Mary’s Female Orders and Congregations in America, by Father B Rohner, OSB

detail of a stained glass rose window of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception; date unknown, artist unknown; Saint Nicholas Catholic Church, Zanesville, Ohio; photographed on 31 December 2014 by Nheyob; swiped from Wikimedia CommonsThe Congregation of Notre Dame of Montreal

The first female association in America that labored to train up daughters of Mary, was that of the Sisters of Notre Dame of Montreal. Even during the lifetime of its foundress, the venerable Margaret Bourgeoys, this Congregation of our beloved Lady counted eight flourishing establishments. Today it forms one of the brightest ornaments of the Church in Canada and the Eastern States. In fifty-six separate missions, six hundred Sisters are engaged in training more than fifty thousand children in the knowledge and love of Mary, and of her divine Son.

The Sisters of Notre Dame

In November, 1840, there came eight Sisters of Notre Dame from Namur in Belgium, to Cincinnati. They were the spiritual daughters of the Venerable Mother Julie Billiart, whose process of canonization is now pending at Rome.

The Venerable Mother Julie founded the institute of the Sisters of Notre Dame at Amiens, France, in 1803; but in January, 1809, she took up her permanent residence in the convent of Namur, which has been recognized as the mother-house to this day. The Venerable Mother Julie is termed in the Roman decree of beatification, “an admirable laborer in the Lord’s harvest.” She was born at Cuvilly, in the old province of Picardy on the 12th of July, 1751, and she died at Namur on the 8th of April, 1816, when, after sixty-five years of incessant toil and patient suffering in God’s work for the sanctification of souls, she was called to continue in heaven the hymn of praise to her benign Creator, which her whole life had sung to Him on earth.

The primary object of her Congregation was the salvation of the souls of poor children. The deplorable state of religious education in France at that time soon determined Mother Julie, however, to modify the original plan, so as to allow of opening schools for the rich as well as for the offspring of poverty. Her master-mind stamped this part of her work with a character distinctly its own. Nearly a century has passed since the foundation of their institute, but the Sisters of Notre Dame are still faithful to the fundamental principle of their venerable foundress, both in their own daily life and in the training of youth, i.e., simplicity, which Mother Julie held to be the basis of genuine culture and true character.

In 1844, twenty-eight years after the death of Mother Julie, the Rule and Constitution of the Sisters of Notre Dame received the formal approbation of the Holy See, and in 1889, seventy-three years after her life on earth had come to a happy close, Pope Leo XIII honored the heroic servant of God with the title of “Venerable.” The tomb of the venerable foundress, which is in the chapel of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, in the grounds of the mother-house of Namur, is constantly visited by numerous pilgrims, who come to venerate the precious remains. As soon as the Sisters arrived in Cincinnati they began without delay the exercise of their religious mission by laying the foundation of a broad and intellectual Catholic education, whose beneficent influence has radiated from North to South, from shore to shore of this great land of liberty, blessing millions of souls for upwards of fifty-seven years. The first house occupied as a convent by the Sisters in Cincinnati, nearly opposite the old cathedral (now Saint Xavier’s Church), was soon found too small for the rapidly-growing wants of the community, for which reason a large house and garden located on Sixth Street was purchased. This property was subsequently enlarged and greatly improved. The foundation of the Congregation of Notre Dame in America has prospered beyond the most cherished hopes. High and low-born, rich and poor pupils, girls from every walk in life have benefited by this holy institute. Classes for those unable to pay their tuition were opened simultaneously with a boarding-school, and the pious and devoted Religious-true followers of the meek and humble Saviour-were soon delighted to see that the pupils in the parochial schools surpassed in number those of the academy. This free school has developed into the present Saint Xavier Girls’ Parochial School, which has been taught gratuitously by the Sisters of Notre Dame for more than half a century. In the course of years, twelve other parish schools were opened in the city, and are conducted by the Sisters to this day: a school in which deaf-mutes are instructed in the ordinary branches of education was opened in 1889, in connection with the Sixth Street Academy. There are in Cincinnati today three flourishing academies under the direction of the Sisters, and devoted to the higher education of girls-one at the Sixth Street convent, another at Court and Mound Streets, and the third on East Walnut Hills. The latest and most important foundation is the convent on Grandin Road, East Walnut Hills, commonly known as “Our Lady’s Summit.” It is destined to serve the triple purpose of a novitiate or training house for postulants and novices, a home for invalids and superannuated Sisters, and a select day-school or academy. The boarding-school for young ladies at Mount Notre Dame, near Reading, a village nine miles north of Cincinnati, is one of the most famous institutions of its kind in the United States.

Schools and academies were later founded in other parts of the state of Ohio, notably in Toledo, Dayton, Hamilton, Chillicothe and Columbus. The houses in Toledo and Chillicothe have been abandoned.

