Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur
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The institute was founded in Amiens in 1803, but the opposition of the local bishop to missions outside his diocese led to the moving of headquarters to then French Namur in 1809, from which it spread to become a worldwide organization. The Sisters now have foundations in five continents and in 20 countries.
Founded in 1804 at Amiens, France, by St. Julie Billiart and Marie-Louise-Françoise Blin de Bourdon, Countess of Gézaincourt, whose name as a Sister was Mother St. Joseph. Mlle Blin de Bourdon, who had received spiritual guidance from Julie for many years, offered to defray the immediate expenses of founding the Congregation.
At Amiens, August 5, 1803, they took a house in Rue Neuve. In the chapel of this house, at Mass on February 2, 1804, the two foundresses and their postulant, Catherine Duchatel of Reims, made or renewed their vow of chastity, to which they added that of devoting themselves to the Christian education of girls, further proposing to train religious teachers who should go wherever their services were requested. Victoire Leleu (Sister Anastasie) and Justine Garçon (Sister St. John) joined the institute this year and with the foundresses, made their vows of religion October 15, 1804. The Fathers of the Faith who were giving missions in Amiens sent to the five sisters women and girls to be prepared for the sacraments. St. Julie was successful and on the invitation of the missioners continued to assist them in the neighboring towns.
Returning to Amiens, the foundress taught the young sisters the ways of the spiritual life. To attain the double end of the institute, they found teachers, among whom were Fathers Varin, Enfantin and Thomas, the last-named a former professor in the Sorbonne, and Mother St. Joseph Blin, to train the novices and sisters.
The first regular schools of the Sisters of Notre-Dame were opened in August, 1806. Pupils flocked into the class-rooms at once. The urgent need of Christian education among all classes of society in France at that time, led the foundresses to modify their original plan of teaching only the poor and to open schools for the children of the rich also. A unique feature of St. Julie's educational system was to use revenue from the Institute's academies to defray expenses at the free schools.
The community lived under a provisional rule, based upon that of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, drawn up by Mother Julie and Father Varin, which was approved in 1805 by Msgr. Jean-François Demandolx, Bishop of Amiens. The necessary recognition was accorded on March 10, 1807. A more permanent Rule was adopted in 1818 and it was the basis for the various versions of the Rule until 1968. At that time a total revision occurred guided by changes at the second Vatican Council. The most recent update occurred in 1984.
The first branch house was established at St. Nicholas, near Ghent. St. Nicholas as well as Mother Julie's five other foundations in France, were all temporary. Later and permanent foundations were made in Belgium: Namur, 1807, which became the mother-house in 1809; Jumet, 1808; St. Hubert, 1809; Ghent, 1810; Zele, 1811; Gembloux and Andenes, 1813; Fleurus, 1814; and all arrangements for Liège and Dinant, though the communities took possession of these convents only after 1816.
Mother St. Joseph Blin de Bourdon, the co-foundress, was elected Superior General in succession to Saint Julie. During her generalate the institute passed through the most critical period of its existence, owing to the persecution of religious institutes by William of Orange-Nassau, King of the Netherlands. To compel them to remain in statu quo, to hold diplomas obtained only after rigid examinations in Dutch and French by state officials, to furnish almost endless accounts and writings regarding convents, schools, finances, and subjects, were some of the measures adopted to harass and destroy all teaching institutes; but Mother St. Joseph's tact, clear-sightedness, and zeal for souls saved the institute. During his tour in 1829, King William visited the establishment at Namur and was so pleased that he created the mother-general a Dutch subject. The Revolution of 1830 and the assumption of the crown of Belgium by Léopold of Saxe-Gotha put an end to the petty persecutions of religious. Mother St. Joseph founded houses at Thuin, 1817; Namur Orphanage, 1823; Hospital St. Jacques, 1823; Verviers, 1827; Hospital d'Harscamp and Bastogne, 1836, the latter having been for the past thirty years a state normal school; Philippeville, 1837. The most important work of her generalate was the compiling and collating the Rules and Constitution of the Sisters of Notre Dame. She has left an explanation of the rule; the particular rule of each office; the Directory and Customs. She had preserved a faithful record of all that Mother Julie had said or written on these points. She also drew up a system of instruction based upon that of St. John Baptist de La Salle.
Pope Paul VI canonized St. Julie Billiart in 1969.
Mother St. Joseph was twice re-elected superior-general, the term being at first fixed at ten years. To give greater stability to the government of the institute, a general chapter was convoked which should settle by ballot the question of life-tenure of the office of superior-general. The assembly unanimously voted in the affirmative. In 1819 a foundation was asked for the Netherlands by Rev. F. Wolf, S.J., but, on account of political difficulties, Mother St. Joseph could not grant it. She offered, instead, to train aspirants to the religious life. Accordingly, two came to Namur, passed their probation, made their vows, and returned to labor in their own country. This is the origin of the congregation of Sisters of Notre Dame of Amersfoort, whose mother-house is at Amersfoort, Netherlands. Later in 1850, the political situation in Europe necessitated that the Amersfoort Sisters go to Coesfeld, Germany to train two young women, Hilligonde Wohlbring, Elizabeth Kuhling,and others according to the rule of St. Julie. The Sisters of Notre Dame of Coesfeld spread to America and have large schools in Cleveland, Ohio, Covington, Kentucky, Toledo, Ohio, Thousand Oaks, California.
Mother St. Joseph died on February 9, 1838.
The third superior-general was Mother Ignatius (Therese-Josephine Goethals, b. 1800; d. 1842). Her services during the persecution under King William were invaluable. Excessive toil, however, told upon her later, and she died in the fourth year of her generalate; but not before she had sent the first colony of sisters to America in 1840.
