Sister Thomasita Fessler Named Professor Emerita

Monday, October 8, 2012 1:25:00 AM

At an Honors Convocation in April, famed local artist and former Stritch instructor Sister Thomasita Fessler, OSF, was named professor emerita.

Sister Thomasita founded Stritch’s Art Department in 1947 and continued there for 44 years. Her dedication to art and art education brought her recognition and acclaim and resulted in many of her students going on to become recognized artists.

She also taught hundreds of budding artists and their families, many of whom brought their children and grandchildren back to her to teach. In 1991, Sister Thomasita moved her always-so-named Studio San Damiano to the grounds of the Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi Motherhouse. There, she exhibited the art she painted, sculpted and collected over the decades. Because of her advanced age and failing health, the studio was closed earlier this year.

In her lifetime, Sister Thomasita, who is now 92, produced between 600 and 800 works of art, from expressionistic paintings to wooden and clay religious sculptures and hand-made wedding bands. She also traveled to almost every continent on earth, photographing and bringing the essence of what she experienced back to Milwaukee.

She led more than 40 art-study tours to myriad places spanning the globe, and she did a cross-country lecture series that brought her passion for art to places as varied as police and fire stations as well as women’s groups and corporations. As a member of the Milwaukee Art Commission, she promoted art education and preservation throughout the city for more than 20 years.

Sister Thomasita’s talents have brought her many honors and much recognition. In 1950, she represented the United States in Rome at the World Catholic Art Conference, where she met the Pope. In 1954, she was featured in Life magazine. In the ’60s, she received the Governor’s Award for her dedication to the arts; and in 1992, she received the Distinguished Alumnus Award from the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee, an award shared by former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir and only 65 other of the university’s more than 100,000 alumni.

Reflecting her adherence to Franciscan values, Sister Thomasita’s creations always incorporated the earth’s natural elements, and she focused on allowing God to work through her and her students.