Local Sisters of St. Mary of Namur celebrate order's founding 200 years ago

by Joan Kurkowski-Gillen
North Texas Catholic
November 12, 2019
FORT WORTH — The Sisters of St. Mary of Namur have been a consistent occasion of grace for Ershel Redd and many former students, friends, and supporters who have received education and kind-hearted guidance of the religious order.

Redd, a graduate of St. Andrew — a Catholic school founded by the SSMNs in 1954, said the sisters’ influence on his life didn’t stop with academics.

“They were the ones who taught me about service,” explained the longtime prison minister describing the sisters as servant leaders. “My teachers were just fabulous, and I think it’s wonderful there’s still so many nuns in the order.”

He was one of approximately 200 former students, friends, and supporters who turned out for a Nov. 9 Mass at St. Andrew Parish honoring the international order’s 200th anniversary of service to the Church.

Founded in Namur, Belgium, in 1819, the Sisters of St. Mary of Namur congregation was established at a time following the French Revolution when religious communities were forbidden. From its humble beginnings as a sewing school for destitute girls, the order expanded its reach and scope of ministries, first to New York in 1863 and ten years later to the Texas frontier where pioneering sisters set a foundation for Catholic education that still exists today.

Today, approximately 400 members of the congregation are present in 10 different countries where they are involved in education, health care, immigration assistance, social justice ministries, and catechesis. Young students from Our Lady of Victory — the only school still owned and operated by the order — processed into St. Andrew Church at the start of the Jubilee Mass carrying flags of the countries where the sisters currently work. Sister Lola Ulupano, SSMN, teaches second grade at the historic school opened by the congregation in 1910.

“What the sisters started in 1910 continues to this day,” OLV Principal Linda Kuntz said. “We’re educating students in a Catholic academic environment and serving others as they always have.”

The 200th anniversary is a testament to the order’s love, devotion, and service.

“Their presence is a guiding force of our Catholic faith,” she added.

Father Richard Flores concelebrated the Mass with St. Andrew pastor Father Jim Gigliotti, TOR, and Father Robert Strittmatter.

In his homily, Fr. Flores explained that the genesis of the Sisters of St. Mary came shortly after war and persecution closed monasteries and banned religious worship. Encouraged by a Cistercian priest, Father Nicholas Minsart, a small band of woman helped re-establish a Catholic presence in the fortress city of Namur.

“It was a time when the Church needed witnesses of faith but also persons with strong minds and strong bodies to rebuild her through prayer and care to the needy — the urban poor who were abandoned and forgotten,” Fr. Flores suggested. “They were a sign [to the poor] that God had not forgotten them. He was among them.”

News of abuse, scandal, and cover-up rocked the Church in recent years. The 200th anniversary of the SSMN community provides a reason to celebrate, the priest said, calling the sisters’ outreach to others “the Church at her best.”

“We gather to offer praise and thanksgiving for the important lessons we learn from their lives and charism,” Fr. Flores added. “They are lessons of selflessness and sacrifice and total dependence on Jesus Christ.”

At a reception in the parish hall, Sister Gabriela Martinez, provincial of the SSMNs western region, thanked the audience of well-wishers.

“We’ve come this far by faith,” she asserted. “Your help, generosity, support, and presence in our lives are treasures we hold in our hearts.”

Religious women are a gift to the Church and it’s a privilege to serve with joy, simplicity, and, sometimes, in suffering, the provincial told the North Texas Catholic.

“But it is the call of Jesus Christ that has moved us to embrace this life and we have been richly blessed,” Sr. Gabriela continued. “We are humbled by God’s overwhelming care for our congregation.”

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200th ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATION

HOMILY, NOVEMBER 9, 2019
Given by Father Richard Flores
St. Andrew Church, Fort Worth, Texas
Today we gather to give thanks and celebrate a significant milestone in the life of a community. The Sisters of St. Mary celebrate 200 years of living the Gospel as women religious and 200 years of service to God’s people. We do so on a day when we celebrate one of the more unusual feasts in the church’s calendar because today, we don’t commemorate a particular saint, or an event in the life of our Lord or His Mother, Mary. Rather, the Church turns our attention to a building located in Rome. Specifically, it is a church that is officially called the Cathedral of the Most Holy Savior and of St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist, or the Lateran Basilica for short. It’s the oldest of the four major basilicas in Rome, and as such, serves as the official “nome,” or cathedral, of the Bishop of Rome, the Pope. St. Peter’s gets all the attention, but it’s the Lateran that is really the “Pope’s church.”

