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190 year anniversary of SSND

By Sister Debra Marie Sciano, Provincial Leader
Historical photo of Sister Lillian Nohava with classroom reading

When Caroline Gerhardinger founded the School Sisters of Notre Dame (SSND) in 1833, I am sure she had no idea that 190 years later the congregation would be eight provinces with sisters serving in ministries in 28 countries.

At the age of 15, Caroline was already a certified teacher in a girls’ school in Stadtamhof, Germany, near Regensburg. She was a gifted educator whose enthusiasm and encouragement made her a beloved teacher. Caroline gradually recognized God’s call to establish a religious community in response to the educational needs of the time. On November 16, 1835, Caroline professed her religious vows and took the name Mary Theresa of Jesus.

A global map of where School Sisters of Notre Dame serves

Caroline founded the SSND based in poverty and dedication to the Virgin Mary. Mary Theresa of Jesus’ love for God helped define her goals – to know God and to do God’s will.

Mother Theresa’s spirituality deeply influenced the spirituality of her congregation. Her love for God, nourished and strengthened by her devotion to the Blessed Sacrament, enkindled the burning desire of her life: to know him and to do his will. Her longing to honor God and her concern for the kingdom were the ruling and pervading principles which dictated all her efforts. She grounded her community in poverty to reach the poor and dedicated it to Mary, in whom she found a model for herself, her sisters and the young girls they served. In education she insisted on the absolute necessity of the example of the educator and on the integration of instruction and character development.

The structure of her congregation flowed from her perception of the needs of those she served as well as those of her sisters. By sending sisters in twos and threes to reach people in rural areas, she departed from the contemporary pattern of large, formal monasteries. To maintain a common spirit, direction and goal among the sisters, among the branch houses, and later among the provinces, she insisted on a unifying central government. She was convinced that a woman could better understand and, therefore, direct and motivate her sisters. Mother Theresa was beatified by Pope John Paul II on November 17, 1985.

Historical photo of Sister Margaret (Claverine) Bloss sitting on bleachers with students

Blessed Theresa founded the SSND as educators and we continue as educators. We serve in a variety of ministries, grounded in the concept of transforming the world through education in the broadest sense. Today more than 1,928 SSND continue to proclaim the good news, directing our entire lives toward that oneness for which Jesus Christ was sent.

During this, our 190 year anniversary of the SSND, I think of all those who came before us, those currently living the charism and those will come after us. I pray that we will continue to grow in love together with open hearts and open arms to all those who need us, as we move toward the future.

We are women of hope, called to love and to bring all to that oneness for which Jesus came into the world. That is our mission. We remain committed to living out our mission and sharing with others.


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