In 1843, a colony of six Sisters of Notre Dame, accompanied by the famous Jesuit missionary, Father de Smet, left the mother-house in Belgium for the United States to take charge of the Indian schools in Oregon. Seven other Sisters followed them to the same arduous field of labor under the care of Bishop Blanchet, in 1846. The Sisters labored several years among the Indians and half-breeds, amid the greatest hardships and dangers, until 1851, when, at the request of the bishop of San Francisco, they were transferred to San Jose. Their efforts in the mission of San Jose were attended with the most gratifying success, and several foundations in California attest today the excellent results of the change.

According to their official data, the Sisters of Notre Dame now have forty flourishing foundations or religious houses in the United States, located in Ohio, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Washington, D.C., Rhode Island and California. Of these foundations, the most prominent are the houses in Cincinnati, Boston, Waltham, Mass, Philadelphia, San José and San Francisco.

In their convents, schools and academies they have under their direction 25,074 parish scholars, 2474 boarding and day scholars, 13,218 Sunday scholars, 22,089 socialists, 1213 Sisters, and altogether, as these statistics at the close of the year 1896 show, not less than 63,167 souls have directly felt the exalting, ennobling and beneficent influence of the training and example of these humble and self-sacrificing servants of Mary.

One of the fairest gems in the crown of good deeds that encircles their honored name is the Tabernacle Society, branches of which have been established and are flourishing in their convents at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Boston, Mass, San Jose, California, Cincinnati, Dayton and Columbus, Ohio. This pious Association is a league of worshippers of the Eucharistic God, of Jesus in the Most Holy Sacrament of the altar, and its special purpose is to furnish gratuitously to poor churches the requisites for divine service, suitable vestments and adornments for the sanctuary. The good that is accomplished by these Tabernacle Societies is of incalculable value to poor churches, and of vast benefit to poor missionaries, while at the same time it has been a most powerful means of intensifying and propagating devotion to the Blessed Sacrament among the people.

True to their name and spirit, the Sisters of Notre Dame are everywhere foremost in promoting devotion to the blessed Mother of God, while possessing an acknowledged reputation for the correct and perfect training of youth. Coeval with every foundation of the Sisters of Notre Dame we find in them “The Children of Mary,” the “Holy Maternity Sodality,” the “Confraternity of the Rosary” and the “Confraternity of the Holy Family,” varying with the age, needs or tastes of members, and meeting at stated periods to honor the Blessed Virgin Mary. To the usual devotions, lectures and short addresses are added in preparations for great festivals, besides special novenas, which are the occasion of exhortations from eloquent pulpit-orators on the exhaustless theme of Mary’s virtues and prerogatives.

Another branch of the Sisters of Notre Dame came to the United States in 1874, from Cwsfeld, Germany. These Sisters have their mother-house in Cleveland, Ohio, and have establishments in the dioceses of Cincinnati, Cleveland and Covington. They number about three hundred professed Sisters.

The School Sisters of Notre Dame

In the year 1847 four school Sisters of Notre Dame arrived from Munich, Bavaria, in Baltimore, to take charge of the school attached to the then recently established Church of Saint James. In the following year, Right Reverend Dr. Henni, first archbishop of Milwaukee, on his way to the Eternal City, called at Munich on King Louis, of Bavaria. The bishop’s wish to have a branch of the Bavarian school Sisters in his episcopal city, was met by the king’s promise to pay for the first house they would occupy in Milwaukee. With the approval of the Mother General, Sister Mary Caroline Friess set out from Baltimore, and, after a very long and difficult journey arrived in Milwaukee a few days before Christmas, 1850.

The little band of pioneer Sisters received a most cordial welcome from the noble-hearted bishop. On a gently sloping hill between Lake Michigan and the Milwaukee River, where a fine prospect is afforded of the whole city of Milwaukee, there stood a two-story brick house that once belonged to a Presbyterian minister. This house and lot, together with two lots adjoining, the bishop purchased for the use of the newly-arrived Sisters, and paid for it with the king’s money.

Under the prudent management of their beloved Superioress, and the spiritual and temporal guidance of their excellent Father Confessors, first Father Anton Urbanek and then, after the year 1858, Father Francis X Krautbauer, afterwards bishop of Green Bay, the little colony of school Sisters throve and prospered from year to year, buying up lot after lot of adjoining ground until the whole block, containing an area of more than two acres, became the property of the Sisters.

As the number of boarders increased at the institute, as well as the number of pupils in the day-schools, it became necessary to cover the whole block with spacious buildings. The visitor now sees before him the main front of the institute, 365 feet in length, on Milwaukee Street. There are at present, including the Eastern Province, 2585 Sisters and 235 candidates, all claiming this as their principal mother-house.

From this nursery of piety and learning hundreds of Sisters go forth annually to teach in their several institutes, academies and high schools 2712 young ladies, in their orphan asylums 2536 fatherless and motherless little ones, and in their 231 parish schools 75,318 school children.

