Thomasita Fessler

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Sister Mary Thomasita Fessler (February 23, 1912 – April 1, 2005) was an American painter and religious sister. Her work consisted of paintings, sculptures and designs for stained-glass windows. [1]



Fessler was born Majella Nicola Fessler in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the granddaughter of the prominent architect Erhard Brielmaier. She joined the Sisters of St. Francis when she was seventeen years of age and went on to graduate from University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Erhard Brielmaier American architect

Erhard Brielmaier was a renowned and prominent architect within United States and Canada from late 19th century through the 20th century. Erhard Brielmaier designed and built more churches and hospitals than any other architect.

University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee

The University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee is a public urban research university located in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, United States. It is the largest university in the Milwaukee metropolitan area and a member of the University of Wisconsin System. It is also one of the two doctoral degree-granting public universities and the second largest university in Wisconsin.

School of the Art Institute of Chicago independent school of art and design

The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) is one of America's largest accredited independent schools of art and design. It is located in the Loop in Chicago, Illinois. The school is associated with the museum of the same name, and "The Art Institute of Chicago" or "Chicago Art Institute" often refers to either entity. Providing degrees at the undergraduate and graduate levels, SAIC has been recognized by U.S. News & World Report as one of the top graduate art programs in the nation, as well as by Columbia University's National Arts Journalism survey as the most influential art school in the United States.

One of the most publicly known artists within the Brielmaier artist family, she was profiled by Life Magazine in a 1953 feature story [1] written by Jaqueline Mitchard. Prior to the publication, Fessler was being asked by the Church to reconsider whether she should she remain in the convent due to what the church hierarchy was 'seeing' in her artwork. Fessler's reply was that if there was a sexual nature they were 'seeing' in her artwork, they should look within themselves for the answer to what 'they' were 'seeing'. Fessler went on to found the Art Department at Cardinal Stritch University, becoming the Chair of the Art Department as well as founding the much acclaimed Studio San Damiano art gallery and studio for artists and education; based on her philosophy of, "Nature is God's art and art is man's nature" as well as the Brielmaier tradition of, "A child who learns to create will not destroy."

Cardinal Stritch University

Cardinal Stritch University is a private Roman Catholic university in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The university also offers courses in Brookfield, Wisconsin; Madison, Wisconsin; and has outreach programs throughout Wisconsin. Its motto, Ut probetis potiora, is taken from Philippians 1:10.

Fessler created over 600 paintings, most of which are now held in private collections, some within art galleries or museums such as the Haggarty Museum at Marquette University. Two of her elaborate huge sculptures made of precious woods to bring color distinction are featured on the entire walls of the Marquette University second and fourth floor library. Her hand carved 16-foot crucifix, altar sculptures or stone carvings can be seen within churches throughout the United States. Her Studio San Damiano, where she had worked for decades with artist Irene Kilmurry, closed on April 14, 2004. [2]

Marquette University private university in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, US

Marquette University is a private research university in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Established by the Society of Jesus as Marquette College on August 28, 1881, it was founded by John Martin Henni, the first Bishop of Milwaukee.


Fessler's Franciscan spirit of poverty and humility prevented her from having a publicist or agent, yet still went on to be listed in Who's Who of American Artists, Who's Who of Women, and named as one of the 100 Most Distinguished Women of Wisconsin. She was the first women inducted into the Wisconsin Architects' Association.


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