Like Germany, Like America

By Sr. Mary Valerie Schneider | July 21, 2024 |

Some of the new foundations in Covington corresponded to the beginnings of the congregation in Coesfeld. Besides teaching, sisters took over orphanages in Cold Spring, Kentucky and in Bond Hill, Ohio. In 1877 the sisters were introduced to St. Aloysius Orphanage. The speaker on this occasion “thanked” his Excellency Count Bismarck whose expulsion of the Sisters of Notre Dame brought them to America.

It was at this time that the superior general, who had been forced to leave Prussia, arrived in Covington. Mother Mary Chrysostoma had come to America for good. She soon saw that the congregation was no longer a seedling but a tree with strong roots.

When the last sisters expelled from Germany arrived on August 26, 1877, it was obvious that a larger center had to be made, one that could handle all the sisters during vacation months and a place for infirm sisters. Since Cleveland had the more favorable location, that would be the center for the congregation in America. The solemn profession of four novices and the investment of three postulants by Bishop August Többe on March 20, 1878, marked the close of the three-year history of Covington as the temporary center of the congregation in the USA.

A New Postulant

By Sr. Mary Valerie Schneider | July 18, 2024 |

Just two years after the arrival of the first sisters from Germany, the first postulant from America, Katherine Franzioni, asked to enter the congregation and did so on November 15, 1876. In April, 1877, she and two other postulants received the religious habit from the hands of Bishop August Többe. As part of the investment ceremony, these postulants received religious names. The Superior General specifically asked that the first postulant be given the name of the first superior general, Sister M. Anna. Three other postulants received the religious habit on August 16 that same year. The third investment ceremony took place in the Covington Central house. Praise God! Eight novices! A sign of hope for the congregation in America

Sister Mary Modesta, A Burdened Superior in Kentucky

By Sr. Mary Valerie Schneider | July 15, 2024 |

Without experience in architecture, Sister Modesta had to erect a building. The project began in the autumn of 1875, and in July 1876 the chapel of the four-story building was completed and dedicated to the Immaculate Conception. While the Sisters were happy to have a center, a heavy burden of debt lay on Sister Modesta’s shoulders. Even her bishop brother could not take that away, for parish communities were very poor. Poverty characterized the sisters’ daily living: dry bread, bad water, no meat or fresh vegetables, only sauerkraut.

Yet the brave sisters pushed forward in filling the requests for teachers. In the first two years fourteen foundations were made.  As early as September 1875, an academy was set up in a small house in Covington for seven pupils.

One can only imagine how difficult it was for the sisters to accommodate themselves in conditions so very different from the beginnings in Germany. Sometimes lay teachers resented the sisters. Once a priest required something going against the Holy Rule. When they said they wouldn’t fill his request, he told them to get out; however, he eventually agreed, saying “Be faithful to your Holy Rule.” Through all the troubles and misunderstandings, Mother Modesta (admitting her many tears) was a spiritual mother to the sisters, preserving love among them.

Covington, Kentucky: Temporary Center of the Congregation

By Sr. Mary Valerie Schneider | July 12, 2024 |

Ministry in Covington began on August 15, 1874, by Sister Mary Odilia and Sr. M. Ignatia. At first, life was very difficult, and these two sisters had many sacrifices to make. First, there was no convent; consequently, they stayed at a Franciscan convent. In addition, the way from the school on Sixth Street to the convent on Eleventh Street was quite far in the terrible heat of Kentucky. Moreover, classrooms were crowded, three classes held in two rooms. After several weeks the pastor Father Teutenberg and his assistant Father Robbers worked on a house, allowing two more sisters to come by the end of September.

No matter the inconveniences, everywhere the sisters felt welcomed by the pastors, and their work was appreciated by the bishops who helped them feel at home in their new environment. Forced to give up their teaching in Prussia, the sisters were grateful for the offer of the American bishops: “It was truly a good fortune, that in America more and more sisters continued to be desired, because there their richly blessed work was allowed” (Jahrbuch 1875).

