MANITOWOC — Sister Natalie Binversie learned plenty during her years as a student at Silver Lake College of the Holy Family, Creighton University, St. Bonaventure University and Angelicum Pontifical University in Rome.
But the lessons she learned decades ago as a youngster on her family’s dairy farm near St. Nazianz in rural Manitowoc County also remain important.
“I still hold very close to me the values learned over the years in that agricultural upbringing and family setting on the farm,” said Sister Natalie, in her sixth year as the community director for the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity, whose motherhouse is on the western outskirts of Manitowoc.
“I still hold those values close to me, especially the importance of the simple. Things were simple on the farm. I try not to make things too complicated — just keep them simple and put my trust in God.”
As the second oldest of 11 children to the late Alfred and Rita Binversie, Sister Natalie did whatever her family needed, from milking the 29 cows and chopping up vegetables for dinner to washing the laundry and helping raise her younger siblings.
She regularly used the two milking units on their herd of Holsteins to gather milk for shipping to Five Corner Cheese Factory. And she helped with the farm’s calves, pigs and chickens as well.
That hardworking, cooperative attitude mirrors her approach to overseeing the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity’s 221 Sisters, as well as the entities they sponsor and have a hand in operating. “A good number” of the Sisters come from farming or rural upbringings, she said.
“We are collaborative,” Sister Natalie said. “We talk about different issues and make decisions together. I don’t make decisions all on my own. I keep God as the center, and then lots of prayer. I really trust that God is in charge.”
Sister Natalie developed an interest in farming and faith at a young age. She said she began thinking about pursuing religious life about the time she took First Communion as a second-grader at the former St. Gregory Elementary School in the rural Manitowoc County village of St. Nazianz. Sister Natalie joined the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity at the age of 18 after graduating from St. Gregory High School.
Sister Natalie — the third person from St. Nazianz to serve as the FSCC’s community leader, along with Mother Gabriel Gramlich and Sister Ritarose Stahl — followed in the religious footsteps of several family members.
Three of her great-aunts were Salvatorian Sisters in St. Nazianz. Two of her aunts, Sister Conradine Leitermann and Sister Mary Luke Leitermann, were members of the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity. In addition, one uncle was a priest in Texas and another uncle served as a priest in the Diocese of Green Bay.
“The religious spirit has been alive and well in my family,” Sister Natalie said.
Like her parents, Sister Natalie is somewhat soft-spoken, yet well-respected in her community.
Her father, Alfred, grew up farming with his parents in the rural Manitowoc County community of School Hill. Despite concluding his education after eighth grade, which was normal at that time, Alfred was well read and served as a pillar in the community, Sister Natalie said.
Her mother, Rita, graduated from high school in Antigo and attended school to be a beautician. But after marrying Alfred, she helped on the farm and raised their 11 children, all of whom still live within a relatively short drive of the farm.
Those siblings include (in order from oldest to youngest): Frances (late husband Mike); Sister Natalie; Mike (and Sue) Binversie; Julie Binversie; Paul (and Lori) Binversie; Tony (and Darlene) Binversie; Ken (and Lisa) Binversie; Rose (and Kieth) Biese; Mary (and Martin) Seichter; Irene (and Keith) Novak; and John Binversie.
Rose and Kieth Biese now run the 185-cow, 500-acre farm where Sister Natalie grew up. They took over the operation in 1986 when the farm had 58 cows and 320 acres.
“Family is very important,” Sister Natalie said. “We make the effort to get together and have family reunions and look out for one another.”
Before being elected as community director, Sister Natalie served as novice directress and the directress of postulants/vocations. The majority of her time with the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity has been devoted to teaching, primarily kindergarten through third grade.
From 1972 until 2004, and again from 2005 to 2008, she taught at schools throughout the country. In Wisconsin she taught in Green Bay, Hollandtown and Sturgeon Bay. She also taught in California, Arizona, Hawaii, Ohio and Mississippi.
In her free time, Sister Natalie enjoys gardening, reading, cooking, baking, playing cards, writing letters and doing jigsaw puzzles.
She also likes to “walk the grounds of our property and make use of the benches to sit and enjoy the scenery.”