She was succeeded by Mother Marie Therese, who, on account of ill-health, resigned her office the following year and Mother Constantine (Marie-Jeanne-Joseph-Collin, b. 1802, d. 1875) was elected. She governed the institute for thirty-three years, her term of office being marked by the papal approbation of the Rule in 1844, the first mission to England in 1845, to California in 1851, to Guatemala in 1859. Under Mother Aloysie (Therese-Joseph Mainy, b. 1817, d. 1888), fifth superior-general, the processes for the canonization of Mother Julie and Mother St. Joseph were begun in 1881; twenty houses of the institute were established in Belgium, England, and America. Under her successor, Mother Aimee de Jesus (Elodie Dullaert, b. 1825, d. 1907), the Sisters of Notre Dame, at the request of Léopold II of Belgium, took charge of the girls' schools in the Jesuit missions of the Congo Free State, where three houses were established. She also sent from England a community of eight sisters for the girls' schools in the Jesuit mission of Zambezi, Mashonaland. An academy and free school were opened later at Kronstadt, Orange River Colony, South Africa. Mother Aimee de Jesus was created by the King of Belgium a Knight of the Order of Leopold, and Sister Ignatia was accorded a similar honor after fourteen years of labor in the Congo. During this generalate Mother Julie Billiart was solemnly beatified by Pius X, May 13, 1906. Mother Marie Aloysie was elected superior general in January, 1908.
The current Congregational Leader is Sister Teresita Weind, elected in 2008.
The first foundation in America was made at Cincinnati, Ohio, at the request of the Right Reverend John B. Purcell, then Bishop and later the first Archbishop of Cincinnati. Sister Louise de Gonzague was appointed superior of the eight sisters who came here for this purpose. After firmly establishing the institute in America, failing health caused her recall to Namur, where she worked until her death in 1866. Upon Sister Louise, another of the original group, devolved in 1845 the charges of superior not only of the house of Cincinnati, but also of the others then founded or to be founded east of the Rocky Mountains. Every year the sisters were asked for in some part of the country and the mother-house of Namur gave generously of Sisters and funds until the convents in America were able to supply their own needs.
Sisters of Notre Dame founded fifteen houses, including Trinity College, Washington, D.C., and a provincial house and novitiate at Cincinnati, Ohio. Sister Agnes Mary (b. 1840, d. 1910) made three foundations and built the first chapel dedicated to Blessed Mother Julie in America, a beautiful Gothic structure in stone, at Moylan, Pennsylvania. Over the decades many houses have been founded in multiple states.
On February 22, 1847, a colony of eight sisters left Namur under the care of Right Reverend F.N. Blanchet and Father de Smet, S.J., to labor among the Indians of the Oregon mission. Five years later these sisters, at the request of the Right Reverend Joseph S. Alemany, Archbishop of San Francisco, were transferred to San Jose, California. The first establishment on the Pacific Coast was followed in course of time by ten others, which formed a separate province from Cincinnati. For thirty years it was under the wise care of Sister Marie Cornélia.
In 1851 two foundations were made in Guatemala, Central America, under government auspices and with such an outburst of welcome and esteem from the people as reads like a romance. In less than twenty years, the forty-one Sisters of Notre Dame were exiled.
It was through the Redemptorists that the Sisters of Notre Dame first went to England. Father de Buggenoms, a Belgian, superior of a small mission at Falmouth, felt the urgent need of schools for the poor Catholic children. He asked and obtained from the Superior of the Sisters of Notre Dame at Namur a community of six sisters, and with these he opened a small school at Penryn in Cornwall. It continued only three years, however, as the place afforded no means of subsistence to a religious house. The Redemptorists having established a second English mission at Clapham, near London, and having asked again for Sisters of Notre Dame for a school, the community of Penryn was transferred there in 1848. Through the initiative of Father Buggenoms the Sisters of the Holy Child Jesus, a community in the Diocese of Northampton, about fifty in number, were affiliated in 1852 to the Institute of Notre Dame, with the consent of the Bishop of Namur and Bishop of Northampton. Scarcely had the Hierarchy been re-established in England when the Government offered education to the Catholic poor; the Sisters of Notre Dame devoted themselves earnestly to this work, under the guidance of Sister Mary of St. Francis (Hon. Laura M. Petre), who was to the congregation in England what Mother St. Joseph was to the whole institute. Before her death (June 24, 1886) eighteen houses had been founded in England. By 1910 there were twenty-one.
Among these English houses is the Training College for Catholic School-Mistresses at Mount Pleasant, Liverpool, the direction of which was confided to the Sisters of Notre Dame by the Government in 1856. The nuns which governed the Training College resided in what is now known as Notre Dame Catholic College on Everton Valley.
At the request of the Scottish Education Department, the Sisters of Notre Dame opened the Dowanhill Training College for Catholic School-Mistresses at Glasgow in 1895. A second convent in Scotland opened at Dumbarton in 1910.
Following the Second Vatican Council, and with ecclesiastical approval, the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur updated their Constitutions in 1984. Their charism now, as then, is to make known God's goodness.
Notre Dame Health Care Center has been a leading health care facilitator for many years located in Worcester Massachusetts.
- Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur/Notre Dame Long Term Care Center
- Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur
- Dorothy Stang Center at Notre Dame de Namur University, Belmont California
- Notre Dame de Namur University, Belmont California
- Notre Dame Mission Volunteers - AmeriCorps
- Notre Dame High School for Girls in Chicago
- Notre Dame High School, San Jose, California
- East Catholic High School, Manchester, Connecticut
- "Institute of Notre-Dame de Namur". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 1913.
- About Us Notre Dame Mission Volunteers website. Retrieved 12/02/11.