Facebook IconTwitter IconInstagram IconSpotify


The congregation of the School Sisters of Notre Dame 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.

The School Sisters of Notre Dame began as educators and continue as educators. Now located throughout the world, SSNDs 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 Theresa

Blessed Theresa Gerhardinger with studentsBlessed Theresa was born Caroline Gerhardinger (1797-1879), and lived during turbulent times in Bavaria. At the age of 15, she was already a certified teacher in the girls’ school in Stadtamhof near Regensburg. She was a gifted educator whose enthusiasm and encouragement made her a beloved teacher. Under the spiritual guidance of Bishop George Michael Wittmann (1760-1833), Blessed Theresa gradually recognized God’s call to found a religious community in response to the current educational needs.

On November 16, 1835, she professed her religious vows and took the name Mary Theresa of Jesus. Her love for God helped define her goals: to know God and to do God’s will. Blessed Theresa anchored her community in poverty and dedicated it to the Virgin Mary.



Mother Caroline

Mother Caroline Friess, SSNDMother Caroline was born Josepha Friess (1824-1892), and entered the congregation in Neunburg vorm Wald in 1840. Two years later, she was given the name Mary Caroline. Her leadership potential, her great love for children and her many other extraordinary gifts were immediately recognized by Blessed Theresa, and she was entrusted with difficult teaching positions in Bavaria until her departure for America in 1847.

In 1848, Blessed Theresa placed Mother Caroline Friess in charge of the schools in the United States. Two years later, she was appointed Blessed Theresa’s representative in North America. Mother Caroline was 26 years old and had 24 sisters, 17 candidates or prospective members, 30 orphans and about 1,250 students entrusted to her care.



School Sisters of Notre Dame in North America

Sister Joseph Miriam Nemec teaches at St. Francis de Sales in St. Louis.Responding to the call to teach children of German immigrants in North America, the first School Sisters of Notre Dame arrived in New York in 1847. By 1850, sisters were teaching and caring for children at six missions in Baltimore, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Buffalo, New York. Before returning to Europe in 1848, Blessed Theresa appointed Mother Caroline Friess as her representative in North America and sent her to open a motherhouse in Milwaukee. Mother Caroline, three sisters and a candidate arrived in Milwaukee on December 15, 1850, and within two weeks, they were teaching the children of German immigrants in a nearby parish school. More women asked to enter the congregation, and by 1876, sisters were teaching and caring for children at approximately 150 missions in Wisconsin and 15 other Midwestern, Northeastern and Southern states, as well as in Ontario, Canada. New provinces were formed with provincial houses in Baltimore (1876); St. Louis (1895); Mankato, Minnesota (1912); Waterdown, Ontario (1927); Wilton, Connecticut (1957); Dallas (1961); and DeKalb, Illinois (1965, later in Chicago).


The Central Pacific Province

After years of consultation, planning and prayer, the four provinces based in Milwaukee, St. Louis, Dallas, and Mankato, Minnesota, became one province, the Central Pacific Province, which was inaugurated on the feast of Pentecost, June 12, 2011. The Region of Japan integrated into the Central Pacific Province in 2013. Sisters of the province live and minister not only in the central part of the United States, but as far as the Pacific Coast but also in Austria, Italy, Japan, Nepal, and the U.S. territory of Guam – giving us our name, Central Pacific Province. Learn more about the Central Pacific Province’s leadership, ministries and locations.


Want to learn more?


School Sisters of Notre Dame

320 East Ripa Avenue

St. Louis, MO 63125

Phone: 314-561-4100



© 2017 School Sisters of Notre Dame