The congregation of the School Sisters of Notre Dame traces its beginnings to Bavaria (Germany) where in 1833, Caroline Gerhardinger and two other young women began living a common religious life. Caroline, taking the religious name of Mary Theresa of Jesus, grounded the community in poverty and dedicated it to the Blessed Virgin Mary.
The foundation occurred at a time of political and social upheaval. Theresa believed that the renewal of society depended on strengthening the Christian family where usually the mother was the key educator. Thus, her first concern was for the education of poor girls in small towns and villages.
Only fourteen years after its foundation, Theresa responded to a call to establish schools in North America. She and five other pioneers arrived in New York in July 1847. After an unsuccessful attempt to establish the congregation in Pennsylvania, they traveled to Baltimore at the invitation of Father John Neumann. Schools and orphanages were established there. