You’ve heard of the Flying Nun and the Singing Nun. Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity Archivist Sister Caritas Strodthoff shares about the ‘Drilling Nuns’, Sister Florita Schneider and Sister Jessica Zwarra.
This September it is 65 years since Sister Florita and Sister Jessica opened the convent dental doors at Holy Family Convent, Manitowoc, Wisconsin.
In 1922 when the St. Rita wing was constructed, the dental department looked like this. In the 1950’s need for dental care at the convent became acute when the local dentist retired and left the 2 operatory convent clinic vacant.
Sister Florita and Sister Jessica had entered the convent in 1951. The creative juices of Mother Edna Ryan were at work and the idea of preparing two Sisters to be dentists seemed just the solution. On August 15, 1953 they both professed their first vows and they were promptly sent off to Marquette University School of Dentistry.
They graduated in 1958. The dental department was remodeled and modernized to make accommodations for them. They were 25 years old. In September 1958 they opened their doors for business. Looking back they remember all that has changed: taking x-rays, making dentures, new equipment.
Sister Jessica was known to have said referring to Sister Florita checking her teeth every 6 months: “I love to go to the dentist because then I can sit down.”
Over the years their services have extended far beyond the walls of the convent especially to the poor and the elderly. They served as consulting dentists at St. Mary’s and St. Paul’s Nursing Homes as well as extended care at Holy Family Hospital. They volunteered at St. Joseph Medical Dental Clinic in Waukesha, Wisconsin. When refugees began to come to the area. Sister Margaret Speigl would bring the children to the Sister-Dentist to be cared for.
On October 1, 2013 Sister Florita retired from Dental Work. She remembers: “One time our Chaplain met the two of us in the elevator in the infirmary. He commented he was supposed to see the dentist twice a year. Since he saw two of us that should take care of his year.”