St. Agnes Convent & School
Visit One of Washington County’s Earliest Schools
Founded in 1858, the Sisters of St. Agnes managed one of the first schools in Washington County, educating children of all denominations. The site highlights the triumph of survival over inexperience on the unsettled Wisconsin frontier, and the drive to not give up but to seek success elsewhere.
Explore Pioneer Living in the 1850s
The St. Agnes site is an excellent representation of fieldstone construction and pioneer living in the earliest days of Wisconsin statehood. The Rectory and barn were donated to the Washington County Historical Society by Dr. Richard and Margaret Driessel in 1997; the convent in 2002. With the help of the community and volunteers, The Tower Heritage Center restored the Rectory and grounds. The St. Agnes site was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2010.
Visitors are welcome to walk the grounds dawn to dusk, Memorial Day to mid-October, weather permitting. An outdoor exhibit tells the story of the site. The Rectory and convent are open on select days listed on our Events calendar.
History of St. Agnes Convent and School
Born in Salzburg, Austria in 1809, Father Casper Rehrl came to the United States in search of a rural mission. In Milwaukee, he was assigned the northern region of the dioceses. At that time, priests traveled a circuit, spending a few days in each community before moving on. Father Rehrl traveled as far north as Green Bay and founded over 30 churches during his career.
In 1855 Father Rehrl had a vision while at the tomb of St. Agnes in Rome. He created the Sisters of St. Agnes to assist him with his missionary work.
Father Rehrl aimed to build schools open to all faiths wherever a church was built, but finding qualified teachers was difficult. In 1855 Father Rehrl had a vision while at the tomb of St. Agnes in Rome. He created the Sisters of St. Agnes to assist him with his missionary work. The convent was built in 1858, followed by the rectory in 1860 and the barn in 1877.
Young women, most between the ages of 11 and 13, joined the Sisters. The young age and inexperience of the sisters, coupled with the rural and backbreaking frontier life, led to unhappy conditions. By early 1861, few remained. Eventually, the Sisters moved to Fond du Lac under the leadership of Sister Mary Agnes. Father Rehrl remained in Barton with six sisters to tend to the mission churches until the Barton society was officially dissolved in 1879. Two sisters remained to care for the aging Father Rehrl, who died on September 3, 1881.