Legacy

The Sisters of Notre Dame of Patna, Bihar, India are blessed with a rich legacy which we inherited from Sr. Mary Aloysia, our Foundress, and Sr. Mary Ignatia, our co-Foundress.

ORIGINS IN GERMANY: At the historical origin of our Congregation we have Hilligonda Wolbring – Sister Mary Aloysia- who initiated a series of events that brought the Congregation into being, and exemplified the Congregation’s spirit of complete centeredness in a loving and provident God. She was born on January 9, 1828, in Rotterdam, Holland, the daughter of Otto Arnold Wolbring, a master smith from the farming community of Sternern, Westphalia, and his Dutch wife, Catherine Moring. An orphan by the age of seven, Hilligonda was brought up by her great uncle and guardian, Gerard JohannWolbring. Under the favourable influence of the Wolbrings’ simple family life, she developed fine inner traits of character which ultimately shaped her life career- particularly her deep and practical sympathy for poor neglected orphans and for all in distress. Her vivacity and natural leadership remained distinctive features of her personality. Her dreams of devoting her life and fortune to the Christian education of poor and neglected children became a passion for her as the years passed. At the age of seventeen she began her teacher training at Munster which was marked by the spirit of Father Bernard Overberg, a master teacher renowned and appreciated far beyond the boundaries of Westphalia. At the age of 21, she was moved to create a warm and loving home for neglected children. She who had experienced that kind of sheltering when she became an orphan at the age of seven was trying to do for others what had been done for her.                                                                
During her first year of teaching, in the fall of 1848, she met Elizabeth Kuhling – Sister Mary Ignatia (Jan. 10, 1822– Nov. 8, 1869) - another trained teacher who became her intimate companion and helped her to make her vision a reality. Recognizing the significance of their commitment outside of teaching, that of providing a loving home for the neglected children, their parish priest, Father Theodore Elting, encouraged them to continue their service to the poor children as women religious and invited the Sisters of Notre Dame of Amersfort, Holland, to Coesfeld to train these two teachers for religious life. These Amersfort Sisters were trained by the Sisters of Notre Dame of Namur, Belgium, in the spirit and charism of St. Julie Billiart, their Foundress. The Amersfort Sisters handed down to our first sisters the same spirit and charism: the spirit of joyful simplicity and the charism of proclaiming the “Goodness of God.”  Sisters Mary Aloysia and Ignatia entered the novitiate on Oct. 1, 1850 and were professed on Oct. 4, 1852. In 1856, Mother Mary Anna was elected as the first Superior general of the Sisters of Notre Dame.

St. Julie was born on July 12, 1751, in Cuvilly, France. Already as a child St. Julie gave evidence of an outstanding love of God and an urge to let others share in her experience of God. She suffered a crippling paralysis for thirty years. She spent this time in incessant prayer, and she continued her catechetical work and gave advice and support to adults who came to her. She was a woman of quick intuition, sound common sense, directness and openness and, above all, a woman on fire with love for God. We honour St. Julie as our “Spiritual Mother” because our first sisters were trained according to the rule of St. Julie. By following the rules of St. Julie, the spirit, charism, and apostolic orientation  of St. Julie was imprinted in us. We also inherited the legacy of Sister Mary Aloysia: the profound conviction of God’s loving and provident care. Sr. Mary Aloysia and Sister Mary Ignatia were much influenced by the spirit of Father Bernard Overberg during their teacher training, and they passed on to us those values, namely,  choice of the loving God before all else, adherence to interior prayer, and a genuine love for others, especially the poor. Sister Mary Aloysia’s great contribution was her example of humility, unpretentiousness, and a quiet, selfless fulfillment of duty. Her axiom: “Words inspire, example compels” is a far-reaching apostolic principle to live by.

EXILED FROM GERMANY: The flourishing Congregation of the Sisters of Notre Dame in Germany faced the shadow of the cross. The Kulturkampf and the law of May 31, 1875, forbade the existence of all convents in Germany. By Oct. 1, 1877, there was not a single Sister of Notre Dame on Prussian soil. About 200 traveled to the United States taking the torch from Germany to the New World. The Sisters experienced that the cross alone leads to victory. The Congregation developed interiorly and exteriorly. Mother Mary Chrysostom, the second superior general, urged the sisters to persevere - despite the change of times and circumstances - in the primitive spirit of simplicity, of humility, of love and of obedience, and to maintain the identity of the congregation through the traditions already fixed at that time. ”How good is the good God!”  The Congregation was on a solid foundation in a short span of ten years with twenty-four affiliations where sisters were working for the honour of God and salvation of youth.

The Kulturkampf ended by this time, and on the eve of Pentecost in 1887 once more Mother Mary Chrysostom stood at the threshold of a new beginning. On January7, 1888, Mother Mary Chrysostom with three companions moved into Mulhausen, Germany, celebrating the “birthday” of the second motherhouse. Poverty and the cross were here as well as charity and the spirit of sacrifice, the spiritual foundation upon which God could erect his work. It was not granted to Sr. Mary Aloysia to experience the new beginning in Europe. She died on May 6, 1889.

TWO WORLD WARS: The period of the First World War was again a time of trial for the affiliations in Germany. With great trust in the providence of God, Mother Mary Cecilia, the third Superior general, led the congregation safely through the storms. The most beautiful testament she left for her spiritual daughters was her vigorous love for God and her generous, daring apostolic nature. The Second World War and Nazism played havoc on schools, and almost all schools were closed during the Nazi regime. On July 30, 1943, the Gestapo had sent away all the sisters and requisitioned the Generalate at Mulhausen for army occupation.

Mother Mary Antonie, the fourth Superior general, was a great cross-bearer. The entire Generalate was under the sign of the cross. Only through a strong faith in the unfathomable love of God and in an attitude of trustful humility could Mother Mary Antonie bear the cross through the twenty-one years of her office. The climax of the cross was the death of Mother Mary Antonie and her two companions in a fire on their ship as they were returning to Germany at the end of the war.

TO DISTANT SHORES: Mother Mary Vera, the fifth Superior general, sensed her responsibility for the preservation of the original spirit in her growing Congregation, namely the spirit of perfect union, of tender charity, of absolute equality. She upheld the teaching of St. Julie:  “One who enters our society must have far greater intentions than to escape the dangers of the world. Our chief aim is to propagate the glory of God…”

Mother Mary Vera responded to this principal aim by opening the mission in India in 1949. Our six Sisters from Christ the King Province gave expression to the original spirit in many creative ways here in India. Sister Mary St. Thomas our first Provincial Superior, instilled the original spirit in us and through the successive Superiors and sisters our legacy lives on.