Welcome to our Home in Villa Maria, Pa.
We are a group of women religious dedicated to works of peacemaking, justice and care for Earth through education, health care, social service and pastoral ministry. We currently serve in Florida, Kentucky, Nebraska, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia and Haiti.
We share in Jesus’ mission of bringing more abundant life to God’s people, especially to those who are poor, by announcing the liberating message of the gospel and by the witness of your lives. -HM Constitutions No. 3
Reflection from Anniversary Celebration at Villa Maria: Click on the PDF below to enjoy the reflection presented by Sr. Mary Pat Cook during the July 20 Liturgy in honor of the 150th anniversary of the Sisters of the Humility of Mary in the United States.
Celebrating Sisters: This year, the Sisters of the Humility celebrate the blessings of the events of 1864, which brought the first sisters from France to America to embark on ministries that have touched countless lives. One of the regional celebrations to honor this 150th anniversary was held July 20, 2014, at Villa Maria. You can enjoy photos from the day by clicking on Photo Gallery at left. Please plan to join us for the final celebrations listed below.
Join Us to Celebrate Our 150th Anniversary In America
September 12: 7 p.m. Prayer Service • Magnificat High School Auditorium, 20770 Hilliard Blvd., Rocky River, OH 44116 • Includes a reflection by Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) President Sr. Carol Zinn, SSJ • Reception with refreshments to follow
September 13: 9:45 a.m. to 12 p.m. • Special presentation by LCWR President Sr. Carol Zinn, SSJ • Villa Maria Community Center, Villa Maria, Pa. (For GPS, use 225 Villa Marie Rd., Pulaski, PA 16143) • Lunch to follow
Services are free & open to the public. RSVP by calling 724-964-8920, ext. 3274, or emailing celebration date and number attending to email@example.com. Deadline is 2 weeks prior to each celebration.
The Journey from France to America
View related photos in The Journey in Photos page at left
May 25, 1864: After much prayer and deliberation, the entire HM community of 11 sisters, along with Father John Joseph Begel and four orphans, left France in response to a request from Father Louis Hoffer, a French missionary looking for sisters to work with his French speaking parishioners in Louisville, Ohio. God inspired these early sisters to leave the needy villages in northeast France to come to the United States to continue the mission of Jesus to bring abundant life to those around them.
May 26, 1864: They arrived in Paris at 6 a.m. for a day-long wait for the night train to Le Havre.
May 27 1864: They began a weekend stay in Le Havre to rest and care for one of the orphans who was ill.
May 28, 1864: They continue their stay in Le Havre.
May 29, 1864: The travelers celebrated the feast of the Octave of Corpus Christi while still in Le Havre. the sisters preparing to leave were: Sister Anna Tabourat, Sister Marie Joseph Gaillot, Sister Josephine Mougel, Sister Angel Balland, Sister Odile Philbert,Sister Mary of the Angels Maujean, Sister Margaret Colson, Sister Alix Genin, Sister Beatrix Champougny, and two novices: Sister Virginie Benoit and Sister Mary of Jesus Boussard.
May 30, 1864: Leaving their homeland forever, the travelers crossed the English Channel to Southampton, England, on the English boat Alliance.
May 31, 1864: They boarded the steamship Saxonia, a German vessel from Hamburg carrying many immigrants, mostly German, to the United States. The travelers established themselves in their steerage quarters.
June 1, 1864: Having left home seven days prior, they finally left the harbor at Southampton with 723 passengers onboard. Oral tradition has it one of the sisters exclaimed, "This ship is bigger than our whole village!"
June 2, 1864: The ship was struck by towering waves from a storm, felt very strongly in the lower parts of the ship, causing seasickness among the sisters and four orphans.
June 3, 1864: The sisters and orphans took care of each other during this time of sickness. Sister Anna Tabourat, considered the foundress in America and become known as Mother Anna, was 34 years old when she left France.
June 4, 1864: The voyage continued with the travelers in the close quarters of the ship's steerage area. One of the sisters in the group, Sr. Marie Joseph Gailot, along with Mother Madelaine Potier and Sr. Ann Tabourat, made her vows in September of 1858 shortly after the Congregation's Rule had received the approval of the Bishop of Nancy-Toul. At the age of 46, Sr. Marie Joseph was the eldest of the group.
