Roots for Wings
Our heritage is the legacy of a number of spiritual and holy people in whom is inscribed in indelible characters, the precept of love and compassion. Being true educators rooted in Christ, Our Master Teacher, they spent themselves for transformational ministries in the context of world realities. With their charismatic spirit of warmth, holiness and union with God, they became signs of hope and messengers of God’s love and in turn placed us in the spotlight of their legacy.
The moving force in the congregation of The Sisters of Notre Dame began with two French women ‘friends in the Lord’: St. Julie Billiart of a peasant family, and Mother St. Joseph [Francoise Blin de Bourdon], of an aristocrat family. Together, they made God’s goodness credible. In the merging of their hearts, lay the strength of the congregation’s approach to its apostolate. Alive in their spirit, the Notre Dames have been on the move… living and working among the people of different cultures, ‘witnessing to God’s goodness and provident care’…Long live Notre Dame, in being blessed with the experiences of the many facets of God’s goodness and boundless creativity!
1. St. Julie Billiart [1751 – 1816]
The Congregation of Sisters of Notre Dame is alive and ablaze with the legacy of our spiritual Mother, St. Julie Billiart. Her unique trust in God’s goodness, expressed in her characteristic phrase, ‘How good is the good God!” and profound trust in God’s providence gifted us her gift and legacy – the founding of the religious congregation of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur in 1804. A universal vision of education as a social apostolate to restore dignity to the individual created in the image of God; giving priority to the poor and neglected; with focus given to education for life, faith-formation and character formation of the child; plus the prioritization of teacher-formation and teacher-preparation are a few sparks of St. Julie’s legacy followed today by every Sister of Notre Dame. Priority given to a life of prayer, a life centered in the Eucharist, devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Love for the Suffering Savior and the acceptance of the Cross, Marian devotion and imitation of Mary Mother of God, are a few other sparks of her legacy which place us in the blaze of God’s grace-giving presence.
St. Julie’s charism and spirit of finding God’s goodness and deep trust in God’s provident care is a continuous stimulus for the apostolate of the Sisters of Notre Dame. Her LEGACY is alive today in the congregation as it continues to realize the noble vision of restoring human dignity and making the good God known and loved by all.
• Ah, how good is the Good God! The Good God, who is always good, very good, He arranges everything for the best.
• We are the company of Mary, that is to say ‘Sisters of Notre Dame’. In each Sister of Notre Dame ought to be found the spirit of Mary, the virtue of Mary and power of Mary. Have great confidence in the Blessed Virgin, our heavenly Mother. She will help you in your difficulties.
• To be true to our call, we must have a free heart, a magnanimous soul which never recoils when there is question of procuring the glory of God and leading others in the way of salvation, for our vocation is apostolic; only great souls can be apostolic!
• May you glorify the good God by very great charity toward one another, and may it be ever more strengthened in our Lord Jesus Christ.
• Let us do all we can to make the good God known and loved by all who surround us.
2. Mother St. Joseph [Francoise Blin de Bourdon[1756- 1838]
Mother St. Joseph [Francois Blin de Bourden], the co-foundress of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur has been a fount of inspiration. Francoise who had been trained in the formal atmosphere of the Benedictine and Ursuline schools, linked the new Congregation with educational thought and practice that had done much to mould the civilization of Western Europe. When Julie gave impetus to the popular trend with concern for the masses, the insistence on poor schools and on trained teachers, Sister St. Joseph the co-foundress complemented the same with the trend of appreciation of education as culture, introduction of broader curriculum and the family-style boarding school that characterized the elite tradition. Both the trends were fused into one thought and as the congregation grew, they became indistinguishable in the educational apostolate.