The rapid growth required the sisters in America to have their own leadership. Sister Mary Modesta became the provincial superior in Covington. Later in her autobiography she wrote that she feared her brother, Bishop August Többe, the bishop of Covington, whom she hadn’t seen in 23 years, could ask of her something in contradiction to her superiors in Germany. That didn’t happen.

Who Needs Money When the Sisters Have Hearts of Gold?

By Sr. Mary Valerie Schneider | July 9, 2024 |

Father Reichlin, a pastor in Cleveland, had a very poor church and school with mounting debts. Worried about the sisters’ income, he was relieved at the sisters’ modest expectations, and he agreed joyfully to have two sisters take over the school until a third could come from Germany.

Sisters began to teach in Cleveland in 1874. Three sisters taught on the east side of Cleveland and two on the west side. “Since this development had not been foreseen, Sr. M. Aloysia offered to take over a class in St. Peter’s Parish School, until assistance came from Germany. Reverend Mother also assigned her to be superior in the small convent community. . . . On September 8, the second group of missionaries, made up of three teachers and a sister for the housekeeping, boarded ship in Bremerhaven. . . When Mother M. Chrysostoma returned to Europe on September 21, she left twelve sisters behind in the New World. Their richly blessed work was beginning in three schools” (History of the Congregation, Part One, Sr. M RaphaelitaBöckmann), p. 15.

Finally in Cleveland, Ohio – July 7, 1874

By Sr. Mary Valerie Schneider | July 7, 2024 |

An 18-hour train trip brought the sisters to Union Depot close to Lake Erie. Father Westerholt, pastor of St Peter Parish in Cleveland, met them. A half hour later they arrived by two carriages at the parish where ladies of the parish had supper ready. When the ladies left, the sisters prayed prayers of gratitude. Mother Chrysostoma promised that the first chapel of the Sisters of Notre Dame in the Land of Freedom would be dedicated to the Immaculate Conception. (The name of the province in the United States is Immaculate Conception.) While in Germany, sisters were under political and ecclesiastical authorities, in the United States they were under only church authorities.

Since Bishop Gilmour of Cleveland was in South Bend, Indiana, when the sisters arrived, they met Bishop August Többe of Covington first. He was eager to see if his sister had arrived with this group, but she would be coming the next year. The bishop wanted more sisters for himself in Covington and Mother Chrysostoma agreed to send two sisters on August 15th. Needless to say, Bishop Gilmour said, “That will not do.” Reverend Mother then sent to Germany for four more sisters to be sent immediately.

Arriving in America — 1874

By Sr. Mary Valerie Schneider | July 4, 2024 |

The Sisters who came to America settled in Ohio (in Cleveland and Delphos) and in Covington, Kentucky. They are still there today. How did the Sisters get to these states?

The pastor of the Mother of God Parish in Covington went to Europe in 1870. His bishop, August Többe, asked the pastor to visit Goch on the Lower Rhein to convey greetings to Sister Modesta, the bishop’s sister. The pastor also became acquainted with the Sisters of Notre Dame in Coesfeld whose classrooms impressed him. He asked sisters for his parish in Covington. At first, the request was declined; however, the Kulturkampf began. New fields of work opened across the Atlantic.

In 1873 a lady came from England to teach the sisters English, because the bishop of Cleveland allowed only English-speaking Sisters to come to his area. On June 18, 1874, the great journey to America began. The Superior General, the foundress, and seven sisters set sail on the Rhein. singing “Ave Maris Stella.” After days of storms and seasickness, Sisters heard “Land!” It was July 3 at 4:00 in the afternoon. On Saturday, July 4 they sailed into Hoboken arbor amid flags, cannons, and fireworks as the United States celebrated its 98th birthday.