June 5, 1864: Another storm arose during the sermon at the Sunday Mass, bringing more misery. Fr. John Joseph Begel, priest founder of the Sisters of the Humility of Mary, was 47 years old when he undertook the mission to America.
June 6, 1864: The storm continued all day and night, and the passengers in steerage suffered very much. The eldest orphan in the group was 16-year-old Josephine Andre. She became Sr. Magdeleine and died in 1927 at the age of 79. The photo (see The Journey in Photos page at left) shows her in the habit adopted by the community in 1895.
June 7, 1864: The storm ended at 6 a.m., but the ship rode roughly against the wind all day. The second eldest orphan was 14-year-old Euphrasie Boussard, whose older sister was one of the novice coming from France. She entered the community in 1866 and was known as Sr. Anna Mary. She left the community in 1877 to marry.
June 8, 1864: The youngest of the orphans, 6-year-old Christine Gerardin, was very ill with convulsions and vomiting. The sisters and ship's doctor tended to her throughout the day. Records note that she was in ill health prior to leaving France. Her 13-year-old sister, Josephine, was the fourth orphan in the group. She also became a sister and was known as Sr. Sacred Heart. She died in 1941 at the age of 89.
June 9, 1864: Despite their efforts, the young Christine Gerardin died. The story is that when Josephine insisted to her father that she go with the sisters, he consented but begged her to take Christine with her because he was unable to care for the delicate child since the death of his wife. The sisters consulted doctors and they assured them the sea voyage would do the child good. However, the rough and stormy weather of the ocean journey proved too much for her poor health. Note: Children were considered orphans if they had lost one, but not necessarily both parents, or they had parents who were unable to care for them.
June 10, 1864: The ship's doctor signed Christine's death record, and she was buried at sea as Fr. Begel, sisters and orphans looked on. As this story unfolds there will be added hardships and challenges. As we reflect on these realities 150 years later, we know the ability and grace to face these difficult situations are in the HM community's DNA.
June 11, 1864: With the past 10 days having taken their toll physically and emotionally on the travelers, the group knew they would soon arrive in America. So many thoughts and memories came flooding back, including those happy days in the workroom, where they read and learned needlework under the direction of their teachers and the sisters.
June 12, 1864: The steamship Saxonia approached Castle Garden, New York's immigrant entry-point at that time. From 1820 to 1892, the year Ellis Island opened, 11 million immigrants entered the United States at this location.
June 13, 1864: They finally arrive in America. After going through customs, the group ferried across the Hudson River to Hoboken, New Jersey, where they were welcomed by the Franciscan Sisters of the Poor. Fr. Begel received hospitality from a French priest in Hoboken, who made the arrangements for the travelers. The arrival was noted in the New York Times the following day.
June 14-15, 1864: The travelers spent several days resting from their arduous trip. Although their foundress, Marie-Antionette Potier, who became known as Mother Madelaine, died in early March, and was not physically with them, they brought along all that she had shared by way of her spirituality and example of a dedicated life.
June 16, 1864: While some of the sisters and the three girls stayed in the convent, others were accommodated at the nearby Catholic hospital. [Note from 2014: The Franciscan Sisters of the Poor were one of the co-sponsors of Catholic Health Partners until about a year ago.]
June 17-18, 1864: June 17 was the last day spent with the Franciscan Sisters of Hoboken. On June 18, Fr. Begel, the sisters and three orphans returned to New York for a train to Louisville, Ohio, located in Start County, about 7 miles northeast of Canton. The route included stops in Philadelphia, Harrisburg and Pittsburgh.
June 19, 1864: Fr. Begel wrote his observations of the land in his journal (translated from his notes written in French): From New York to Philadelphia, the country is magnificent. It resembles Normandy from Rouen to Le Havre. The forests are a mixture of pines, oaks and other trees. At intervals we noticed some groups of woodcutters setting fire to these magnificent forests, which would be so precious in France and which, there, would be guarded with jealous care.
June 20, 1864: Fr. Begel's journal continued as the train went from Philadelphis to Harrisburg to Pittsburgh: The Allegheny River rolls on with huge currents of petroleum, distinguished in the sunlight by their shining yellow color, and in Pittsburgh with its industries, there is considerable business with that substance. The city is very commercial but its immense factories and mills are like thousands of mouths from which shooting flames erupt, and at night, resemble a miniature hell's inferno. In turn, that makes the city smoky, dirty, infected with the odors of the petroleum.
