The Sisters of Notre Dame are members of an international congregation that began in Coesfeld, Germany in 1850. Two teachers, Hilligonde Wolbring and Elisabeth Kühling, cared for poor, neglected children whose families were unable to provide for them.
At the invitation and encouragement of Rev. Theodor Elting, the two women decided to continue their good work as vowed religious. They were already formed in the spiritual and pedagogical tradition of Rev. Bernard Overberg. Through the Sisters of Notre Dame of Amersfoort, Holland, they received a way of religious life that came from St. Julie Billiart, foundress of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur. Hilligonde Wolbring became known as Sister Maria Aloysia and Elisabeth Kühling as Sister Maria Ignatia.
The new Coesfeld congregation expressed its charism, a deep experience of God’s goodness and provident care, both in spirituality and in apostolic ministry.
The Coesfeld Sisters of Notre Dame developed a flourishing educational ministry from kindergarten to teacher education. Beyond education, their work extended to the care of neglected children and infirm elderly. Laws passed by the Bismarck government during the Kulturkampf between 1872 and 1875 removed religious sisters from teaching positions in the public elementary schools and expelled teaching congregations from Prussia. This situation led the Coesfeld congregation to seek a new field of labor in the United States.
Sisters of Notre Dame Arrive in the USA
In July of 1874, eight sisters arrived in Cleveland, Ohio including the foundress, Sister Maria Aloysia (Hilligonde Wolbring). Over the next four years, two hundred Sisters of Notre Dame came to the United States to teach children of immigrants, mainly across northern Ohio and in the Covington-Cincinnati area. In 1924, Toledo (Ohio) and Covington (Kentucky) were established as provinces, separate from the Cleveland province. That same year, sisters from Cleveland started working in the Watts area of Los Angeles and in Huntington Park, CA, which became the fourth U.S. province in 1961.
In each province, the sisters built their own administrative centers and schools and formed new members. In their collaborative style of ministry, the sisters connect effectively with community partners, volunteers, and governmental agencies. From each province the sisters extended their ministries of education, healthcare, social justice initiatives and faith formation across the United States, and into new international missions in India, East Africa and Papua New Guinea.
2020: We unite to strengthen our nationwide outreach
On July 5, 2020, after nine years of preparation, the four provinces of Chardon, Covington, Los Angeles, and Toledo united as one province: SND of the United States of America, part of an international congregation of Catholic women, serving the Church in 17 countries on five continents. United in one heart, one hope, and one mission, the sisters remain committed to global transformation and invite others to participate in this mission in their own unique ways.