The Sisters of the Visitation

The Sisters of thc Visitation of Mary have exhibited in America a similar rapidity of growth and an equally untiring activity. This Order, first founded by Saint Francis de Sales, was established in America by Dr. Leonard Neale, the second archbishop of Baltimore. When in charge of souls at Philadelphia, Father Neale felt the necessity of having an Order of religious women to teach the rising female generation their duty to God, and love for Mary. The providence of God so directed things that in the year 1805 he was able to begin in Georgetown 2 house of the Order of the Visitation. In the year 1816, when coadjutor to Archbishop Carroll, he received the vows of the first thirteen Sisters, and placed over them as Superioress the prudent, gentle and saintly Sister Mary Theresa Lalor. The bishop would have been glad to bring from the parent house of this Order in Europe, a colony of the older Sisters to train and form his youthful aspirants, but the money being wanting, he had to be satisfied with the written rule. It was only in 1829 that three Sisters came at last from France to Georgetown. Having remained three years and discharged the object of their mission, these visiting Sisters returned home to report that the spirit of Saint Francis de Sales and the heart of Saint Jane Frances de Chantal pervaded the American branch of their Order. Some five years previously the poverty of the Sisters was so embarrassing that it seemed that they must disband. Indeed, this sad measure was decided upon and about to take place, When God sent them most unexpected and opportune assistance. ‘I’o-day the Sisters of the Visitation own some of the most successful seats of learning in the Eastern States, and their duties lie chiefly among the daughters of the better classes of society. The diocese of Baltimore has five convents; Saint Louis has two with over sixty-four members; Wheeling three, with seventy eight members; Brooklyn two, with fifty members; Covington two, while Mobile, Dubuque, Richmond, Saint Paul, Tacoma, Hastings, and Wilmington have each one prosperous community.

The Sister of Loretto, or Friends of Mary at the Foot of the Cross

Among the many forms of devotion to the august Queen of heaven, none seems of a more attractive character in this world of misery, than devotion to her dolors. She is of our race and nature; her human woes during a prolonged life of trial, appeal to our hearts and engage our sympathies with the irresistible force of a subject clearly understood, while the climax of her sorrow, as she stands beneath the gibbet of ignominy, whereon her divine Son is expiring, lifts her far above our region of possible suffering, and enthrones her Queen of martyrs. Standing there on the desolate hill of Calvary, this noble woman accepts us for her children, and deigns to love us as the legacy left by her beloved Son. Those who weep have now a comforter forever more.

A fervent apostle of this devotion to our sorrowful Mother was the Rev. Charles Nerinckx, a missionary from Flanders, who came to America early in the nineteenth century. A voluntary exile from his native land, where a hostile government would not allow him to exercise the functions of his priestly office, he was content to toil among the pioneers of rude, western settlements, and look to Heaven for his reward.

Father Nerinckx arrived 2 July 1805, at the house of Reverend Stephen Badin, the only priest then in the lonely district of central Kentucky. Years of hard, unsatisfactory labor followed. Both holy men saw it would be impossible to train the rising generation without good, Catholic schools, and some permanent arrangement for their maintenance, but alas! what prospect was there for such a thing, where men had to struggle for the bare necessaries of life? With his accustomed piety, Father Nerinckx placed the matter in Our Lady’s hands. But the hour of Providence had not struck and these pious hopes and fervent prayers were seemingly in vain.

It was not until 1812 that Misses Mary Rhodes, Anne Havern and Christine Stuart banded themselves together as teachers for the little girls of the neighborhood; they were soon joined by Misses Anne Rhodes and Nellie Morgan, as fellow-laborers. These young ladies had enjoyed the advantages of a Christian education in their Maryland homes, and grieved to see their little relatives and friends deprived of so great a blessing. They determined, as far as lay in their power, to supply this need. They dwelt together in a small log cabin, near Hardin’s Creek, Marion county, Kentucky, and opened their school, with their holy pastor’s blessing; they soon applied to him for a rule by which to guide their own daily lives and devotions, at which request hope lighted a tiny flame in the earnest missionary. Could they not become Religious, and repeat our holy Mother’s life of poverty, chastity and obedience? Happy in the thought that he dared not mention to the youthful candidates until he had consulted Right Reverend B. J. Flaget, then bishop of Kentucky, his mind was made up, in case his petition found favor, to call this religious body of American origin by some favorite title of God’s Virgin Mother, and perpetuate, in this new diocese, a special devotion to Mary at the foot of the cross. The zealous bishop was delighted and accorded all the permission within his power to grant to Father Nerinckx, encouraging him to push forward a good work that seemed to promise so much for the salvation of souls. The humble recluses in the little log cabin were happy beyond words at this realization of their own secret hopes, and accordingly the three oldest postulants were clothed with the habit and veil of religion, April 25, 1812, in Saint Charles’ Church, Marion county, Kentucky, before a crowd of spectators, who gathered from all sides to witness so solemn a ceremony, performed for the first time in these western wilds. The new Order was called “Loretto” or “Friends of Mary at the Foot of the Cross,” and every hour Sisters and pupils still repeat, “O Suffering Jesus! O Sorrowful Mary!”

