NAMUR, BELGIUMThis photo is a portion of the city of Namur where Dom Minsart originally gathered the first group of young women to instruct them in sewing and catechism. This small group would eventually grow to become the congregation as we know it today.
- Namur, 1838 - the era when the congregation was first forming.Namur in a similar view today with the formidable Citadel build on an outcropping that dates back to Roman times.
ANOTHER VIEW OF NAMURNamur is situated at the confluence of the Meuse and Sambre Rivers and today is an important commercial and industrial center of Europe. The landscape is dominated by "the Citadel," a fortress that was built in the Roman times, and rebuilt several times afterward. It remains a tourist attraction to this day and affords beautiful panoramic views of the city.
THE HOUSE OF DOM MINSARTThe streets of Namur are as those in many old European cities; narrow, cobbled-stoned, largely unchanged from how they appeared two centuries ago. One can imaging Dom Minsart walking along to arrive at the doorway pictured, which takes one into his house. Today, this site houses our "Generalate," or in more common terms, our main "headquarters."
THE LOCUS OF THE CONGREGATIONThis photo is striking as one observes the worn footstep at an interior entry to the house of Dom Minsart. The hard stone has yielded to the generations of Sisters and others who have entered into the original home of the Sisters St. Mary. This dwelling is the locus of the congregation, not only because of its history, but because it is the place where the Superior General of the Congregation resides with her Council.
CONGREGATIONAL ARCHIVESAs the centerpoint of our community, it is in this original house of Dom Minsart that the history and artifacts of the congregation are housed. On the occasions of special international meetings, Sisters from all of our provinces are eager to peruse the photographs and memories preserved there.
- The archives preserves such artifacts as these tools and spools of gold thread used by the earliest Sisters to embroider items for the altar.Examples of the intricate embroidery work of those who knew Dom Minsart personally and were spiritually guided by him.
DOM MINSART'S PERSONAL ARTIFACTSItems used by Dom Minsart, including in the left photo, a gold embroided chasuble, and an umbrella in the corner. On the right, Dom Minsart's prayer book, his chalice, a reliquary, and a piece of the wood on which his head rested in his original coffin
DOM MINSART'S PARISH CHURCH OF ST. LOUPDom Minsart was pastor of the parish of St. Loup. Early on, it was thought that the congregation might be called "The Little Sisters of St. Loup!"The Sisters celebrating Eucharist at St. Loup at an International meeting
MOTHER EMILIE, AMERICAN FOUNDRESS
- Mother Emilie just before departure to America in 1863.The parish church in Prum, Germany where Mother Emilie was baptized and grew up
MOTHER EMILIEJosephine Kemen was born in Prum, Germany in 1824. She came to know the Sisters of St. Mary through a Jesuit priest in 1843. The community was less than 25 years old at the time! When she entered the order in 1844, and became Sister Emilie, little did she know that she, with four others would venture to America and would open the way for the growth of the congregation in Eastern US, Texas, and Canada.
MISSIONARY ASPIRATIONSIn the mid years of the 19th c, the Sisters had a burning desire to commit themselves to missionary work among the Native Americans in the U.S. In 1861, the well-known Jesuit, Father Pierre de Smet, visited Belgium looking for missionaries to join him with his work in the midwest. Eagerly, the community agreed to send five courageous sisters to the U.S. in the midst of the Civil War! In the end, it was the war itself that changed the course of their journey and ultimate destination. Unable to get beyond the Mississippi River, where Fr. De Smet had hoped they could serve, at the request of Bishop Timon of Buffalo, NY, they landed in Lockport, NY along the Erie Canal.Father Pierre de Smet
MOTHER EMILIE'S COMPANIONSThe first group of Sisters to travel to America were each very different from the other. They came from different countries, and possessed complimentary skills which were well-suited to the new life that awaited them across the sea.Sister Augustine, nee Isabella Barry, had come from Ireland as a child to the academy of the Sisters of St. Mary. She possessed a warm, sunny disposition that could dispel sadness and uplift those around her.Sister Mary Claver, nee Christine Van Lint, had been trained in voice by one of the leading teachers of music in Europe.Sister Mary of St. Joseph, nee Catherine Cary, had studied in France, England and Italy and would prove to be invaluable grappling with the language problems in America. She also had a keen business sense.Sister Paula, nee Elizabeth Tischenback, who was born in Luxembourg, would go as housekeeper and all things practical.
VOYAGE ABROADOn August 12, 1863, the five brave Sisters set sail for America aboard the SS City of Baltimore. The journey proved to be harrowing enough, with seasickness rampant, rough seas, and several significant storms! On August 24, with much gratitude, they sailed peacefully into New York. They pressed on by train until they reached a distant city along the Erie Canal, Lockport, NY.
ARRIVALThis is a present day picture of the ruins of the train station where the Sisters arrived in Lockport. It lies within walking distance of the site of the original St. John's Parish, where the Sisters initially were given residence in the rectory until they were able to acquire suitable lodging.Original St. John's Parish School , Church and Rectory
ST. JOSEPH ACADEMYLockport was a boom town with many canal workers and their families. Two of the Sisters immediately set about educating the children by day, and giving classes for the adults at night in the Church basement. For their livelihood they began a private school in the convent taught by Sister Augustine. It was not long before they grew out of both school and living space. Within three years, with the help of Divine Providence and Mother Emilie in the lead, they were able to establish St. Joseph Academy in 1866. (below left)
GROWTHBy 1865 four more Sisters arrived from Belgium to join in the mission. In 1866, Bishop Timon asked for some Sisters to go to Elmira, NY, where, for a brief period a novitiate was established to receive new entrants. By 1873, the missionary call was stirring again in the heart of Mother Emilie with the desire to go to Texas. Once there, growth was steady and rapid. Soon after came an opportunity to go to Canada in 1886. This incredible leader, in a matter of twenty-three years, had managed to establish missions in New York, Texas and Ottawa, Ontario. Although she knew her health was diminishing, she still had one desire in her heart: to establish a Motherhouse in proximity to the Bishop in Buffalo, N.Y. In 1887, she was able to acquire a house in Buffalo (on the site of the present St. Mary Center). It was named "St. Joseph Branch, which served as a convent and school. And despite continual growth and constant promises for a better educational facility, this temporary school was used until 1914! The photo below is of Annunciation Convent, finally built in 1925.
THE GIFT OF HER LIFEMother Emilie had given herself, heart and soul, for the mission in North America. She was 21 years in leadership during some of the most challenging situations. During the summer of 1887, Mother Emilie found her life's energy draining away. She passed on the evening of July 20, Who can calculate the influence of one faithful soul, who did all for the glory of God? In the years that followed, the work of Mother Emilie not only continued, but grew steadily. Over time, hundreds of young women felt called to share in the noble life and work for which Mother Emilie sacrificed so much.Formal photograph of Mother Emilie.Sisters kneel in St.Joseph's Chapel at the funeral of Mother Emilie
RESTING IN PEACEOur founding mother, Mother Emilie, rests in peace in St. Patrick's Cemetery in Lockport, NY, with her four companions on the first SSMN missionary venture in America. This is truly sacred ground for the Sisters of St. Mary of the Eastern Region.