History

Our Congregation

The Congregation of the School Sisters of Notre Dame (SSND) was founded on October 24, 1833, when Caroline Gerhardinger and two other women began a common religious life in Bavaria in present-day Germany. This new congregation came to life in response to God’s call to address social needs of the times through the education of girls. The State had confiscated Church possessions and dissolved most religious congregations, which deprived many girls of an opportunity for education.

SSND began as educators and continue as educators. Now located throughout the world, SSND serve in a variety of ministries, grounded in the concept of transforming the world through education in the broadest sense. Learn more about our beginnings below, and explore the rest of our website to find out how we continue to impact the world.

 

Blessed Mary Theresa of Jesus Gerhardinger

Blessed M. Theresa Gerhardinger

Blessed M. Theresa of Jesus (baptized as Caroline Gerhardinger) was born on June 20, 1797, at Regensburg, Germany into a working-class family. She was the only child of the shipmaster Willibald Gerhardinger and his wife Mary Frances. Caroline was educated by the Canonesses of Saint Augustine until 1809 when religious orders were closed by the decree of the Bavarian government.

At the request of Father Michael Wittman, Cathedral Pastor and later Auxiliary Bishop of Regensburg, Caroline and two other girls were asked to help with the education of the girls in the elementary school in Stadtamhof. In 1812, the three aspiring teachers passed the teacher training examination and they became “royal teachers at the Royal School for Girls in Stadtamhof.” Caroline was a young teacher who inspired others, at the same time, her desire to follow Jesus in religious life became stronger. With the great spiritual support of Father Michael Wittman, Caroline followed God’s call to start a new religious order devoted to God and Christian education, especially for girls. In 1828, the Vatican got concessions from the Bavarian government, and many religious communities reopened.

When Bishop Wittman died suddenly during a vital time of foundation, Caroline with strong trust in God’s providence, and supported by Father Michael Wittman’s friend Francis Sebastian Job, had the courage to establish the congregation in 1833. On November 16, 1835, Caroline professed her perpetual vows in Regensburg and took the religious name, Mary Theresa of Jesus. The Vatican approved the Sister’s Rule and Constitution on 23 January 1854 and the Order quickly began to spread. Mary Theresa spent the rest of her life devoted to the ministry of education. She died on May 9, 1879. Pope John Paul II beatified her on November 17, 1985, in Rome.

(Adapted from Voice of a Moral Educator written by Pilar Perez Williams)

Mother Caroline Friess

Mother Caroline Friess

Josephine Friess the future Mother Caroline was born August 21, 1824, in a suburb of Paris France. She grew up in Bavaria, where she entered the School Sisters of Notre Dame in Neunburg vorm Wald in 1840. Two years later, she received the name, Mary Caroline. Her leadership potential, her great love for children, youthful energy and her many other extraordinary gifts were immediately recognized by Blessed Theresa. She was entrusted with difficult teaching positions in Bavaria until her departure for America in 1847 at the age of 23. She died on July 22, 1892, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA.

Through courageous leadership, adapted the congregation to live on another continent, perceptively reading the signs of the times, risking innovative response to the needs of the new world.
Prologue, You Are Sent, p. 19

 

Call to Africa

The African side to the Story……

In the early years of the Congregation's foundation and during the lifetime of Blessed Theresa Gerhardinger, slave girls who were ransomed were brought to the Motherhouse in Munich, Germany for education.

However, the project failed to materialize since the ransomed young women, destined for the SSND holistic education, died as a result of the weather. For a moment, the vision to reach out was stalled but not ended.

Mother Theresa seated with three children

Motivated by Vatican II’s call to reach all nations with the Gospel of Christ (Missio ad Gentes), and spurred on by what Mother Theresa describes as the charism (contagion of love), sisters from Baltimore, Dallas, St. Louis, Wilton and Mankato Provinces, starting from the 1970s courageously ventured into the continent of Africa to witness to Christ. Sisters sent on mission to Africa were stationed in Ghana, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Kenya.