The little mustard seed took root; its branches spread to many states. Like the star of empire, so did the star of Loretto move ever westward, until from the cradle of the Society among the verdant hills of Kentucky, 21 small colony was planted on the Pacific coast. The mother-house of the Order is still in Marion county, Kentucky, about six miles from the site of the little school-house, where once dwelt the nucleus of its now widespread ranks; it is situated on the very spot where Father Badin welcomed Father Nerinckx in 1805, and where both missionaries lived together for many years. The house they occupied is preserved by the Lorettines as a relic, only less valuable in their eyes than the shrine made of logs, brought from the vicinity of Saint Charles’ Church-logs which once formed a part of the dwelling of Father Nerinckx, when he was pastor of many churches and founder of the Society of Friends of Mary at the Foot of the Cross.

There are eight communities in various parts of Kentucky, the birthplace of the Society, one academy and three parochial schools in Illinois, nineteen academies and schools in Missouri, seven in Colorado, eight in New Mexico, two in Texas, two in Alabama. The local Superiors and faculties in all the academies and parochial schools are appointed by the Mother Superior and central council dwelling at Loretto, and to the mother-house there, young members often return to improve themselves for their school duties. Love of Mary and devotion to her dolors is still a prominent feature in the lives of all connected with Loretto, Sisters and pupils alike, thus carrying out the directions given in one of Father Nerinckx’s quaintly characteristic letters, “Adhere to the tree that Mary planted there; stand by the cross that Mary erected there. O Loretto Sisters, let Loretto be Loretto forever!”

The Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin

In a similar state of prosperity we find the Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin. This Congregation was founded in Ireland by Miss Nano Nagle, with the view of educating the daughters of the working classes, but their schools now admit children of every grade, and under the British government their religious teachers are recognized and liberally paid by the Board of Education.

The Congregation was sanctioned by Pius VI in 1791 and confirmed as a solemn Order by Pius VII in the year 1805.

There are nearly one hundred convents of this Order in Ireland, fifteen in Newfoundland and several in the British Colonies of the East Indies, Australia and Tasmania. The success of this Order in the British Colonies is remarkable. Their boarding and day-schools are largely attended. They prepare pupils for matriculation at the universities of Sydney and Madras.

In Ireland and India some of these convents have large technical schools and orphanages, as also in Madras, Vepery, and the Punjab, East India.

The houses in New York City, and Staten Island, Albany,Fitchburg (four houses) Dubuque, North and South Dakota, San Francisco (four houses) and Los Angeles, spring from the parent stock in Ireland.

Sisters of Christian Charity

This Congregation was founded at Paderborn, Westphalia, November 4, 1850, by Paulina von Mallinckrodt, sister of the distinguished German statesman, Herman von Mallinckrodt. Its progress was wonderful, and within a few years its houses were to be found everywhere in Germany. Its principal object is the education of youth. In 1873 the Sisters opened a house in Wilkes-barre, Pennsylvania, and they now have establishments in the dioceses of Baltimore, Chicago, Cincinnati, New Orleans, New York, Philadelphia, Saint Louis, Saint Paul, Albany, Brooklyn, Troy, Harrisburg, Newark, Scranton, and Syracuse.

The Sisters of the Assumption

The Congregation of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary was founded in the parish of Saint Gregory the Great, diocese of Three Rivers, now of Nicolet, on 8 September 1853, by three young ladies, under the patronage of Rev. J. Harper, pastor, and Reverend J. C. Marquis, his vicar. The chief object of the institution is to educate young girls and prepare them to teach school. The Congregation numbers now above two hundred living members that are sent to their different branch houses in Canada, United States and Northwest Territory. The novitiate is at Nicolet City, where the mother-house was transferred in September, 1872.

The Sisters of the Holy Cross and Seven Dolors

The Congregation of the Sisters of the Holy Cross was founded in France, in 1837, by the Very Rev. B. A. M. Morean, C.S.C.

The aim of this community is to honor the suffering life of the Blessed Virgin by the simple and perpetual vows of religion. The end of the institution is the education of young girls in boarding and parochial schools and visiting the sick in their homes.

The Mission of Saint Laurent, near Montreal, Canada, was established in 1847. It separated from the mother-house in 1882, and the Canadian community then took the name of Sisters of the Holy Cross and Seven Dolors. The Congregation contains two hundred and twenty-five professed Sisters and sixty-one novices, six postulants, with thirteen houses in Canada, and twelve in the United States.

Sisters of Saint Mary, or Lockport, New York

The Institute of the Sisters of Saint Mary, placed especially under the protection of the most Blessed Virgin, has for its principal object the instruction and education of young girls.

