Our Beginnings

“INDIA IS CALLING YOU” was the mantra being piped to the Sisters of Notre Dame in Cleveland, Ohio (USA) from as early as 1917. At least 150 Sisters were ready to answer the call at any time, so generous was their response. But it was only in 1949 that everything fell together in a neat pattern of events. Rt. Rev. Augustine Wildermuth, SJ, Bishop of the Diocese of Patna, made all the preliminary requests and preparations, Mother Mary Agnes, SND, Provincial Superior of Christ the King Province, Cleveland, Ohio, enthusiastically supported the plan of sending missionaries to India, but she died just before its realization. The duty fell on Mother Mary Anselm’s shoulders to bless and send off the missionaries with the full endorsement of Mother Mary Vera, SND, Superior-General in Rome. All was then ready to get set and go!

Sisters Mary St. Thomas, Magdela, Joelle, Maris, Lauretta, and Kieran were the chosen six to take the Notre Dame spirit and charism to the Far East. Each one was as different from the other as day is from night, but united as one in the Lord. After saying their fond farewells, they boarded the SS Caroniain New York on September 20, 1949, for the shores of England where they were to take a break of about ten days and simultaneously learn something about the pioneering, ascetical experience of our German SND Sisters who had started the foundation in England in the early 1930’s.

Refreshed by their visit to England, the six Sisters left for India by the SS Himalaya on October 6, 1949. After both a peaceful and a rugged voyage, they landed in Bombay on October 20, 1949. Without much fanfare, they boarded crowded and noisy buses and trains to reach their destination, Jamalpur, in the state of Bihar, on October 31, 1949. On their way there, they were able to glimpse colourful previews of Gaya and Patna.

FIRST DAYS IN JAMALPUR: Receiving warm welcomes from the parishioners and children of St. Joseph’s Church, the Sisters were soon ready to adapt themselves to a land of multi cultures, languages, and religions; to a hostile climate that could be both severely cold and blisteringly hot; to mosquitoes, insects, lizards, snakes, and reptiles of every description; and, worst of all, to an appalling lack of electricity, water, and plumbing facilities.

Nothing deterred the pioneers. On February 2, 1950, with Sister Mary St. Thomas at the helm, they opened Notre Dame Academy in Jamalpur with just sixteen tiny tots. In the same year, they took over the administration of St. Joseph’s Parish School with Sisters Mary Joelle and Maris collaborating with each other in the running of the school. They opened a small dispensary in an unpretentious room managed by Sister Mary Kieran. These were just minuscules of the giant structures that are operated very efficiently by their Indian counterparts.

Because of the interest shown by some girls in joining the Sisters and imbibing their spirit, the novitiate was blessed and opened on July 12, 1954, with Sister Mary Magdela as the Novice Directress. These girls were known by the following religious names: Sisters Mary Tara (now deceased), Jyoti, Sushila, Nirmala, Amala, Vijaya, and Karuna (deceased).

The next few major openings were those of Notre Dame Academy in Munger, Bihar, on August 1, 1957, and Notre Dame Academy in Patna, Bihar, on February 2, 1960. In January, 1961, the Notre Dame Sisters in India were elevated to the status of a Province, now known as the Province of Our Lady of the Assumption.

With the opening of St. Ann’s School in Sasaram in January, 1966, the work of education, health, care, pastoral care, and social reforms mushroomed in many parts of Bihar, with Patna as the administrative centre. These then spread to Karnataka, W. Bengal, Chhatisgarh, Jharkhand, Delhi, Tamilnadu, Kerala, Jammu-Kashmir, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, and Assam. Of particular importance was the expansion of our work to Tanzania-Kenya, Africa, in 1992 where Indian Sisters have been going regularly to transmit the Notre Dame spirit to the indigenous population over there.

The formation of the Southern Province on December 18, 2004, was called the Province of Our Lady of the Visitation, with Bangalore as the administrative centre. The Sisters had inherited already established houses, schools, and institutions that were geographically in their area. They soon opened schools and institutions of their own and are working hand in hand with their Sisters in the North to make the good God’s name known to one and all.