Catholic Encyclopedia – School Sisters of Notre Dame

Article

A religious community devoted to education. In the United Sates they have conducted parish schools and orphanages in numerous archdioceses and dioceses; they have also operated schools and an orphanage in the Diocese of Hamilton, Canada; an Indian school at Harbor Springs, Michigan; a school for black children at Annapolis; and a deaf-mute institute in Louisiana. Their principal boarding schools are: Baltimore, Maryland; Fort Lee, New Jersey; Quincy, Illinois; Longwood, Chicago; Prairie Du Chien, Wisconsin. Of their day and high schools the most prominent are at Baltimore, Quincy, Longwood and Chatawa, Mississippi.

The School Sisters of Notre Dame are a branch of the Congregation of Notre-Dame founded in France, by Saint Peter Fourier in 1597. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, several convents of the congregations were established in Germany. The one at Ratisbon was suppressed at the beginning of the nineteenth century, but it was soon restored and remodeled to meet the needs of modern times. Bishop Wittmann of Ratisbon and Father Job of Vienna effected the change. While retaining the essential features of the rule and constitutions given by Saint Peter Fourier, they widened the scope of the Sisters’ educational work. In 1834 their community consisted of one former pupil of the suppressed congregation, Caroline Gerhardinger, who became first Superior General (Mother Theresa of Jesus), and a few companions. The first convent was in Neunburg vorm Wald, Bavaria. In 1839 they removed to a suburb of Munich, and in 1843, into a former Poor Clare convent, built in 1284, and situated within the city limits. From this motherhouse in the year 1847 six School Sisters of Notre Dame, on the invitation of Bishop O’Connor of Pittsburg, emigrated to America and landed at New York on 31 July. One of the Sisters succumbed to the heat of the season and died at Harrisburg, Pa., on the journey from New York to Saint Mary’s, Elk Co., Pa., destined to be the foundation-house in America. As Saint Mary’s was not the place for a permanent location the mother-general successfully negotiated to obtain the Redemptorists convent attached to Saint James’ Church, Baltimore, Maryland By 3 November, 1847, three schools were opened. The second and last colony of sisters, eleven in number, arrived from Munich, 25 March 1848, and foundations were made at Pittsburg, Philadelphia, and Buffalo.

On 15 December 1850, the motherhouse was transferred to Milwaukee, with Mother Mary Caroline Friess as vicar-general of the sisters in America. With money donated by King Louis I of Bavaria, a house was bought; this was absorbed later by Notre Dame Convent on Saint Mary’s Hill. On 2 January, 1851, Saint Mary’s parish school was opened and Saint Mary’s Institute for boarding and day pupils soon afterwards. On 31 July, 1876, owing to its growth and extension, the congregation was divided into two provinces; the Western, with motherhouse at Milwaukee; and the Eastern with motherhouse at Baltimore. A second division of the Western province became necessary, and on 19 March 1895, the Southern province was formed, with its motherhouse in Saint Louis.

Training of members

To train members for their future life the School Sisters have a candidature and a novitiate. The age for admission into the candidature is sixteen to twenty-seven. After two years’ probation and study, the candidate enters the novitiate, and two years later makes temporal vows and becomes a professed sister. The teaching sisters meet at specified periods and at appointed houses of the order for summer schools and teachers’ institutes. The principal houses of the congregation in the Western province are at Elm Grove, Waukesha County, Wisconsin, the home for aged, invalid, and convalescent sisters; at Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, founded in 1872, chartered in 1877, owing its origin to the generosity of Hon. John Lawler (died on 24 Feb, 1891) and his son, Thomas C. Lawler, of Dubuque, Iowa; at Longwood, Chicago, Illinois, established and chartered in 1872. In 1903 the Legislature of Illinois granted the academy the right to add a college courses and confer the degrees of A.B. and Ph.B. In the Eastern province at Baltimore, Md., chartered in 1864, charter amended and powers of corporation enlarged in 1896. The sisters began their work in Baltimore in 1848; owing to the growth of their academy, more commodious quarters became necessary and school, Notre Dame of Maryland, was transferred in 1873 to a magnificent estate of seventy acres obtained in the suburbs. To meet the continual demand for a more extensive curriculum for women, the sisters of the convent applied in January, 1896, to the State for the power of conferring academic degrees; this was granted by an Act of the Legislature, 2 April, 1896, and the convent opened a college with courses leading to the baccalaureate, an academy to prepare students for the college, and a grammar and primary department. There is a convent at Fort Lee on the Palisades of the Hudson, Bergen County, N.J. where a residence was purchased by the sisters on 2 October, 1879, the school being opened on 21 November, 1879, and chartered in June, 1890. In the Southern province the principal schools are at Quincy, Illinois, founded on 28 December, 1859, as a parochial school, the academy opened in September, 1867; at Chatawa, Mississippi, founded on 15 October, 1874, a deaf-mute institution; at Chincuba, La., founded by Canon Mignot, 1 October, 1890, given in charge of the sisters on 25 September, 1892. Most prominent among the sisters in America was Mother M. Caroline Friess, who died on 22 July 1892, after being superioress of the congregation for forty-two years. She was born near Paris, on 24 August, 1824, and was called at baptism by the name of Josephine. As a child she was brought to Eichstadt, Bavaria, under the tutelage of her uncle, Msgr. Michael Friess. Even when only a novice she was given charge of very important schools in Munich. She was one of the first to volunteer for the missionary work in the New World, and emigrated to America in 1847. It soon became evident that it was Sister Caroline who was to develop the young congregation. She was appointed vicar of the mother-general in America and later on elected at the first commissary-general. Under her direction from four members in 1847, the sisterhood grew to two thousand in 1892. Her life was written by Msgr. P.M. Abbelen. Mother M. Clara Heuck was the third commissary-general. When the Eastern province was established in 1876 Sister M. Clara was appointed as novice mistress. Soon she became the superioress in Baltimore and the second mother provincial in the East, which position she held for three terms, after which she was elected commissary-general at Milwaukee on 13 May 1899. She died at Milwaukee on 4 August 1905, aged sixty-two.

MLA Citation

  • Sister Mary Josephine. “School Sisters of Notre Dame”. Catholic Encyclopedia, 1913. Saints.SQPN.com. 16 January 2014. Web. 29 August 2014. <>