The Personality and Spirituality of the First Sister of Notre Dame

By Sr. Mary Valerie Schneider | July 1, 2024 |

Although Sister Maria Aloysia Wolbring spoke little about herself, there is much evidence of how other sisters treasured her. Interviews and letters told of her solicitude for the sisters’ well-being. Were they warm enough? Would they appreciate a surprise? Who could use some encouragement? Is anyone overburdened?

An interview with a sister living with the foundress in Delphos, Ohio, said “Our superior was so simple and unassuming in everything, that I hardly know what I can say about her, other than that she was very prayerful, very peaceful, very kind. In every way she was the model of a religious sister…. She never spoke of her role in the foundation of the community. She prayed much, very much.”  Another sister wrote: “Interior conversation with God in prayer was a heartfelt need for Sister Maria Aloysia, from which she drew that supernatural strength that so beautifully penetrated her earthly existence.” She also attested that the foundress radiated this union with God in a way that “cannot be described.”

The foundress’ simplicity and goodness had a power of attraction that drew children and her religious community to her. They experienced the nearness of God. The integrity of her being focused on God and others shone in her.  A power of attraction went out from her that within fewer than 150 years, more than 7000 young women would follow her.

The Death of the Foundress of the Sisters of Notre Dame, Sister Maria Aloysia Wolbring

By Sr. Mary Valerie Schneider | June 29, 2024 |

[As the sesquicentennial of the arrival of the Sisters of Notre Dame in America approaches on July 4, 2024, my thoughts turn to the founding sister.]

Sister Maria Aloysia was someone who always did what needed to be done, as was shown in her going to the United States as a traveling companion to Mother Mary Chrysostoma, superior general, and the first group of Sisters going to America after being exiled from Germany. When Mother Mary Chrysostoma returned to Germany three months later, Sister Maria Aloysia stayed behind to teach a large class of girls in St. Peter school. A letter of the time said: “It was her joy to remain in active teaching service as long as possible.”

On May 6, 1889, Sister Maria Aloysia died at Mount St. Mary’s in Cleveland. In her ministry to poor children in a small house on Süring Street in Coesfeld, she began the work of love that was to spread worldwide. By the time of her death, 328 Sisters of Notre Dame were active in the ministry of education. There were 124 sisters who died before her in the 39 years since the founding in 1850.

Because of a sudden heat wave Sister Maria Aloysia had to be buried on the afternoon before the day chosen for her burial. Without telephones, no one could be informed. Only five persons formed the funeral procession. Sister’s resting place was on the small hill of St. Joseph’s Cemetery, amid 23 Sisters who had died in Cleveland before she did.

One may wonder why Sister Maria Aloysia never directed the congregation as superior general. One reason was that she had an official state teaching position to which she was duty bound by reason of her oath of fidelity. Then, there was the fact that her regular salary contributed to the upkeep of the young community. And finally, she did not have the prescribed age of 40 required by Canon Law. In 1856 she was only 28 years old. Her whole life was spent as a good educator, caregiver for orphans, and local superior. Whatever she did, she united her work with the “works of the divine Savior. Thus we make gold out of stones, that is our actions thereby receive value in the sight of God” (Letter of July 13, 1881).

St. Mary Parish, Toledo – 1854

By Sr. Mary Valerie Schneider | June 27, 2024 |

The only Catholic Church in Toledo was St. Francis de Sales, serving all nationalities. German immigrants petitioned Bishop Louis Amadeus Rappe for a pastor and parish of their own. In January 1854 Father Charles Evrard was appointed as pastor. St. Mary School on Orange Street opened in September 1874. The Ursuline Sisters were teaching in the church basement, but three years later the Sisters of Ntore Dame took their place.

In 1876 the number of pupils increased rapidly, seven classes growing to 16 by the 1890s. More staff was needed, and Sisters came from Germany to fill the positions. Many challenges faced them. A fever broke out, claiming the life of Sister Marina Lammers, a teacher in the upper grades. Over the next few years more sisters became ill and suffered a long time. Many Sisters struggled with the English language.