It’s an impressive space. The nave is lined with statues, larger than a human person, depicting the twelve apostles. The interior is perfectly designed and measured to obtain the highest quality of sound so that microphones and sound technology is really unnecessary since sound carries so well throughout the basilica. You will also find remarkable objects such as the relics of St. Peter and St. Paul that are kept atop the baldacchino that stands over the main altar. To the left side of the high altar, a large block of wood framed by precious marble is said to come from the table where Jesus and his disciples gathered for the Last Supper. The Lateran Basilica is literally a time capsule containing the story of the Catholic Church within its walls. However, its treasures are not only within the church but outside as well.

If you go to the square across the street from the Basilica, you will see a statue of St. Francis of Assisi, with his arms outstretched. It commemorates an important moment in church history: the Lateran is where Francis journeyed from his home in Assisi in order to seek the Pope’s permission to begin his religious community. If you remember the story, his inspiration to begin his community, with the goal to live the Gospel in a radical way, began with a voice that told Francis to “Rebuild my Church.”

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Tribute to SSMN, by Dan Luby

“Words of Acknowledgement”
Sisters of St. Mary of Namur 200th Jubilee Reception
November 11, 2019
For over 70 years, as individuals and collectively, SSMN’s have been a consistent occasion of grace for me and my family for four generations, since I was 2 months old and my sisters enrolled at Our Lady of Good Council and St. James schools in Dallas. My parents, my siblings, our kids and their kids – like my wife’s family and many other families represented here today – continue to thrive under their leadership and kindness.

To crystalize my appreciation for the Sisters on their 200th birthday, let me tell you about my 7th grade year at St. James in Dallas. It was “The Year of Three Nuns, Three Life Lessons.”

1st lesson from S. Theresa Marie Payne. I didn’t really know her well because around Thanksgiving, her sister became gravely ill and S. Theresa Marie took a leave from teaching at St. James to provide care for her sister. Her unprecedented action – nuns never left their post! – embodied this community’s instinct for generous service, expressed in humble, hands-on, foot-washing care.

2nd: from S. St. John Begnaud. She was serving in provincial leadership and teaching at the University of Dallas, and – amazingly -- she added to her “to-do” list teaching a bunch of 12-13-year olds in South Oak Cliff in Dallas. She was a miraculously engaging teacher who approached us from the conviction that we were both interested and interesting, capable of serious study. She imprinted me with the Namur appreciation of learning as an attractive adventure which was central to being Catholic...

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Congratulations SSMN on Founders Day

November 11, 2019
On Nov. 11th, the Sisters of St. Mary in all the countries where we are present, celebrated the 200th anniversary of our founding.

The Sisters in Rwanda prepared the prayer service which we all used, changing the hymns to those used in the different countries.

Here in Fort Worth, two Oblates from Mexico renewed their promises for one year. Then the Sisters renewed their vows and the other Oblates who had previously made perpetual promises renewed theirs.

We then gathered in the dining room for a festive supper of baked potatoes and baked apples, thus commemorating the supper which the first two young women had shared that evening in Namur in 1819. May this tradition continue for many years!

Congratulations SSMN!

November 9, 2019
Sisters of Saint Mary Celebrated 200th Jubilee at St. Andrews Catholic Church

As part of the entrance procession, Mrs. Linda Kuntz, Principal, and Sr. Lola Ulupano, 2nd grade teacher, accompanied some of the OLV students who carried flags of the various countries where the Sisters of St. Mary are now present: Belgium, England, the United States, Canada, Brazil, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Cameroon, Rwanda, and Tanzania. These were placed around the congregational cross before the altar. Sisters read the intentions, each in a different language from the countries where we serve.

At the entrance to the parish hall, a number of posters and display boards showed some of the schools in the Metroplex where the Sisters taught as well as some of the mission countries where we are established.

Final Celebration at St. Loup! For the 200th Jubilee

July 28, 2019
Sr. Gabriela Martinez, Sr. Mary Dorothy Powers, Sr. Patricia Ridgley

On July 8, Sister Maureen Quinn, then Superior General of the Sisters of St. Mary of Namur, opened the 2019 General Chapter in Namur, Belgium. Coincidentally, 2019 is the 200th anniversary of our foundation by Dom Nicholas Joseph Minsart, a former Cistercian monk, together with two young women from Namur: Josephine Sana and Elisabeth Berger. From that humble beginning, the congregation spread to nine other countries in Europe, North America, Africa, and South America. In these photos taken at the General Chapter, we see representa-tives from all ten countries as they assist at the Concluding Mass in the Church of St. Loup, the same church of which Dom Minsart was pastor 200 years ago. This year, Soeur Immaculée from Rwanda, was elected Superior General for the next six years. She will have as her Councilors: Sister Barbara from England, Soeur Marie Justine from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sister Maria das Graças of Brazil, and Soeur Ana from Belgium. After the Mass the Sisters processed to the corner of their nearby convent where a plaque has been installed to celebrate this momentous occasion.