It was founded by Rev. Dom Jerome N. I. Minsart, Religious of the Order of Saint Bernard, who with the approbation of the Right Rev. Bishop of Namur, Belgium, established it in 1819 as a teaching body.

In 1863, Right Rev. Bishop John Timon introduced the Order in the diocese of Buffalo, New York.

The foundress, Rev. Mother Emilie, with four other Sisters, came to America with Rev. Father Smarius, S.L, and shortly after, Rev. Father John de Smet, S.J., accompanied four more Sisters from Belgium to New York.

Reverend Mother Emilie founded the first house in this country in 1863, at Lockport, where the novitiate and the training-school for the teachers of the institute are located.

The Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary

Of recent origin also is the Society of the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary. On All Saints’ Day, 1843, the first three Sisters, Eulalia Durocher, Melodia Dufresne and Henrietta Cere, laid the foundation of this community at Longueuil, in the diocese of Montreal. Today its statistics give a list of 727 professed Sisters, 36 novices and 38 postulants. In Montreal it has eleven houses with 2850 pupils; in Valleyfield, five houses with 790 pupils; in Saint Hyacinth, two houses with 180 pupils; in the archdiocese of Saint Boniface, five houses with 530 pupils; in London, four houses with 350 pupils; and in the United States from New York to California and Oregon, and as far south as Key West there are twenty-seven houses with 21,452 pupils.

The Sister-Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary

The Congregation of the Sister-Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, was founded at Monroe, Michigan, in 1845, by Reverend Gillet, with the approbation and co-operation of Right Rev. Bishop Letevre of Detroit.

Placed under the protection of Mary Immaculate, its special mission is the education of youth. The Sisters use every means to promote the honor of their patroness, and strenuously endeavor to inculcate in the hearts of their pupils a tender and childlike devotion to her.

In 1857, Right Reverend Monsignor Joos, V. G., was appointed to direct the community, and to his wise administrative ability are due its progress and prosperity of today.

Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary

This Society had its heroic beginning in France during the Revolution in 1789. The founder of the new institute was Rev. Pere de Clorievierre, provincial of the Society of Jesus in Paris, aided by other members of his community.

The Society was introduced into the United States in 1853 by the Venerable Madame Victorine Boucher, Madamoiselle Ernestine Nardin, the present provincial, and Madame Marie Le Masson, at present Superior at Cleveland, Ohio. As in Europe, the success of the Order in this country has been marvellous. In the United States the members of the Order conduct the following good works: Academies for the higher education of young ladies, kindergartens and preparatory schools for little girls and boys, parochial schools for white and Indian girls, trades schools for deaf and dumb boys and girls, homes for working-girls of good character, institutes for improved instruction of deaf-mutes (pure oral and combined methods), day nurseries for the children of working mothers, night refuges for homeless women and children, orphan asylums for both white and Indian children, educational mission schools for Indian and Italian children, and a home for aged and infirm priests.

Sisters of the Holy Humility of Mary

This community was founded in the diocese of Nancy, France, in the year 1855, by Rev. John Joseph Bagel, parish priest of Laitre. In 1864 the founder, with the whole community, immigrated to the United States and by order of the Right Reverend A. Rapp, bishop of Cleveland, settled near the village of New Bedford, Lawrence County, Pennsylvania. The convent grounds and vicinity are now known by the name of “Villa Maria.” This place, though originally in the diocese of Pittsburg, belongs now, by special agreement, to the diocese of Cleveland. Miss Antoinette Poitiers, in religion Mother Mary Magdalene, was the foundress and first Superioress, after whose death on March 7, 1864, Mother M. Anna became Superioress and held that office until 1883, when Mother M. Odile was elected. Mother M. Patrick, who was elected in 1889 is the present Superioress. The principal good works in which the Sisters are engaged, are teaching, the care of the sick, and the maintenance and education of orphans. They also take charge of the choirs and decorate the altars of the churches in the various parishes where they are engaged in teaching. The Religious keep an orphan asylum at the mother-house, Villa Maria, and they teach at present in three parochial schools at Cleveland, Ohio, and in parochial schools at Paynesville, Berea, Alliance, Doylestown, Niles and Upper Sandusky, Ohio.

The Sisters of Charity of Nazareth

In Kentucky we find the first organized community of these Sisters who, under the invocation of the Queen of heaven, devote themselves to corporal works of mercy and by their disinterested and self-sacrificing devotion to the bodily needs of their fellow-creatures win many souls to the kingdom of God. They are known as the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth. To-day they count two hundred and sixty members and thirty-six novices, all engaged in twenty-four schools and hospitals. This Society is indebted for its origin, and, in agreat measure, for its subsequent success, to the heroic efforts made in its behalf by Right Rev. Dr. David, coadjutor-bishop of Louisville.