As a wholesome collaborator, Mother St. Joseph Blin de Bourden gave the stability which complemented St. Julie’s creative inspiration. While St. Julie was busy with the pioneer work in new schools, the co-foundress managed the ones already opened with wisdom and skill. Her fortune gave financial security to the first foundations, her learning gave them academic culture, her experience ensured for them good conditions of development. She was the organizer, the administrator, the peaceful, rather silent, but highly intelligent co-worker who willingly accepted Julie’s lead during her life time, and the whole work after Julie’s death. She taught the young Sisters the spiritual life as she trained the novices and first Sisters.
It was during her tenure as Superior General of the congregation, the candidates from Netherlands were allowed into the Notre Dame Novitiate of Namur and were formed in the charism and the spirit of St. Julie, so that they could go back to their country and establish themselves as Sisters of Notre Dame of Amersefoort.
Mother St. Joseph Blin de Bourden not only lived the original charism and the spirit of St. Julie but also transmitted the same to the successive generations of Notre Dames. The most important work of her generalate was the compiling and collating the rules and Constitution of the Sisters of Notre Dame. St. Julie had determined the contents of the rule; Mother St. Joseph formulated the rules. She has left an explanation of the rule, the particular rule of each office, the directory and Customs. Great indeed is her legacy for she had preserved a faithful record of all that Mother Julie had said or written on the spirituality of Notre Dame or done for its welfare; and also wrote the first biography of St. Julie, the first history of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur!
3. Rev. Bernard Overberg [ 1754- 1826]
The spiritually formative catechesis and the pedagogical principles of Rev. Bernard Overberg were a major shaping influence on the Coesfeld Sisters of Notre Dame.
The dynamic spirituality and pedagogical principles of Rev. Bernard Overberg, the ‘Teacher of Teachers’, and the founder of ‘Normal Schools’ have become the heritage of Coesfeld Sisters of Notre Dame. Sister Mary Aloysia Wolbring, Sister Mary Ignatia Kuhling, Rev. Fr. Theodore Elting, the foundress, co-foundress and the first spiritual director, respectively, and many first Sisters of the Congregation of Sisters of Notre Dame of Coesfeld, received their general and religious education in the Overberg-way. Many Sisters who joined them later received their own teacher training at the Women’s Normal College in Muenster established by the students of Overberg to carry on his work. Notre Dame Teacher Training Institute established in 1852, in Coesfeld was modeled after Royal Teacher Training College in Muenster. It used the same Overberg-texts and prepared for the same certification. When the German Sisters came to America, due to the Kultur Campf brought that tradition with them and handed it on to the new members there. India was lucky to have the heritage brought to her by the American Notre Dame Pioneers and other Notre Dame missionaries. The light of the very charism and the spirituality of Notre Dame and educational heritage lit various parts of India including the Southern Province.
Notre Dame Educational Heritage spelled out in the four Principles of Education, namely, the Centrality of a good and Provident God, Human dignity of each person as an image of God, Notre Dame educator-a Gospel witness, and Integrated education for Transformation has its basis on the spiritual and pedagogical principles of Rev. Bernard Overberg. The ability to hold education as a way of helping people to live a fully human life, one in keeping with the dignity that belongs to every human being as image of God; having a keen awareness of the beauty and love of God as reflected in creation; finding delight in simple pleasures and beauty God provides for us in nature formed these fundamental principles. The enhancing spark of the sacred legacy of humanistic spirituality of being duly respectful of creation, trustful of divine providence; and having zeal for a holistic education lives on!
• Be a good example when forming the child. Be close to God to form God’s people… Be yourself, be it whole-heartedly what others are to become through you… filled with faith in God…filled with trust in God and filled with love of God.
• You are a teacher! That means you have been called by God to the most important of all professions. What work could be more important and honorable than to be:
o the teacher of truth and virtue to so many…
4. Rev. Fr. Theodore Elting [1819 – 1862 ]
The congregation of the Sisters of Notre Dame, Coesfeld is deeply indebted to Rev. Fr. Theodore Elting, a man of God for the causes of the poor and the needy who prompted Hilligonda Wolbring and Elizabeth Kuhling to dedicate their life to God as members of a religious institute. He was an ever faithful support to them. At his advice they made up their minds for giving permanence to their work for the poor by joining a religious congregation whose goals were consistent with their own. Once he knew that the two teachers accepted his suggestion, he did everything needful to arrange for the Sisters of Notre Dame of Amersefoort to come to Coesfeld to form the two teachers in religious life.