Sr. Louise Smith, SSMN

SSMN Chapter Delegates from Texas Region

July 2019
Sr. Gabriela Martinez, Sr. Mary Dorothy Powers, Sr. Patricia Ridgley

Sr. Lola Ulupano and Oblate Ann Smith are support staff for the many facets of the 3 week chapter.

Pray for all the Sisters on there way to Chapter, God keep them safe on there journey.


News from the sisters at the Chapter, Namur, July 2019.

Open House and then Vespers at the mother house today. You see Sisters looking through the archives display. It just so happened to be S Thérèse Marie’s BD today, so we sang to her. She reminded us that the mother house chapel was built on the site of the orchard of our founder, Don Minsart, and with the help of our first sisters.

200 years of walking to pray in the chapel can even wear down stone.

Saturday was a free day, so some sisters went to the large outdoor market in Namur.

Here's just part of the flower market!

SSMN Celebrate the 200th Anniversary Visiting the departed Sisters graves in Waco

May 15, 2019
As we celebrate the 200th anniversary of the foundation of our congregation in Namur, Belgium, in 1819, we wanted to honor the courage and dedication of all of the Sisters who have gone before us. Among them are our pioneer Sisters who came to Texas in 1873. Eighteen of these valiant women now rest in Holy Cross Cemetery in Waco, Texas. On May 15th, fourteen of our Sisters, Oblates, and friends went to Waco to visit and pray at their graves. We then went to the church of St. Francis on the Brazos where Sister Mary Mathilda Laufkotter, Sister Bertha Carey, and many other Sisters worked with the Hispanic children and their families for over twenty years. We had a beautiful prayer service and then went to the home of John and Anna Fulbright, the brother and sister-in-law of Sr. Mary Fulbright where we enjoyed their hospitality and had box lunches before returning to Fort Worth. God bless our Waco Sisters and all of the students and teachers who passed through Sacred Heart Academy.

May they Rest in Peace


SSMN Celebrate Founders Day

November 11, 2018
On Nov. 11, 2018, the Sisters began a year of preparation for our 200th anniversary in 2019. Shown are some of the Sisters preparing to cook baked apples and baked potatoes which, according to tradition, formed the first supper eaten by the first two Sisters. We also have featured a photo of Mother Emilie Kemen, the leader of the group of three who first came to Texas in 1873. This year we also wanted to honor Sisters who have been important in the life of the international congregation and here in Texas.  

Our motto, pictured here, is: 
"In simplicity of heart, I have joyfully offered all to the Lord."

God bless SSMN.

Sr. Ginny Vissing served as the MC on Founders Day

She sang this little tune at the Founders Day celebration. She lives in Wichita Falls, Texas. So she knows about the weather in Texas.

Home on the Range (Waco)

O give me a home where the buffalo roam
Where the deer and the antelope play
Where seldom is heard a discouraging word
And the skies are not cloudy all day.

To Texas we come in the really bright sun
All we want is a little place to stay
Waco’s the spot and, Lord, it is hot!
And the skies are not cloudy all day.

They take us to rest in a place that’s a mess
Where the rats hang around us all day
And even at night, they give us a fright
And the skies are not cloudy all day!

Home, home on the range
We thought many Catholics would pray
We just did not know, that they wouldn’t show
And the skies are not cloudy all day.

We want to go home from where the buffalo roam
How can the Lord want us to stay
Somehow the grace made us stick in this place
Where the skies are not cloudy all day.

Home, home on the range
We’ll build a big school come what may
It sounds very rash cause we aint got the cash
And the skies are not cloudy all day.

After so many years, those sister pioneers
Never dreamed we’d all be here today,
They gave us a start with great faith in their hearts
Where the skies are not cloudy all day.

Home, home on the range
Where the deer and the antelope play
Where seldom is heard a discouraging word
And the skies are not cloudy all day.

198th ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATION

The Sisters celebrated their 198th birthday!

On Nov. 11, 1819, two young women came together to work for the poor with Dom Nicholas Joseph Minsart in the Parish of St. Loup in Namur, Belgium. Their supper that night consisted of baked potatoes and baked apples. Since that time, it has been our annual tradition to have a special prayer to commemorate that occasion and then to have the same supper together. Our work of education and work with the poor has now spread to ten countries.