On the 21st of January, 1813, this saintly prelate gave to the new Sisters their rule of life, according to the spirit of which they were to adopt the life of the Virgin Mother of Nazareth as the model of their own. Like her they were to instruct poor children and servants, to visit and nurse the sick irrespective of their religion; in a word, to practice all kinds of corporal and spiritual works of mercy whenever opportunity offered.

The Sisters of Mercy

Very numerous have those colonies of Sisters become which at different periods of time were transplanted from Ireland and are known as the Sisters of Our Blessed Lady of Mercy, or familiarly, as the Sisters of Mercy. This religious community was organized in Duty lin, in 1829, by Miss Catharine McAuley. In that same year Bishop England of Charleston established a colony of them in his episcopal city. This last had but one branch, the house at Savannah. The former, however, spread rapidly, not only over Ireland and England, but through most of the British provinces scattered all over the world. In the year 1843 Bishop O’Connor brought seven of these Sisters from Ireland to found a house in Pittsburg. The great and zealous Archbishop Hughes, in the same year, introduced several into his large and populous city where they founded the spacious convent of Saint Catharine, at the corner of Mulberry and Houston Streets, not far from what was, at that time, the cathedral and episcopal residence. In 1843 they came to Newfoundland, and in 1854 to San Francisco on the Pacific coast. To-day we find them settled in thirty of the principal dioceses of the United States and Canada, busily occupied with the education of young girls, the care of the sick, visiting the prisons and the hospitals, toiling arduously and cheerfully in orphan houses and homes for the insane. Thus, for example, they have in Saint Louis a hospital in which the Sisters every year nurse from eight hundred to nine hundred patients, distribute medicine and give medical advice to eight hundred patients at the convent door, and train up some six hundred persons as servants. In addition to all this they visit the poor sick and dying in their own poor homes. In many of the large cities they have established industrial schools, in which females out of employment find food and shelter. and protection from error and vice. In accordance with the spirit of their rule they utilize every opportunity to implant in the souls of their beneficiaries love and confidence in the Mother of God. Who can tell the amount of good that is thus accomplished? Every day the Sisters repeat with their wards the Rosary and the litany of Loretto. All the chief festivals of the Blessed Virgin are for them days of happiness and piety. Their vacation-time lasts from the festival of the Scapular, July 16th, till the feast of the Assumption. Saturdays are their resting-days throughout the year. Every year, on Candlemas Day. kneeling before the altar of their blessed Mother, with lighted tapers in their hands, they repeat anew the vow by which they have dedicated themselves forever to the service of Mary in the persons of her distressed children.

Sisters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul

Among the numberless female Orders in the Church none have a greater devotion to the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, than the Sisters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul. In fact it may be said that the veneration of Our Lady under this, her most glorious title, is peculiarly the devotion of the Sisters of Charity. Their founder, Saint Vincent de Paul, was born and passed his early years in the shadow of the renowned sanctuary of Our Lady of Buglose, a humble shrine, but one much frequented as a place of pilgrimage, in the village of Pony, France. And, as his biographer with simple fervor relates: “The power of Mary was there where her name was so especially honored, and the heart of the youthful Vincent seemed to expand beneath its influence and to have capacity to receive it in its fullness.”

As a mere child we learn that the future saint was in the habit of directing his toddling steps to the feet of a statue of Our Lady which his own baby hands had placed in the hollow of an oak. Years passed, the child became a man, a priest, a founder of unnumbered religious organizations, a reformer of abuses, the “apostle of universal charity.” Then his devotion to Mary, growing with the years, manifested itself in a signal manner. All his Confraternities, all the works established by him for the good of the Church or the relief of the poor, were invariably placed in an especial manner under the protection of the Mother of God. “And,” says M. Abbé Maynard, “two hundred years before the definition of the Church, he proclaimed the privilege of her Immaculate Conception.”

Certain it is that among the “Sisters of Charity,” established in France by our saint and Mlle. Le Gras, in the year 1633, two especial usages in Mary’s honor have from the time of their inception ever been observed in their communities: the first, an act of consecration to the Blessed Virgin on the feast of the Immaculate Conception: the second, the ending each decade of the Chaplet by the following profession of faith: “O Most Holy Virgin! I believe and confess thy holy and Immaculate Conception, pure and without spot! O Most Pure Virgin! by thy virginal purity, by thy Immaculate Conception and thy glorious quality of Mother of God, obtain for me of thy dear Son, humility, charity, great purity of heart, body and soul, holy perseverance in my dear vocation, the gift of prayer, a good life and a happy death.”

The great saint dies, nearly two hundred years have rolled away into the ages, when a signal favor from Mary comes to crown his devotion to that most gracious Mother. It is the 18th of July, 1830, the eve of the feast of Saint Vincent de Paul. The community of the Sisters of Charity at the mother-house in Paris has retired to rest. Sister Catharine Labouré, one of the humblest members of the Order, but one with a heart full of the warmest love towards Mary, is sleeping as the rest, when, suddenly in her dreams she hears her name called distinctly three times. Awaking, she parts her bed-curtains on the side whence the voice proceeds. A little child of ravishing beauty stands before her. “Come,” he whispers, in melodious accents, “Come, Sister, to the chapel-the Blessed Virgin awaits you. Have no fears,” adds the child, seeing her natural hesitation, “it is half-past eleven, everybody is asleep, I will accompany you.”