Father Elting saw to the establishment of Notre Dame teacher-training center in Coesfeld, for forming religious teachers. He guided the process of making the rapidly growing Coesfeld congregation independent in 1855. As the Episcopal commissary and First Spiritual Director of the Congregation he gave total support, constant caring help and encouragement in establishing a community for the education of children with preferred care of the poor and destitute in orphanages. Several times a week Father Elting gave the first Sisters spiritual conference, initiated them into the religious spirit of prayer trust in the providence of God, selfless service and various aspects of their new life.
The principles in spirituality given by the inspiring initiator Fr. Elting, at whose instrumentality the congregation of the Sisters of Notre Dame, Coesfeld came into being is the legacy. His unfailing guidance, enthusiasm, and zeal for the welfare of the newly founded congregation never waned. His ever enabling charisma activates our ministries as they reflect his maxim, ‘ God will Provide ‘ and his motto, ‘for God and for His people’
• The spirit of the congregation is the spirit of Mary, her humility of heart, her obedience and love. Mary, the gentlest of creatures, but with the strongest will is your model. Imitate her in all that you do and you will be true Sisters of Notre Dame! Take her as your Queen, your Protectress and your Model!
• Love God unconditionally and intensely. Stop at no sacrifice. Show your love by your complete immolation for the poor children. Make progress in love of poverty, obedience and purity of intention. This will be the kernel of your consecrated life.
5. Sisters of Notre Dame of Amersefoort.
The Congregation of the Sisters of Notre Dame of Amersefoot, established in 1823 in the Netherlands, was the bridge connecting the Congregation of Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur and the Congregation of Sisters of Notre Dame of Coesfeld. Amersefoort Sisters laid the specific foundation in the fundamentals of religious life according to the charism of St. Julie for the Coesfeld Congregation.
6. Sister Marie Brigitte Hans, SND Amersefoort
Sister Marie Brigitte Hans played an integral role in the re-founding of the Congregation of Sisters of Notre Dame of Amersefoort. Sister was not only the first superior in the Notre Dame Convent of St. Annathal, Coesfeld, but also the first formation directress of Hilligonda Wolbring and Elizabeth Kuehling. Her instructions breathed the large spirit of courage, love of the Cross, generosity in service and fidelity to the Rule of Notre Dame life. Sr. Brigitte prepared the first Coesfeld Sisters to consecrate professional work by intensifying the spiritual life. She transmitted St. Julie’s charism of a profound experience of the goodness of God that involved living in joyful simplicity and the willing acceptance of the role of suffering in spiritual fruitfulness. Her gentle ways, encouraging spirit and God-centeredness made her an endearing ideal to the Sisters being formed in the spirit of Notre Dame.
• The building of religious life is begun on the firm foundation of magnanimity of soul. Make no account of the little trials by which the Good God wishes to test your will. Go ahead bravely. He wants you to know your own strength and weakness before He entrusts you with greater graces.
• God alone…. God alone sufficeth…. The work of our congregation is the work of an apostle…. Go and teach! But above all love God with all your heart… what we do for love of God must be well done.
• Lead the children to Christ. Their souls have cost Him the terrible death on the cross. Not one soul entrusted to us must be lost.
