

Weiss writes for The Compass, newspaper of the Diocese of Green Bay.