Our History

In the village of Dommartin-sous-Amance, France, Marie-Antoinette Potier wanted to give her life to God, and saw in service to the poor children of her village an opportunity to share her love of God with them.

In 1854, she opened her home as a school, a workroom and an orphanage, and with Father John Joseph Begel, her parish priest, she set about revitalizing Christian life through the care and education of girls. Marie-Antoinette and Father Begel believed that “to educate a woman is to educate a family.” In addition to religious instruction, the women were trained in lace-making which provided some economic independence.

As more women joined Marie-Antoinette, they sought to share a communal way of life and, with the guidance of Father Begel, petitioned the bishop of the diocese of Nancy for approval for their foundation as a religious community. In 1858, they received the name Sisters of the Humility of Mary, and Marie-Antoinette became Mother Madelaine.

In 1864, Bishop Amadeus Rappe of Cleveland invited the Community to the US to serve French immigrants in his diocese. He provided a place in Pennsylvania for the Motherhouse, now called Villa Maria Community Center.

The entire community of eleven sisters, along with four orphans, immigrated to America, leaving behind their homeland, families and their foundress, Mother Madelaine, who had died three months before their voyage.

Through many hardships, the Community grew – building schools and hospitals, serving parishes and reaching out to meet the needs of people who were poor and neglected.

In the spirit of our founders, we respond to the changing needs of our day through diverse ministries. What does not change is our dedication to the Humility of Mary, in whose spirit we pray and work for the transformation of the world through justice and peace.