In 1990, sisters from the Polish Province also came to Africa, beginning a ministry in The Gambia. Originally, these places were mission extensions of the sending provinces but as time went on, the desire of the sisters to be united as one entity became very strong. This called for various dialogues, meetings and discernment leading to the formation of the District of Africa on February 2, 1996, and its birth on October 24 in the same year.

The sisters of The Gambia became part of the District of Africa in October 2005. Although it all started as an entirely foreign missionary activity in Africa, with time, young indigenous African women desirous of participating in the ministry of the congregation, enthusiastically joined up. Over the years, the membership component of Africans in the SSND has grown by leaps and bounds, working side by side with their sisters from elsewhere across the continents.

The School Sisters of Notre Dame (SSND) have lived and ministered in seven countries on the African continent. In 2011, sisters serving in Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, Sierra Leone and The Gambia came together to form the Province of Africa.

Currently, the School Sisters of Notre Dame of the Province of Africa are in five countries: The Gambia, Sierra Leone, Ghana, Nigeria and Kenya. Today in 2021, there are 85 sisters (71 African, 14 Non-African) living in 23 communities in six different countries (one sister volunteers in South Sudan). In February 2021, eight (8) African women were received as novices to begin their novitiate at the School Sisters of Notre Dame International Novitiate in Rome. There are 16 young women in different stages of affiliation.

Either as indigenous religious or foreign missionaries, the sisters of the Province of Africa continue to fan into flame the congregation’s founding vision which, being rooted in the gratuitous love of God, holds education as the key to transforming the world. Because of this, School Sisters serve as teachers, administrators, nurses, counselors, social workers, pastoral ministers, etc.

As School Sisters of Notre Dame, we are blessed with the richness of diversity in our intercultural communities, and shaped by our worldwide vision and perspective of things. Through transformative education, we have become truly SSND and our charism of unity is evident in the way we live, longing to direct our entire lives towards that oneness that is only realized in Christ Jesus.

Let us continue to serve the Triune God all our lives with joy,
to obey him, to love him above all.
Blessed Theresa Gerhardinger Letter 714

Learn more about our beginnings below, and explore the rest of our website to find out how we continue to impact the world.

The School Sisters of Notre Dame (SSND) have lived and ministered in seven countries on the African continent. Today in 2020, there are 85 sisters (71 African, 14 Non-African) living in 23 communities in six different countries (one sister volunteers in South Sudan). The Province of Africa will have 8 novices at the novitiate in Rome beginning this October. There are 30 young women in different stages of affiliation. In 2011 sisters serving in Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, Sierra Leone and The Gambia came together to form the Province of Africa.

Liberia: 1970 – 1990

Liberia: colorful map showing different regions within the country.
(Select image to enlarge.)

Two sisters from the Wilton Province arrived in Liberia in October 1970. Two others joined them by March 1971. In Tchien, also called Zwedru, they undertook curriculum planning, teacher training and some primary teaching. Eventually, they opened a Girls House so young women could attend secondary school. A second mission was opened in Monrovia. In August 1990 the five sisters in Liberia fled the country due to the civil war. Three sisters returned in October 1992 but had to leave again at the recommendation of Bishop Dalieh when the Adorers of the Precious Blood sisters were murdered by Taylor’s soldiers. Today, SSND is no longer working in Liberia but Sister Leonora Tucker maintains strong friendships with Liberians.

Algeria: 1972 – 1974

Archbishop Santo Portalupi, Apostolic Nuncio in Algiers, requested two or three sisters to work on the staff of the nunciature to do secretarial and housework and at the same time survey possibilities to work with the Muslim women of the city. Two sisters from the Dallas Province accepted the invitation and in October 1972 flew to Algiers. They ran the 40 room house, helped prepare work for the weekly Vatican-bound diplomatic pouch, helped other religious prepare for their degrees and did sacristy work. By April 1974 both sisters had left Algeria since no ministry outside the nunciature was seriously being considered for the sisters.

