Posts Tagged ‘history’

The Congregation of the Sisters of Notre Dame came into being in Coesfeld, Germany in 1850. In 1849, two young teachers, Hilligonde Wolbring and Elisabeth Kühling, befriended orphaned and neglected children and took them into Hilligonde’s home where they educated and cared for them. Both young women had been educated in the spiritual and pedagogical tradition of Reverend Bernard Overberg.

Their spiritual director, Reverend Theodor Elting, invited them to consider religious life. Three Sisters of Notre Dame of Amersfoort, in the Netherlands, came to Coesfeld in 1850 to give these two women preparatory training for religious life. The Amersfoort congregation had received their spirit and rule from the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, founded in France by Julie Billiart in 1804.


Hilligonde became Sister Maria Aloysia, and Elisabeth, Sister Maria Ignatia. October 1 is considered Foundation Day because it was the first day that the Sisters of Notre Dame were in Coesfeld, Germany. Today the Sisters of Notre Dame, a Marian family of women religious, serve the Church throughout the world in education and other ministries. Together with their lay collaborators, they continue to be bearers of hope and joy, witnessing to God’s goodness and provident care.

Schools across the county with roots to the Sisters of Notre Dame are encouraged to celebrate Foundation Day and the rich heritage of the sisters. One year, Notre Dame Academy in Toledo, Ohio, celebrated Foundation Day by inviting some of the Sisters of Notre Dame to have lunch with the students and teachers. “Sharing a sandwich” with one of the sisters was a wonderful way to build a connection between the student body and the heritage of the sisters in a casual setting.

Acting in the spirit of St. Julie Billiart who proclaimed, “You are not asked to do all the good in the world, just that bit which lies within your power,” Notre Dame Academy in West Los Angeles initiated Women Helping Women. Each graduating class has the honor of leaving behind a $1,000 student scholarship for an incoming freshman who needs financial assistance to attend NDA. Earning their own money by doing an extra family chores, each student is asked to bring in a modest donation to help another young girl realize her dream of attending NDA. Money is collected on Foundation Day.


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Saint Julie Billiart is the spiritual mother of the Sisters of Notre Dame, since she was not living when the religious order began, but the order is based on her spirituality and teachings. She was born on July 12, 1751; died on April 8, 1816; and was canonized on June 22, 1969.

Marie Rose Julie Billiart (as she was baptized) was born in the French village of Cuvilly during the French Revolution.  Even as a young child, Julie’s love for the good God was apparent to all who knew her. She told bible stories and taught about Jesus to neighboring children.

As a young woman several things happened to her and her family which left them in poverty and traumatized her in such a way that she was paralyzed and had difficulty speaking. In spite of these physical handicaps, Julie served God by preparing children for their First Communion. She offered spiritual guidance to adults who came to her because of her wisdom, goodness and love of God, even in the midst of all her suffering.


With her friend, Francoise Blin de Bourdon, Julie, then 53 years old, began a religious community of sisters: the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur.  These women wanted to follow Julie and Francoise in their dedication to God, their spreading of the message that God is good, and their work teaching poor children. Julie was still paralyzed when a priest asked her to pray for an unknown special intention. This special intention was Julie’s cure, so after 23 years of being paralyzed, Julie began to walk. She was able then to travel to all the places her sisters were in order to help them become sisters and teachers. She wrote many letters and made many journeys to her sisters until she died in 1816.

Two other religious communities of sisters were founded after Julie Billiart died that are also called Sisters of Notre Dame. Their way of living as sisters and relating to God comes from Saint Julie Billiart. One of these religious communities is the Sisters of Notre Dame of Coesfeld, Germany, and they eventually came to the United States and became the congregation we know today.

Prayer from the Mass of Saint Julie

Almighty and eternal God, you called Saint Julie Billiart to respond joyfully to the love of your crucified Son in dedicating herself to the education of the poor. Grant that her prayer and example may inspire us to respond with love to His Cross, in serving the needs of others with true goodness of heart. Amen.

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Today we celebrate the founding of our religious community, which began in Coesfeld, Germany.

A little bit of the story…

By the time Hilligonde Wolbring was seven years old, both of her parents and her baby brother had died. She was put into the home of her aunt and uncle and several cousins. As she grew up she hoped to be a missionary, but the idea was discouraged by those around her. Being a missionary was too dangerous for a young woman in that day. They encouraged her to help those in need in her own town. Instead Hilligonde decided to become a teacher. In 1846 being a teacher meant going through an intense and regimented preparation program that involved academic and spiritual development. Hilligonde also had to pass a state examination, and remaining unmarried.

When she began to teach at a parish school, she became friends with another teacher who had been there several years named Elisabeth Kühling. They shared  a passion for teaching and a desire to do more for the poor and neglected children in their school. As we ourselves know, with a friend, it is easier to brainstorm ideas and plan projects. That is what they did. They decided to get a large house so they could bring in orphans and care for them.

At the school and parish was a young, energetic priest called Father Elting, who taught religion. He encouraged Hilligonde and Elisabeth to begin a religious community so their work could become permanent and grow. Father Elting connected with a community of sisters in Holland (Sisters of Notre Dame of Amersfoort, Holland) that matched the direction and spirit of Hilligonde and Elisabeth. Sisters from Holland came and taught these young women how to be sisters, what the vows meant and how to live them.

On October 1, 1850, Hilligonde became Sister Maria Aloysia and Elisabeth became Sister Maria Ignatia, novices of the Sisters of Notre Dame. After a few years the laws for teacher training in the two countries changed, so the group of sisters in Germany became independent from the sisters in Holland. By that time there were eleven sisters who made their vows and 22 novices. October 1 is considered Foundation Day because it was the first day that Sisters of Notre Dame were in Coesfeld, Germany.

In 1874, sisters came to the United States because the oppression of the Catholic Church in Germany meant the sisters could not function publicly. So they came to the U.S. and first began schools in parishes where there were German immigrants. St. Peter Church in Cleveland, OH, St. John Church in Delphos, OH, and Mother of God Church in Covington, KY are a few places where the sisters opened schools right away.

Now there are about 2,100 Sisters of Notre Dame in 18 countries on five continents, working in schools and other related ministries. Let us pray for them, their work and their continued success.Hilligonde & Elisabeth

Good and Provident God, today as we celebrate the beginnings of the Sisters of NotreDame of Coesfeld, Germany, we offer you praise and thanksgiving for all that the sisters have given and continue to give for over 160 years.  May we who share in their charism of trusting in a good and provident God, show that trust in our daily lives, also.


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Eighty-nine years ago, the Reverend Mother Mary Cecilia told Sister Mary Bernard to “Go out to California and build a house of love.”

Happy Founders’ Day to the Sisters of Notre Dame, California!Image

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