The Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur came to the United States from Namur, Belgium in 1840 to do the work which their foundress, St. Julie Billiart, regarded as “the most important work on earth.” The Sisters came to teach. At the request of Archbishop John Purcell, eight Sisters established a school for girls in Cincinnati. This school and convent soon became the focal point from which new parish schools and academies were founded, reaching out to other areas of Ohio and eventually to Illinois, Massachusetts, Maryland and the entire East Coast.
In 1844, six Belgian Sisters of Notre Dame, with a band of Jesuit priests, left Antwerp by ship for a long and treacherous journey around the Cape Horn en route to their destination on the Oregon territories. Other Sisters from Belgium joined them in the American West through the succeeding years. After much suffering and many difficulties, the Belgian Sisters left Oregon to open a school in San José, CA in 1851. This became the first foundation for the California Province.
Ministries in The United States:
- Social Service
- Health Care
- Pastoral Service
- Justice and Peace Ministries
- United Nations Representation
- College Administration
- Community Action
- Prison Ministry
In January 2009, two Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur NDs went to Haiti to begin a new ministry for people living in poverty. Invited by the Bishop of Les Cayes, these Sisters accepted the call to serve the people of Haiti by responding to the needs articulated by the people and the Church. Hardly had their ministry of outreach begun when an enormous earthquake in January 2010 racked serious devastation, causing thousands of deaths and injuries in an already tragic situation. Earthquake aftershocks and tornadoes brought more pain, squalor, destruction, injury and thousands of deaths. Many left without homes, food, and water became refugees in Les Cayes. This natural disaster delayed somewhat SND dreams for a family education center in Haiti. The ministry to the people centered on providing food, clothing and medical assistance, as well as an action plan for human development and literacy in the city.
Les Cayes in South Haiti has 140,000 people. La Savane is one of the city’s 12 slums, where adults and children suffer from hunger, malnutrition, diseases and homelessness. The literacy rate especially among women is very low; about 80% of women neither read nor write. Most children do not go to school. Even where there are schools, parents do not have money to pay for the tuition or uniforms.
SNDs are responding with mind and heart in a participative program for 100 women at the Family Education Center, reaching another 522 people in the households of these women. These extended families benefit from food assistance, health care and dental aid for their children at the Centre. The Sisters and Associates, who offer short-term service in Les Cayes, provide tutoring in English for young people of high-school age. Above all, Notre Dame is working to build a refuge from the storms, poverty, corruption and their moral effects in Haitian society. The work of recovery continues.