Herald JournalHerald Journal, June 14, 2004

Former Winsted residents to celebrate 60 years as sisters

By Liz Hellmann

Two former Winsted residents will celebrate their 60th anniversaries as School Sisters of St. Francis, with a service and reception at St. Joseph Center in Milwaukee, Wis., Saturday, June 19.

Sister Mary Jo Horstman and Sister Alexis Weinbeck both attended 12 years of school together at Holy Trinity High School in Winsted, before joining the School Sisters of St. Francis in 1943.

“My entire life, especially these last 60 years of religious life, has been full and happy. I’m so thankful to God for all the blessings and graces that have been given me. My God has been my Light through all these many years,” Weinbeck said.

Becoming School Sisters of St. Francis allowed both Weinbeck and Horstman to pursue their professional fields of interests, while also carrying out their religious ministry, something Weinbeck wasn’t aware was even a possibility before she joined.

“I had always wanted to be a sister or a nurse. I didn’t know you could be both,” Sister Weinbeck said.

It was only after accidently seeing a newspaper article about a sister and nurse when Weinbeck began thinking about combining her two career choices.

Sister Weinbeck was the fifth of eight children born to Anna and Henry Weinbeck of Winsted.

“My parents gave all of us a good, solid Catholic and educational background,” Weinbeck said.

Horstman, who was born on her family’s farm between Winsted and Howard Lake, is grateful for her educational background, as well.

“Both Sister Weinbeck and I received an excellent education at Holy Trinity High School,” Horstman said.

This education proved useful as they began their training. To become a sister, they both went through a year of postulancy. During this time, the sisters were introduced to the community.

The next two years are called novitiate. “That is the time when you really learn the rule of sisters, how sisters live, what we’re all about, what we should and shouldn’t do,” Horstman said.

Once they took their final vows to become School Sisters, they each began to study their field of interest.

“Our work is prayer plus activity. All of us have some sort of professional endeavor of one kind or another,” Weinbeck said.

For Weinbeck, that endeavor is nursing. She taught nursing at Alverno College in Milwaukee for 10 years, worked as service director at St. Joseph’s Hospital in St. Paul, and was active in establishing home hospice care in Milwaukee.

One of the highlights of her life and career was working as a home nurse for one year in Germany.

“I went with the idea of learning more about my German heritage, and with home nursing, I was able to get into the throes of the culture,” Weinbeck said.

Weinbeck also served as a nurse advocate for the sisters in Milwaukee.

Horstman spent her 60 years of service as a teacher. “Belonging to a religious community, I have always felt a great deal of support,” Horstman said.

Her career began shortly after World War II had ended, which meant population shifts, and Horstman was met with the baby boomers for the first time in the classroom.

Her first year of teaching, she had 60 first graders. The following years she had anywhere from 60 students to a high of 90 students.

Horstman taught 20 years of fifth through eighth grade. She then became employed by local technical schools, taught courses dealing with positive attitudes, and performed workshops and lectures for businesses in the late ‘70s and ‘80s.

One of the most memorable moments for Sister Horstman came during the Christmas season.

One year, a local television station was so impressed with the Christmas pageant put on by Horstman’s second grade class that it filmed it live on Christmas night.

Although both sisters are celebrating their 60 years of service, they have not let retirement slow them down.

They both continue serving the community by being involved in volunteer work suited to their areas of expertise.

They are both grateful for the opportunities they have received to carry out their professional and religious service as School Sisters of St. Francis.

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