Sister Catharine rises, dresses hastily, and accompanies the angel child who walks at her left, and, with the radiant light beaming from his golden hair and noble person, illumines the dark halls and corridors through which they pass. The ponderous chapel door flies open at his touch, the altar is a blaze of lights. The trembling Sister, conducted by her guide, kneels within the sanctuary, her bowed form bathed in the golden glory. There she is favored with her first vision of the Queen of heaven.

In November of this same year, 1830, Sister Catharine is a second time favored with the apparition. The circumstances are thus related by M. Aladel, her spiritual director:

“At half-past five in the evening, while the Sisters are in the chapel making their meditation, the Blessed Virgin appeared to a young Sister as if in an oval picture; she was standing on a globe, only one half of which was visible; she was clothed in a white robe and a mantle of shining blue, having her hands covered as it were, with diamonds, whence emanated luminous rays falling upon the earth. . . . Around the picture, written in golden letters were these words: ‘O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee!’ The reverse of the picture bore the letter M surmounted by across,having a bar at its base, and beneath the monogram of Mary were the hearts of Jesus and Mary, the first surrounded with a crown of thorns, the other transpierced with a sword. Then she seemed to hear these words: ‘ A medal must be struck upon this model; those who wear it indulgenced, and repeat this prayer with devotion, will be, in an especial manner, under the protection of the Mother of God.’ At that instant the vision disappeared.”

This, of course, was the origin of the modern expression of the devotion to the Immaculate Conception, whose glorious dogma was proclaimed as an article of faith on 8 December 1854, just four-and-twenty years after the vision vouchsafed to the humble Sister of Charity. In the meanwhile the Order to which the favored Religious belonged, was already flourishing in another hemisphere. Hundreds and thousands of miles away, across the mighty waves which separate two continents, a branch of Vincent’s wondrous tree, planted by a woman’s gentle hand, one day took root upon the virgin soil of the New World. Elizabeth Seton, a devout and holy widow, a zealous convert to the faith, instituted with four young companions, in Emmittsburg, Maryland, the first community of Sisters of Charity in America. First and foremost Mother Seton designed that her Order should be for the poor and suffering, for their help, instruction and enlightenment. The exigencies of the times eventually led to a broader extension of the desire which had come to her in a moment of grace. Education, and education of the higher sort, she recognized as the crying need of the age. This want she endeavored to supply by the establishment of an academy and convent boarding-school for young ladies in her mother-house, “Saint Joseph’s in the Valley,” about half a mile from Emmittsburg.

In 1817, the Sisters were summoned to New York by Bishop Connolly, where their first care was that of the orphans. In 1843 this New York branch, then numbering thirty-three, was erected into a separate and independent community, of which Sister Elizabeth Boyle, a woman of saintly character, was chosen first Mother Superior. She was succeeded in turn by three remarkable women, namely Mother Angela Hughes – sister to the lion-hearted prelate, he whose very name was a tower of strength and fortitude to the Church in those early days – Mother Jerome Ely, peculiarly identified with hospital work in the great metropolis, and Mother Regina Lawless, each a heroine and a pioneer in religion’s ranks.

At its foundation in New York, the community numbered as we have said, but thirty-three; today it counts not less than one thousand two hundred. The Sisters conduct various establishments, academies, parochial schools, hospitals, asylums, orphanages, etc., in all amounting to about five hundred, in the archdiocese of New York, in the dioceses of Albany, Brooklyn, Harrisburg, Hartford, Newark, and Providence. The mother-house and principal academy is at Mount Saint Vincent-on-the-Hudson, Mother Mary Rose, the present Superioress, being the seventh Mother.

The establishments conducted by the Sisters from the central house and novitiate at Emmittsburg embrace the archdioceses of Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Milwaukee, New Orleans, Philadelphia and San Francisco; the dioceses of Albany, Alton, Buffalo, Dallas, Davenport, Detroit, Grand Rapids, Mobile, Monterey, Los Angeles, Natchez, Peoria, Richmond, Rochester, Saint Joseph, Syracuse, Vineennes, Wilmington and Kansas City, Missouri. The Sisters number in all, some one thousand six hundred.

A foundation from a branch of the New York community was established in Newark, New Jersey, by Right Rev. Bishop Bayley on 30 September 1859. These Sisters have their mother-house and largest academy at Madison, New Jersey the venerable Mother M. Xavier, Superior. They also have establishments in the archdiocese of Boston, and in the dioceses of Harrisburg, Hartford, Newark and Trenton. Their community numbers in all about eight hundred.