7. Sister Maria Aloysia [Hilligonda Wolbring 1828 – 1889]
The Congregation of the Coesfeld Sisters of Notre Dame itself is the legacy left by Sister Mary Aloysia [Hilligonda Wolbring], for it was she who initiated the series of events that brought the congregation of the Coesfeld Sisters of Notre Dame into being. Sister was the embodiment of Notre Dame’s characteristic spirit lived in its fullness whose life choices set the pattern for the congregation’s spirit of complete centeredness in a loving and provident God, whose caring love in turn extended to others. The charismatic spirit of her life, a life totally dedicated to God through humility, charity and obedience, bound together by supernatural simplicity, generosity and maternal love towards orphans and zeal for the Christian education of youth form the precious heritage given to each Notre Dame by Sister Mary Aloysia Wolbring.
Life in the United State as in Germany, focuses the spirituality of Sr. M. Aloysia as being marked by the capacity to be at God’s disposal. She filled in wherever the need arose. She rendered her service as a teacher in many schools, led the communities as the local superior; she acted as cook for the Sisters, she took care of the needs of the elderly people entrusted to the Sisters. She had the capacity to be stretched in any direction on behalf of God’s people. She was loved by the sisters as a wise and understanding local superior and by her students as a gifted and caring teacher, for the aged, the infirm, the poor and the needy and for all, a woman of deep prayer, unfailing kindness, ready to do whatever needed to be done.
Sister Mary Aloysia’s ongoing role in the Coesfeld Congregation was a complete holocaust of humble obedience. Though the congregation came into being on her initiative, yet, she was never charged with its direction. Ordinary indeed was her activities, but extraordinary was the sanctity, achieved through making the love of God her Motive, the glory of God her Object, and the will of God her rule. The key to her life is simplicity –that singleness of aim which seeks God alone in all things and finds all in Him. Her interior readiness to respond discerningly to the needs of the moment as God unfolds these in her daily life, gave her the freedom to live her charism: a caring , compassionate love with openness to God, to spend all that she is and has, to incarnate God’s caring love for others. She made, ‘gold out of stones’ by living her life selflessly and joyously and giving herself wholly to God and to others.
• When we glance back over the many gifts we have received from God, and when we realize from how much evil He has preserved us, we know how much reason there is for gratitude to Him.
• What good all our work can do, if prayer does not bring God’s blessing upon it!
• Most important in our work is the uniting of all our actions in our work with the work of the Divine Savior; thus we make gold out of stones.
• The dear God has always taken care and will certainly continue to do so.
• What a great happiness is dear peace and domestic harmony!
8. Sister Mary Ignatia [Elizabeth Kuehling 1822 – 1869]
Sister Mary Ignatia Khueling [Elizabeth Khueling], inflamed with the love of God and love of the poor paved the way for the foundation of the Congregation of Sisters of Notre Dame of Coesfeld, when she gave her whole-hearted support to Sister Mary Aloysia Wolbring [Hilligonda Wolbring]. She not only shared the aspirations of her friend but also wanted to alleviate the desperate needs of the many poor children.
The core of her life was her steady faith in God dwelling in her through grace, and in all of life by His divine providence. Accordingly, the core of her educational creed was religion and her students grew to find religious truth increasingly attractive. As the director of the Novices she formed the novices to be deeply rooted in prayer and community services, and to develop a positive attitude toward their Sisters. Her guidance, by encouragement and motivation inspired the novices to joyful, careful execution of work. She developed in the novices love for the Eucharist, for the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Mary . ‘To Jesus through Mary’ was her maxim. Silence, prayer and love like a golden thread, permeated Sister Mary Ignatia’s life as novice mistress, enriching her own soul as well as those of her novices and the generations who would in turn be influenced by those whom she had trained.
Sister Mary Ignatia was the faithful friend of Sister Aloysia who gave whole-hearted support in caring for the orphaned children and co-founding the congregation of Sisters of Notre Dame in Coesfeld. She was a deeply spiritual woman characterized by the inner unity – fruit of prayer and silence – resulting in the vision, energy and the spirit of sacrifice necessary for an enduring work. Sister was a soul of childlike innocence and heroic love; playing vital formative-role as novice directress who helped her novices to be deeply rooted in prayer and community services, and for the ministry of education. She formed them to become religious women of character and selfless service for the mission of the Church. Through her, the spiritual and pedagogical wealth of Rev. Bernard Overberg tradition, coupled with that of the St. Julie Billiart has become our heritage!