A Treasure from the Archives: See The Journey in Photos at left for an image of Fr. Begel, the sisters and orphans on the Saxonia passenger list. Their ages are incorrect in a number of instances, including Marie Tabourat (Mother Anna), who was 32 not 23 as noted. The sisters are identified as NONNE, and the "do" is an abbreviation for DITTO. Christine and Josephine Gererdin are identified as children and noted as age 6, which was true for Christine, the child who died during the voyage. Josephine was 13 years old.
June 21, 1864: At last the travelers who had left their home 28 days previous, arrived at their destination, Louisville, Ohio. They received a warm welcome "in the French manner" from the people of the parish. The journal kept by Fr. Begel consists of paper scraps, including backs of letters on which he recorded his observations using homemade ink. Later, he stitched the pages together by hand in book fashion.
June 22-23, 1864: The parishioners of St. Louis Church had prepared a convent home for the sisters, contributing furnishings and supplies for the house. The plan was for three of the sisters to stay to teach the children. The others would go to work elsewhere in the Cleveland Diocese.
June 24, 1864: Fr. Begel went to Cleveland to meet with Bishop Louis Amadeus Rappe. Meanwhile, the sisters became acquainted with the people and unpacked belongings to prepare the place meant to be a home, school and workrooms for the three sisters to remain in Louisville.
June 25, 1864: Josephine Menegay was the first American born girl to join the Sisters of the Humility of Mary. She was 11 years old when the sisters arrived in Louisville. According to oral tradition, she exclaimed to her mother on first seeing them, "Oh mama, I want to be just like them!" In 1867, at the age of 15, she came to the motherhouse as a postulant. She became Sr. Mary of the Nativity or simply Sr. Nativity.
June 26, 1864: Bishop Rappe offered Fr. Begel a residence on Monroe Street in Cleveland for the sisters. The cost was $8,000, a sum they could not afford. Instead, Fr. Begel accepted an abandoned farm that was diocesan property in Pennsylvania near the Ohio state line. While Fr. Begel was returning from Cleveland, the sisters attended Mass in the old St. Louis Parish church.
June 27, 1864: Fr. Begel went to New Bedford, Pa., to see the proposed farm and judge its possibilities.
June 28, 1864: As a farmer's son, Fr. Begel was enthused upon examining the 9-year-old house and land.
June 29, 1864: Background information on Rev. John Joseph Begel: He was born in April 1817, the youngest of 6 children of a farming family in Urimenil, a village in the Vosges Mountains. As a child, he was seriously ill for a time and nearly died. The resulting physical frailty made attendance at the local school difficult, so his education was entrusted to the local pastor under whose tutelage the student could progress at his own rate. He did very well, loving to read and study, and was encouraged in his lessons.
June 30, 1864: Back story on the limited financial means of the sisters: Mother Madelaine's mother died when she was five months old. Her father sent her to live with her great aunt and uncle in Dommartin. Her great uncle, Abbe Voinier, was a priest and pastor of the church there, and his sister was his housekeeper. After their deaths, Mother Madelaine inherited their house and other means of support which she used after 1854 for the new religious community. After Mother Madelaine's death in 1864, some of her relatives, mainly cousins, sued the remaining sisters. Most of Mother Madelaine's immediate family were already deceased. The relatives contended that, under Napoleonic law, the property should have been kept within the extended family, and in court their argument was legally correct. So having lost the court battle, the sisters were unable to sell the property, which would have provided the means they were counting on to finance the journey to America and support themselves after their arrival.
July 3, 1864: This was the sisters' second Sunday in Louisville, where they would attend Mass in St. Louis Church. Within a few weeks, three sisters would stay in Louisville to staff the school, the initial reason for their coming to America. Sister Josephine Mougel was named local superior. She had entered the community in March 1855 and was trained as a teacher. In 1865, she was sent to the Cleveland Ursulines for a year of intense study of English. It is said that she taught French to some of the Ursuline sisters as well.
July 5-7, 1864: On their return to Louisville, they told the other sisters about the property and the empty house in New Bedford. Returning to the farm for a prolonged stay, Sister Anna and Sister Beatrix bought cleaning supplies and work tools. They spent three weeks making the long-empty house clean and livable again. Some will remember the original convent that underwent several additions, including an additional floor. This building served the community well, and was taken down in 2003 to make way for the conference center.