Sisters of Our Lady of Charity of Refuge

Another great work, and one most pleasing to the Refuge of Sinners, and, indeed, most advantageous to human society, is being accomplished by the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity of Refuge (Good Shepherd). These devoted servants of Mary are engaged in rescuing from temporal and eternal perdition the unhappy daughters of shame and vice, and also, in another part of their institution, preserving others who might be exposed to fall into such bodily and spiritual disaster. Without any doubt it was that loving Mother whom we properly call the Refuge of Sinners, who, in the middle of the seventeenth century, inspired the holy priest in Caen, in France, Father Eudes, to establish such an asylum of Our Lady of Refuge. She it was, too, who impelled the good Sisters of the Order of the Good Shepherd, in the year 1845, to come to Louisville. About the same time a similar foundation was begun in Montreal. Today we find the Sisters of the Good Shepherd in most of the large cities of the United States, such as New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Brooklyn, Baltimore, New Orleans, Saint Louis, Cleveland, Indianapolis, Columbus, Cincinnati and many others.

Sisters of Charity (Gray Nuns)

The General Hospital of Montreal, the mother-house of the Order of Sisters of Charity (Gray Nuns), was founded in 1747 by the Venerable Mother Youville. Three other communities emanated from this original one: the Sisters of Charity of Montreal (the Gray Nuns), having the same name and almost the same habit; the Sisters of Charity of Saint Hyacinthe, founded in 1840; those of Ottawa, founded in 1845; and those of Quebec, founded in 1849.

The community of the Sisters of Charity of the hospital at Saint Hyacinthe, has for its object the care of the aged poor and infirm of both sexes, the education of orphan boys and girls and of the abandoned poor, the nursing of the sick in hospitals, and the visiting of them at their own homes. They also conduct refuges for children called “gardens of infancy,” or day nurseries.

The particular devotion paid by this Order to the Mother of God, consists first, in a special exercise of prayer to excite in their hearts the same dispositions that animated the Blessed Virgin; second, in true devotion to Mary, such as is taught by the Blessed de Montfort: third, in a particular devotion to “Our Lady of the Seven Dolors,” whose feast is one of the principal ones of their House, on the third Sunday of every month a solemn procession in her honor being conducted in all their churches.

Sisters of Saint Mary of Saint Louis

On 16 November 1872, there arrived in Saint Louis six Sisters, members of a religious community in Paris, who had been expelled from that city during the Franco-Prussian war.

They at once set about the institution of a new Congregation, the main object of which was to be the nursing of the sick. They rented part of a house opposite Saint Mary’s Church, Saint Louis, and as the city was suffering from smallpox at that time, they were soon busily engaged. In the following year, they erected their first permanent residence, and took the name they are now known by, from the adjoining church. During the yellow fever plague which visited the South, especially Memphis, in 1878, the Sisters not only volunteered their services to nurse those stricken by the pestilence, but five laid down their lives in the exercise of their charity. In February, 1877, they purchased a piece of property, on which stood a residence, for the purpose of establishing their own hospital, but as the calls on their charity increased they were subsequently compelled to erect a large building, and to this they were later on obliged to make an addition, which was dedicated in November, 1896. In their new buildings the Sisters can accommodate about one hundred and fifty patients. All are welcome, especially the poor, no matter what their creed or nationality. During the year 1895, out of one thousand two hundred and eighty-five patients, more than seven hundred were cared for gratis. The Sisters do not confine their labors to the hospital, but also nurse the sick in their homes.

Beside the hospital in Saint Louis, the Sisters have charge of others in Kansas City, Chillicothe, and Saint Charles, Missouri, and in Venice, Illinois. They have chosen the Blessed Virgin as their special patron, and celebrate her feasts, great and small.

Little Sisters of the Assumption (Nursing Sisters of the Poor)

The Little Sisters of the Assumption came to this country from Paris at the cordial invitation of the Most Rev. Archbishop of New York. A house had been rented and prepared for their reception, and in May, 1891, the Sisters arrived and entered at once upon their work, of which they have since found a plenty. In January, 1872, the Society was incorporated, and the house they then occupied proving too small, and unsuitable for the need of the Sisters and their work, more commodious quarters were purchased.

The Sisters of the Assumption are not allowed to receive any money from those whom they nurse, and their needs and the expenses of their house are provided for entirely by the generosity of the charitable.

Besides caring for their patients, the Sisters are often compelled to furnish nourishment and medicines. They make no distinction in the cases they receive and care for, except the necessary one imposed by their limited capacity.

– text taken from Veneration of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Her Feasts, Prayers, Religious Orders, and Sodalities, by Father B Rohner, OSB, adapted by Father Richard Brennan, LLD, published in 1898 by Benziger Brothers; it has the Imprimatur of Archbishop Michael Augustine, Archdiocese of New York, New York, 22 June 1898