Holy Cross, SISTERS OF THE (Mother House, St. Mary’s of the Immaculate Conception, Notre Dame, Indiana). As an offset to the ravages of the French Revolution in the fields of religion and education, the Very Rev. Basil Moreau, professor of divinity in the Grand Seminaire and canon of the cathedral at Le Mans, France, formed a society of auxiliary priests in 1834. The following year his bishop, Msgr. Bouvier, named him superior of the Brothers of St. Joseph, who had been founded for school work in 1820 by the Rev. Jacques-Francois Dujarie. “The Association of the Holy Cross” was the outgrowth of these two distinct communities banded together under Abbe Moreau for educational purposes in the Commune of the Holy Cross near Le Mans, where they started Holy Cross College in 1836. Several young women offering their assistance a little later, Father Moreau founded a sisterhood “to cooperate with the other branches in their pious labors, and to labor themselves in a particular manner for the benefit of the youth of their own sex”. The first candidates received the habit of the Congregation of the Seven Dolors (as it was then called) from Father Moreau on September 29, 1841, in the convent of the Good Shepherd. Under the direction of its saintly superior, Mother Dorothea, they made their novitiate, and, at the end of a year, were admitted to the religious profession with the title, “Sisters of the Holy Cross”. They were consecrated by their founder “to the heart of Mary pierced with the sword of grief”. This has ever been the especial devotion of the sisters, and the image of Our Lady of Sorrows is a distinctive mark of their dress. They wear also in her honor a blue cincture and the chaplet of the Seven Dolors, which is recited in common every day.
In 1842 the sisters with Mother Seven Dolors took possession of their new convent at Holy Cross. About this time, the Rev. Edward Sorin and five brothers left the mother-house for the Indiana Missions at the request of the Bishop of Vincennes. It is evident from Father Sorin’s letters that he expected the sisters to join him later in his work. He writes that they should come prepared for teaching, establishing an academy, and for the Indian missions. Four sisters left France with Father Cointet on June 6, 1843. A second story had been added to the log chapel at Notre Dame for their convent. Upon their arrival, they took charge of the sacristy, infirmary, clothes room, etc. Before long the need of an American novitiate was apparent as it was out of the question to send candidates to Le Mans from Indiana. Father Sorin asked the ordinary’s permission to establish one, but the bishop refused because he thought his diocese could not support two educational institutions, and the Sisters of Providence were already there by his invitation. Finally, in 1844 the novitiate was opened with the sanction of the Bishop of Detroit at Bertrand, Michigan, six miles from Notre Dame. This mission was attended by the Holy Cross priests. The first American postulants received the habit from Father Sorin on September 8, 1844.. The sisters taught the children of the neighborhood, and cared for several orphans. In 1845 the inhabitants gave them a large tract of land; and this with five thousand francs from the Society of the Propagation of the Faith made it possible for the sisters to extend their work. The French sisters had already mastered the English tongue, while their American companions were studying the dialect of the Pottawattomies. Those destined for music and painting attended Loretta Convent, Kentucky; others went to France to specialize in the instruction of deaf-mutes.
The first school for Indians was opened at Pokagon, Michigan, in 1845. This was followed by other foundations at St. John’s, Mackinac, Louisville, Lowell (Indiana), Laporte, Michigan City, and Mishawaka. In 1847 four sisters with some companions from the mother-house in France opened a convent at St. Laurent, Canada, which formed the nucleus of the subsequently erected province. In 1849 four sisters took charge of the boys’ orphan asylum in New Orleans, and from there a house was opened in New York with the sanction of Father Moreau (1854). Sisters were sent to this establishment from Notre Dame, Canada, and New Orleans. Misunderstandings due to orders issued from France and Notre Dame led to the withdrawal of the American sisters from the new foundations, the houses of New Orleans and New York remaining subject to France. The year 1856 saw the sisters well-established in Chicago and Philadelphia. They had charge of the cathedral parochial school, St. Joseph‘s German school, and an industrial school in Chicago, and were installed in St. Paul’s and St. Augustine’s schools in Philadelphia. Later they opened a select school for boarders and day-pupils in West Philadelphia. These foundations all promised success, but the strained relations between the mother-house at Le Mans under Father Moreau and the Provincial House at Notre Dame under Father Sorin led to the recall of the sisters. Meanwhile the work at St. Mary’s, Bertrand, was recognized by the state authorities who granted its charter in 1851. New buildings were added to accommodate their fifty boarders. In 1853, Eliza Gillespie received the habit from Father Sorin, and sailed for France to make her novitiate as Sister Angela. After profession, she returned to Bertrand and took charge of the academy, 1854. From that time until her death (1887), Mother Angela labored indefatigably to develop the highest intellectual and religious qualities in both teachers and students, and must be regarded as the virtual foundress of the order in the United States.
On August 15, 1855, the convent and academy were moved from Bertrand to the present site on the banks of the St. Joseph. This institution, “St. Mary’s of the Immaculate Conception“, was incorporated under the laws of Indiana. In the early days of the community, property was held in common by the three branches of the Holy Cross. When Father Moreau visited the provinces of Canada, Louisiana, and Notre Dame in 1857, he promulgated the Decree of Separation of the sisters from the priests and brothers. In 1862 the property was divided. Difficulties again arising with the mother-house, Bishop Luers of Fort Wayne sent a petition to Rome asking the approval of the American province, and in 1869 the Sisters of the Holy Cross in the United States were recognized as a distinct Congregation. Father Sorin, who had on the resignation of Father Moreau become superior general, was named their ecclesiastical superior, which office he held until the community was placed directly under the Propaganda. The new constitutions were approved, and Father Sorin was appointed to write the rules. Twenty years later, the apostolic approbation of the rules was given for seven years, at the end of which time the final approbation was received (1896).
While the work of the Holy Cross Sisters is principally educational, they also devote themselves to the care of orphanages and hospitals for the sick. During the Civil War Mother Angela with seventy sisters took charge of hospitals in Mound City and Cairo; the military hospitals at Paducah and Louisville; the naval hospital and “The Overton” at Memphis; and St. Aloysius at Washington.
The community is governed by the mother general and her four assistants who form the council at the mother-house. All the missions are dependent upon the mother-house for their subjects, as there is only one novitiate, and the novices return there from all parts of the country to make their final vows after five years’ probation. There are one thousand sisters working in the archdioceses of Baltimore, Chicago, New York, and San Francisco, and in the various dioceses. They conduct over 60 institutions, including 1 college, 2 normal schools, 16 boarding schools, 40 academies and parish schools, 6 hospitals, and 4 orphan asylums.
SISTER M. ANTOINE