Sierra Leone: 1973 – 1997, 2007 – present

Sierra Leone: colorful map showing different regions within the country.
(Select image to enlarge.)

In 1973, the St. Louis Province sent four sisters to Yengema in Sierra Leone to start a girls section at Yengema Secondary School. Sisters were sent to Port Loko in 1976, Kabala in 1979 and Mange Bureh in 1990. Formal education in classroom settings at the secondary and teacher training levels was the major form of service along with coordination of religious education and parish work. In 1995, the sisters left the country due to the rebel war. Three sisters returned in 1997 and within the same year, they were asked to leave by Bishop Biguzzi because of the war. Today there are six sisters who minister in two communities in the country. Makeni at the University of Makeni (A Catholic Diocesan University), Holy Spirit Hospital and in Bumbuna at St. Joseph's Preschool, parish work and doing social ministry with women and children.

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Ghana: 1974 – present

Ghana: colorful map showing different regions within the country.
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From the Dallas Province, five sisters were sent to the Diocese of Accra in Ghana in 1974. The sisters worked for the National Catholic Secretariat, the Catholic Press, taught religious education, minister at the Orthopedic Centre and began Notre Dame Clinic. From this beginning, new ministries evolved for the sisters in Nsawam, Accra, Sunyani and Cape Coast. The African Novitiate was built in Sunyani and received the first five novices from Nigeria in 1990. On May 6, 1995, the first Ghanaian made her profession. Today the SSND leadership resides in Accra and educational and healing ministries continue in Sunyani, Cape Coast and Nsawam. Our novices now undergo formation at our International Novitiate in Rome.

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Nigeria: 1974 – present

Nigeria: colorful map showing different regions within the country.
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In 1974, one sister was sent to Nigeria to the Diocese of Ikot Ekpene to teach mathematics at both the minor seminary and a girl’s school. In 1977, other sisters joined her. By 1996, Notre Dame Girls Secondary School, the only school owned by the congregation in Africa, opened its doors in Mkar, Benue State. Over the years sisters have been engaged in educational ministries on the university, seminary, secondary and primary levels. They have worked with catechist training programs, the mentally handicapped and the hearing impaired along with volunteer work at the Family Life Center and the Remand Home, a detention center for youth. Today SSND continues to bring good news to students in Akwanga Nassarawa State, Anwule Benue State, Jos Plateau State, Mkar Benue State, Urua Edet Obo and Mbribit in Akwa Ibom State.

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Kenya: 1974 – present

Kenya: colorful map showing different regions within the country.
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The first SSND sisters were sent to Kenya in August 1974, two from the Mankato Province and one from the Chicago Province. They began St. Francis Upgrading Center for the Franciscan Sisters of St. Joseph and later served other religious communities. Other sisters were sent to Kenya from both the Mankato and Milwaukee Provinces. Over the years, SSND has been involved in teaching sisters from indigenous communities as well as in seminaries. Some sisters moved to the northern desert as pastoral ministers. SSND has worked in hospitals, in a program for action against desertification, in the administration of pastoral centers and diocesan programs for teachers, in pastoral ministry as well as in schools. Today, sisters are involved in women’s development as peacemakers, social ministry to youth and orphan families touched by AIDs, in formal education, nursing and counseling. The SSND Postulancy for the Province of Africa is situated in Kisumu.

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The Gambia: 1990 – present

The Gambia: colorful map showing different regions within the country.
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In 1990, sisters were sent to The Gambia from the Polish Province to minister in the village of Bwiam. In 1994 a new mission was opened in Soma. Today the sisters in Bwiam teach in schools, conduct a hostel for girls and do pastoral ministry. In Soma they work in Notre Dame Primary School. They also minister to the children of the parish and do pastoral work.

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PMB Achimota School Post Office, Accra, Ghana, Africa
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