Sister Phyllis Wilhelm, OSF
Diocese of Superior, Wisconsin
Sister Phyllis Wilhelm, OSF has been a reflection of the light of Christ in the Native American communities of Northern Wisconsin for more than 43 years. Sister Phyllis is a sister of St. Francis of Mary Immaculate based in Joliet, Ill. and has been serving, teaching and evangelizing in the Diocese of Superior since 1974.
Sister Phyllis is the Pastoral Associate for St. Mary’s Parish on the Bad River Reservation and also serves as the Vicar for Religious for the diocese. Sister Phyllis worked as a Catholic school principal and educator for several years in the Bayfield Peninsula before the school was closed down. Despite the closing of schools, consolidation of parishes and the shift in the way religious women live out their vocation, Sr. Phyllis has been a guiding light for this American Indian Catholic community struggling with poverty, unemployment and rural depopulation.
Faced with a challenging task, Sister Phyllis has built and maintained a Catholic presence in the community since she has been in the Diocese of Superior. She has worked to increase lay involvement in the parish through the implementation of lectors, communion ministers and ushers in mass, as well as the parish’s building repairs. Sister Phyllis has been successful in her efforts with the numbers of returning tribal members and new children at liturgy consistently increasing. Sister Phyllis has established and maintained a religious education program that prepares Native American children for baptism, reconciliation and Eucharist, as well as a home-visiting program for elders and the sick.
It is through her strong faith and love of her surrounding Native American community that she is able to continue her ministry. “My love of them grows daily as I learn more about their lives and tradition,” Sister Phyllis said. “Their love of nature, God’s presence and each other has enhanced my own faith and its growth. I pray that my presence among them has given the gift of finding Christ in my words and actions.”
Sister Phyllis has had a significant impact and presence on the reservation for so long that she has become accustomed to several traditions and has even taught native traditions to younger generations that would have otherwise been lost. She has played a vital role in the evangelization of not only the Catholic Church, but the Native American culture by incorporating native traditions into the liturgy.
Sister Phyllis’ great courage and untiring sacrifice has provided the Native American community in Northern Wisconsin a bright sense of hope and faith through her service in education and evangelization.