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Celebrating 185 Years as a Congregation

Blessed Theresa Gerhardinger established a community of women religious – the School Sisters of Notre Dame – in Neunburg vorm Wald, a little town in Bavaria, Germany, nearly 185 years ago. This new congregation came to life in response to God’s call to address social needs of the times through the education of girls.Picture of Ludwig I. von Bayern around 1830

King Louis I of Bavaria was instrumental in assisting the growth of the newly formed School Sisters of Notre Dame. According to "Our Lady Stakes a Claim"written by Sister Mary Agnesine, SSND, at the request of King Louis, who took a personal interest in the foundation of the School Sisters of Notre Dame, the Motherhouse was established in Munich, the capital of Bavaria, in 1841 (p. 4). King Louis would continue to provide his support to the School Sisters of Notre Dame as they crossed the ocean for missions in North America. (Agnesine 1949, p. 4) We invite you to read the following story, which details King Louis’ involvement and support of the School Sisters of Notre Dame.

King Louis I, the Louis Mission Society and SSND

Political upheaval in early nineteenth-century Europe resulted in the dissolution of religious monasteries and convents in Bavaria, the dispersal of their members and increasing control of the church by the Bavarian government. In 1825, Louis I (1786-1868) became King of Bavaria (1825-1848) and, in contrast to what had been, his reign was deeply anchored in religion. He promoted the restoration of 32 religious orders and congregations in Bavaria and generously helped finance 132 new religious houses, a number of which belonged to the School Sisters of Notre Dame.

At the same time, a renewed missionary spirit was developing among those who believed that the call to spread the faith was integral to the life of a Christian. Africa, Asia and Oceania were significant mission fields, but German immigrants in need of pastoral care in North America soon became the primary focus of missionary endeavors.

In 1828, Bishop Friedrich Reese from Detroit turned to King Louis and requested financial support for the missions in North America. The King approved voluntary collections for this purpose in the Diocese of Regensburg, Germany. These collections were administered by Bishop George Michael Wittmann, who was also imbued with a deep missionary spirit.

The collections were insufficient, however, and 10 years later, Bishop Reese returned to Munich and suggested that King Louis establish a mission society. The Louis Mission Society, which would be under the king’s patronage and bear his name, was established in 1838. Members of the society would pray for the missions, provide financial support and promote interest in the missions through the publication of their works.

When Blessed Theresa and the first missionary sisters left for North America in 1847, King Louis I and the Louis Mission Society generously supported them. The king sent $6,000 from his own pocket to help pay for the first foundation at St. James in Baltimore. In 1850, he provided funds to purchase the original building for the Motherhouse in Milwaukee.

Between 1850 and 1866, the Louis Mission Society sent Mother Caroline approximately $40,000, which was used to help build additions to the Milwaukee Motherhouse, prepare the candidates for teaching and support mission houses in need. By 1866, the congregation was well established and helping other religious congregations gain a foothold in North America. Between 1878 and 1887, the society sent funds to help the Baltimore Motherhouse and the mission for Native American children in Harbor Springs, Michigan. Mother Caroline responded to each gift with a letter of gratitude that closed with the words, “We continually pray that God will bestow choicest blessings on our benefactors.” (Letter #28, April 1862)

As we celebrate 185 years as a congregation, the School Sisters of Notre Dame Central Pacific Province will be joining with the School Sisters of Notre Dame Atlantic-Midwest Province to showcase the strong women who have dedicated their lives to the service of God and others. In the 185 days leading up to the 185th anniversary, SSND’s Atlantic-Midwest Province will feature these amazing women, the work they’ve done and the lives they have touched. To learn more, visit 185 Years, 185 Stories.


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