• Look at the bee which flies from flower to flower, taking only the honey. Be like the bee, close your eyes to other’s mistakes, and open them only to their virtues.
• A blade of grass, a leaf on the tree, any creature no matter how small, all are tokens of God’s love; every work of every day bears the stamp of the supernatural.
• You must have a mother’s heart for all children entrusted to you. See God’s image in the little ones and love them because of it. Be always and entirely that which you would have the children entrusted to you become through your instrumentality.
• We have all reasons to be cheerful and gay even under the pressure of suffering… our work and prayers should be vivified by a cheerful spirit of faith and hope.
9. Christ the King Province Cleveland, Ohio, USA and American Missionaries
The province of Christ the King lived the charism and spirit of the Sisters of Notre Dame in an exemplary way and passed on that spirit when she established the mission in India. The whole province was involved in the mission and supported it through prayer, sacrifices and varied assistance.The Notre Dame pioneers to India
were stouthearted members infused with the enterprising missionary spirit of the foundresses. True to the original spirit and respecting and caring for the Church’s teachings in true missionary spirit, the American pioneers to India, risked their lives in a foreign land for the sake of incarnating the Charism and the spirit of St. Julie. Their warm and joyful family spirit was an integral part of their legacy. The message of God’s goodness, living in faith, joyful simplicity and having a heart as wide as the world , came alive in our motherland, with the coming of our pioneers.
Their missionary companions who came to India later
fanned the flame of the original spirit through their committed and God-centered life. With far-sighted planning and untiring efforts, they reached out in response to the various needs of the time and place in a land of multi-cultural, multi-linguistic, and multi-religious texture.
10. Province of Our Lady of the Assumption
Notre Dame struck deep roots in India and spread out its branches, forming the Province of Our Lady of the Assumption. She lit the flame of Notre Dame into the Southern region of India, establishing convents and centers for the apostolate. She met all challenges and privileges of en-fleshing, nurturing and handing on the Notre Dame charism and spirit to her daughters in the south. All our provincials and pioneers to the south were visionaries, rooted in the original charism and the spirit, path breaking and path making for scaling heights of progress. Many a milestone crossed as Notre Dame in India took roots, grew and expanded, even diversified itself in its services and life-style. She added colour and texture, life and meaning, through ministries in education, health-care, socio-pastoral work, ministry of prayer and community services. The milestone she has reached in the southern region of India became a touchstone to map the progress of Notre Dame, when it formed the southern province, the province of Our Lady of the Visitation on 18 December 2004.
Anchoring on the empowering strength of inspiration given by all our legacy-makers ,the Visitation Province forges ahead to make the good God known and loved by all, through diverse holistic ministries and pass on to our successors the enriched heritage of Notre Dame!
Leaders At the Helm
Women of spiritual depth and prophetic courage, and guardians of inner flame were our leaders. With faith and vision they walked with God and one another. Dauntless and optimistic and with wings of hope, they engineered the spread of Notre Dame spirit and charism during the troubled times and peaceful times as well. With vitality and conviction they gave impetus to all their undertakings and led the Congregation toward progress in the mission of the Church. Due to their responding to the founding charism, Notre Dame has established various foundations of diverse ministries throughout the world to share God’s bountiful goodness with all His people.
Steering the wheel of progress of our province are religious women, deeply committed and dedicated, daring and courageous in sharing the goodness of God and calling people to live life in all its fullness. In their capacity as provincial-superiors they link all the daughter houses with the provincialate, while responding to the Spirit working in the members to shape and enrich the caliber of the houses and the province, giving witness to the charism.
Province of Our Lady Of the Assumption
Province of Our Lady of the Visitation
Province of Our Lady of the Visitation, Bangalore
1. First Provincial and Team