July 8, 1864: The sisters in Louisville continued making preparations for the school year. Sister Margaret Colson, Sister Alix Genin and Sister Josephine Mougel would teach. Euphrasie Boussard, the oldest of the orphan girls, would stay with them to help until she went to the motherhouse as a postulant.
July 9, 1864: Orphaned as a young girl, Amelie Boussard was 16 or 17 when she entered the community at Dommartin, the last woman received into the novitiate in Mother Madelaine's lifetime. Known as Sister Mary of Jesus, she was a novice when the community arrived in America and was among the sisters on mission in Louisville from 1864-72.
July 10, 1864: Back in New Bedford, Sister Anna Beatrix attended Mass at St. James Church - the old one across the county road - if the priest came up from Pittsburgh. That church was located in what is now the sisters' cemetery in a small area where the founders' graves are today. Today, geranium plants mark the graves of those who came from France in 1864. See photo in The Journey in Pictures at left.
July 11, 1864: The two sisters who were preparing the red brick house and the property for the arrival of the others later in July were not alone on the property. In a cabin, at some distance from the house, lived the original owner, William Murrin, who in 1855, had made the donation of his entire farm. The sisters did not yet speak English and he did not speak French.
July 12, 1864: The sisters at the New Bedford farm welcomed volunteer help from Eugene Cogneville, a student in the Cleveland seminary who was to be ordained for the diocese of Erie. He was from France and the same village as Sister Odile Philbert.
July 13-14, 1864: Eugene Cogneville and Sister Beatrix decided to plow up the weeds that had accumulated on the farm in the hope of planting potatoes. But their use of an available horse hitched to a plow was no match for the height of the weeds. Next they tried to use a homemade tool with a blade and that, too, was unsuccessful. As a last resort, they decided to simply burn the weeds and plant potatoes in the limited amount of soil they'd been able to plow initially. Their efforts met with a few partly-grown sunburned and greenish potatoes.
July 15, 1864: It had been about two years since there had been any planting on the farm. In 1859, Bp. Rappe, who was raised on a farm in France, first sent a group of Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine with young orphan boys to live on the farm. The house was used as an extension of the overcrowded St. Vincent Orphanage in Cleveland. The Pulaski Township census of 1860 records 30 children, ranging in age from 3 to 10 years, in residence on the farm. According to that same record, the sisters who cared for the children were mostly in the early 20s. The sisters and the children were recalled to Cleveland in 1862.
July 16, 1864: Back in Louisville, nearly four weeks have passed since the arrival of the “missionaries.” The newcomers, minus the two Sisters making preparations in New Bedford, were getting acquainted with the people and making preparations for the start of the school term. The distance in time between America and France grew by the day yet many memories of the families in the rural parishes and special events like First Communion would have been fresh to Fr. Begel and the Sisters.
July 17, 1864: Today is the feast of the Humility of Mary. The Sisters of the Humility of Mary were given their name in late August 1858 when Bishop Alexis Menjaud, the bishop of Nancy-Toul, wrote to them through his Vicar General expressing his approval of their way of life as written in the community Rule. At the end of the letter of approval either he or his vicar general Gerard wrote, “You propose the name of the Assumption of Mary. Permit me to submit to you my thought. I would prefer a name less high-sounding, and I would propose to name [this Congregation] the Daughters or Sisters of the Holy Humility of Mary.” [In France it is typical to identify all the virtues as “holy” – holy faith, holy charity etc. The name of the community was simplified in 1967 by the renewal Chapter of 1967 following Vatican II.]
July 18, 1864: Marie Augustine Balland left home in 1855 at the age of 17 to become part of the new community in Dommartin. She was in the second group of sisters who made their first vows in 1859. The niece of Fr. Begel, she became known as Sister Marie-Ange (Mary Angel) and was one of those who would leave Louisville to help establish the Motherhouse in New Bedford. Shortly after their arrival, there was an outbreak of smallpox in New Bedford. The sisters tended the sick in their homes as they had done in France. Sister Angel caught smallpox and was nursed back to health by Sister Anna, by then known as Mother Anna. Sister Angel carried the small pox scars for the rest of her life. She died in 1911 at the age of 73.
