History of the Sisters of St. Mary of Namur
The Sisters of St. Mary of Namur began in the walled medieval Belgian city of Namur, complete with a commanding citadel at the confluence of the Sambres and the Meuse Rivers and a beautiful cathedral dominating the city square. Namur has been occupied since Roman times and has always been a city of military importance with waves of invasions including Phillip II of Spain, Louis XIV of France, and advancing German armies during World War II. St. Alban's Cathedral (Cathédrale Saint Aubin) was built between 1751 and 1767 on the site of a former Romanesque church, of which only the tower has survived. Near the cathedral stands St. Loup Church, built during the 17th century, where the eventual founder of the Sisters, Father Nicholas Joseph Minsart, was appointed pastor in 1813.
The congregation of St. Mary of Namur was founded after the French Revolution. In the years following the French Revolution, Father Minsart, a religious of the Order of St. Bernard, was deeply troubled by the plight of young girls in his parish. With no resources or education, deep poverty forced them into the most menial of tasks and even prostitution. In 1819, he asked two young women to open a sewing workshop so that skills and basic education could be offered. With these humble beginnings, Josephine Sana and Elizabeth Berger began the educational efforts of what eventually became the mission of the Sisters of St. Mary.
Even today, the sisters observe November 11 as the beginning of the Order, and partake of a simple supper of baked potatoes and apples, remembering their beginnings in a little house in Namur. Other young women soon came to join them, and, by 1834, the women were recognized as a religious congregation, approved by Bishop Barrett of Namur. On September 21, 1834, sixteen sisters received the habit. Among this group was Sister Claire of Jesus, who would be elected superior shortly before Father Minsart’s death in 1837. For the next thirty-six years, she led the community, devoting herself to forming the religious spirit of the sisters.
The sisters were excellent teachers, believing in providing spiritual development and educational opportunities to children, especially the poor. They established schools and academies in Belgium, and, in 1863, Mother Claire sent the first missionaries of the congregation to the United States of America. The Sisters came to Texas in 1873, continuing the venture into unknown places. Today the sisters are still educators and passionate supporters of non-violence, promoting the pursuit of peace and continuing their work in education, health care, prison ministries, immigration, and adult formation. The Sisters of St. Mary of Namur continue to guide us in our mission and Catholic identity and support our students through generous sponsorships. The sisters maintain missions in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Cameroon, Tanzania, Brazil and the Dominican Republic.