Sisters extend Christian charity to Packers, too
Special to PTU
“Do you know the holy day in Packers’ history?” the nun asks gleefully, if a bit conspiratorially.
“It’s 12/4/15. Who is 12? Aaron Rodgers. Who is 4? Brett Favre. Who is 15? Bart Starr.”
That is the first lesson of the day on a visit to the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity, who live just west of Manitowoc.
The visit takes place not long after that so-called Packers holy day, and not long after the Green Bay Packers win a thriller against the Detroit Lions. You know the one.
“It was the Hail Mary pass!” Sister Winifred Crevier says. “We yelled like a bunch of ninnies!”
Yeah, it gets loud at Holy Family Convent when the Packers play.
“A play like that, you can’t help it,” says Sister Winifred, a choir director.
“I thought that last play was unbelievable,” says Sister Florita Schneider, a retired dentist who smiles at the thought of the Packers’ game-winner and recalls another Hail Mary pass thrown long ago.
“Doug Flutie. He played for Boston College, a Catholic university, so …”
Yeah, these sisters know their football.
“We do know plays and penalties,” says Sister Mary Frances Maher, a medical technician who also works with computers. “We can call them, too.”
The sisters gather to watch Packers games in a big room with more than a dozen recliners neatly lined up in three rows, all facing a huge flat-screen TV in the corner. Packers memorabilia, keepsakes and decorations surround the TV and fill the window ledges.
This is where the action is, and that action includes the pool run by Sister Martina Van Ryzin. The other sisters think she’s at least 90.
The sisters pony up $4.25 for the entire season. Those with the winning numbers get $1.25 at halftime and $1.25 at game’s end, says Sister Marlene Schwaller, a retired teacher. Do the math, and there’s $40 to be won over the 16-game season.
When the Packers play, seating in the big room is first come, first served, and every seat is full. Nothing is reserved, especially not the nuns.
It gets loud in that converted classroom. How loud?
“This is the room where you can holler,” Sister Mary Frances says.
That huge flat-screen is the new TV, by the way.
When Mike Sherman was the Packers’ coach, the nuns at St. Agnes Church on Green Bay’s west side told him about the sisters in Manitowoc, the ones who loved watching his team.
One day, Sherman and his son were on their way home from a ballgame in Milwaukee and stopped in Manitowoc to say hello to the sisters.
Sister Florita vividly recalls the announcement made after the coach checked in at the front desk of the convent: “Mike Sherman is here for a visit. This is not a joke!”
“I’ll send you something,” Sherman said as he left.
“We thought a football or a helmet,” Sister Mary Frances says.
“And then a TV showed up.”
Sherman’s visit was at least a decade ago, and his TV has since been replaced, but the sisters love telling that story.
Oh, yes, the sisters of Holy Family Convent take their Packers seriously. Don’t get them started on the announcers.
“Troy Aikman? Joe Buck? Ooohhhh,” Sister Mary Frances says, shaking her head and dismissing the Fox talking heads.
“We listen to Wayne and Larry,” Sister Marlene says.
“That habit came from my dad,” Sister Winifred says, dropping her headphones with white-and-green Packers cords on the table as proof that she, too, listens to the Packers’ radio team of Wayne Larrivee and Larry McCarren.
Even though she’s wired into the game, Sister Winifred does cross-stitch when the Packers play. “There’s so much down time,” she says, noting commercial breaks and time between plays.
So, do you ever miss a stitch when you get excited about a big play?
“No!” Sister Winifred says emphatically. “Then I don’t sew!”
The sisters take their Packers opponents somewhat less seriously.
“We have some Bears fans, too, but they’re usually OK if we beat ‘em,” Sister Mary Frances says.
Indeed, the Packers aren’t the only game in town, especially considering that their order, the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity, draws women from around the country and around the world.
“When we play the Steelers, we have a third TV room” for a Pittsburgh fan, Sister Marlene says.
Then there’s the Lions’ fan who lives down the hall from the loud room.
The nuns smile as they remember three sisters, all of whom loved their Packers.
Sister Claretta wore a cheesehead while watching games.
Sister Mary Paul, oh, she was a real piece of work. She’d call Bart Starr – then the Packers’ quarterback – after games.
Sister Sean Marie Tobin, who went to the Ice Bowl with her father in December, 1967, returned to Lambeau Field for the NFC divisional playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks in January, 2008. She won an essay contest and was thrilled to be chosen as an honorary captain for the game.
Yes, every once in a while, the sisters get to watch the Packers at Lambeau Field.
Last August, they were given tickets to the Packers’ preseason game against the New Orleans Saints.
“You’d be surprised how many people took our picture that day,” Sister Mary Frances says. “Like they don’t expect sisters to be at a ballgame.”
We confess. A picture of their group was published in Packerland Pride.
Going to games can be a bit of a mixed blessing, the sisters say.
“If we win, it’s because we were there. If we don’t win, it’s our fault because the nuns didn’t pray hard enough,” Sister Winifred says.
“We always pray for no injuries,” Sister Mary Frances says.
Even for the Packers’ opponents?
“I don’t want ‘em to get hurt. Maybe just a little cramped,” Sister Florita says with a sly smile.
Being given tickets to games can be a bit of a mixed blessing, too.
“So many times, the sisters get free tickets to Ice Bowl games,” Sister Winifred says, meaning cold-weather games no one else wants to sit through.
“So we put snowmobile suits on and put newspapers on the seat” to keep warm, she says.
The only problem, then, is cold feet. One time, Packers fans sitting in front of the sisters came to their rescue.
“Put ‘em on the bench. We’ll sit on ‘em,” Sister Winifred says to gales of laughter from the other nuns.
Sister Winifred is not kidding. Look closely at the memorabilia in the big room, and there’s a framed photo of Sister Winifred, all bundled up against the below-zero cold of the NFC championship game between the Packers and the New York Giants in January 2008.
That was a night game. The sisters don’t care for night games. Sometimes it’s hard to stay up to the end of the game.
“Noon games would be my choice,” Sister Florita says.
Sister Winifred agrees. Late-afternoon games conflict with vespers, the evening prayers that begin at 4:45 p.m.
Sometimes, though, you get a break. Sometimes, halftime arrives at just the right time, when one clock shows 0:00 and another shows it’s time for vespers.
Indeed, spirituality always comes first at Holy Family Convent. But walk through the elegant old building and look in the right places, and the Packers are there, too.
There is a second room for watching the Packers elsewhere in the convent. That is the quiet room. There is no hollering in the quiet room.
The sisters receiving care in the nearby St. Rita’s Health Center also have TVs to watch the Packers.
In the basement, Sister Linda Brandes sews Packers pillowcases, one of the handmade items sold in the convent’s craft shop.
“Have you seen our Packers aprons?” Sister Linda says, looking up from her sewing machine. They’re hanging on the wall behind her.
“You have to see our Packers corner,” Sister Mary Frances says.
There, in a corner display – and sold only to those who visit the convent in person – are Packers pillows, Packers knit caps, Packers scarves, Packers coasters, Packers hat pins, Packers hair ties and Packers knit key chains.
On this day, the sisters’ craft shop has its most popular item in stock.
They’re green and gold, of course. They cost $2 each.
They’re called Packers scrubbies. Small green-and-gold scrubbing pads.
“They go like hot cakes,” Sister Mary Frances says.
Only in Wisconsin.
Jeff Ash is a writer from Green Bay.