July 19, 1864: From the very beginnings of this religious community in 1854, Fr. John Joseph Begel served in a threefold role: first he was the co-founder with Mother Madelaine Potier; secondly, he was chaplain and ecclesiastical superior – recognized as such by Bp. Menjaud of the diocese of Nancy-Toul as he was entrusted with the care of the spiritual welfare of the members; and thirdly he was the spiritual director and retreat master for the Sisters of the Humility of Mary.
July 20, 1864: In the 1850s Marie Catherine Maujean and two others served the poor and provided instruction for the children while conducting a workroom under the direction of the pastor in St. Nicolas Parish in Mazeley. The pastor, Father Antoine Schilling, was a close friend of Fr. Begel and the two priests saw the similarity of the work and the spirit of these women in their rural parishes. The three companions from Mazeley made a retreat at Dommartin at the invitation of Fr. Begel which was their introduction to the Sisters. In 1860, feeling that God was calling them to something new, Marie Catherine and her two friends left Mazeley to join the community at Dommartin. She became known as Sister Mary of the Angels and along with the other two made vows in 1862. Her two friends decided to leave the group prior to the voyage to America. In July, 1864 Sister Mary of the Angels would leave Louisville for New Bedford where she worked and also nursed in nearby homes during the smallpox epidemic. She, too, became infected and was nursed back to health by Mother Anna. Later she taught in Harrisburg, Ohio near Louisville where the pastor was pleased with her influence on the children and parents. In 1870 she volunteered for the Missouri missions as the local superior when three sisters were sent at the request of extended family members from the parish in Louisville. Due to the long distances and issues of communications and transportation, the bishop in Missouri planned along with Sister Mary of the Angels that she would begin a new community in January 1875. The Congregation of the Humility of Mary was founded in Liberty, Missouri. In 1877 Mother Mary of the Angels moved her community to Ottumwa, Iowa where she died in 1902 at the age of 73.
July 21, 1864: Another of the young sisters soon to be living on the farm at New Bedford was Sister Virginie Benoit, who came as a novice. Marie Constance Benoit was the first cousin of Sister Beatrix Champougny and five years younger than her cousin. Sister Virginie received the habit in France and her religious name but did not make vows there. She was the first sister to profess her vows in America Sept. 27, 1865. Sister Virginie would work at the motherhouse where she helped with the sick. When Fr. Begel suffered his first stroke in 1881 she became his day-time nurse until his death in January, 1884. She died at the age of 56 in 1899.
July 22, 1864: Francoise Alexandrine Philbert turned 22 years old on the day they arrived in Louisville. Her mother had died when she was 12 and less than a year later her father died. She came to the community in 1856 at the age of 14 and on entering the Novitiate she became known as Sister Odile. She made annual vows on September 8, 1859. It seems she had inherited property since in 1860 she wrote to Father Begel from her hometown where she had gone to settle some financial and property affairs: “Since I have been here I have had much grief, and I pass scarcely a day without crying. My relatives only make trouble, and in all this I do not know how to act in order to please everyone! … I do not know if it would be better to stay here or return …everyone is after me like a pack of mad dogs! I’ve had a desire to go to confession to the pastor so I could go to communion …and also to consult him about my vocation since, as you know, I have always had doubts about it …I write this to you so that you can again give me some counsel.”
July 23, 1864: Sister Odile would come to the farm at New Bedford and then in early 1865 would be sent to the Cleveland Ursulines along with Sr. Josephine Mougel. Sister Odile received English and art lessons from the Ursuline Sisters. The sketch shown (see Journey in Pictures at left) is done in pencil and depicts the farm at New Bedford as Sister Odile saw it.
* * * * *
And the Award Goes to. Enjoy the link below to the video tribute created in honor of Sr. Stella Schmid as she was presented with the HMHP Development Foundation's Heart of the Mission Award.
Signs of the Times. Visitors to the Villa Maria Community Center Campus can't help but notice the gorgeous 150th Anniversary banners gracing the poles at both entrances. The banners and upcoming celebrations help us remember and honor the sacrifice and bravery of the early sisters who left France to come to America to continue their mission of bringing abundant life to those around them.
Home | Who We Are | Our History | Prayer Request | Support Us | HM Volunteer Service | Contact Us
Ministries | Join Us | Villa Maria Community Center | Photo Gallery | News & Press Releases | Events
© 2013 Copyright Sisters of the Humility of Mary. All Rights Reserved
Phone: 724-964-8861 • Fax: 724-964-8082 • Email: firstname.lastname@example.org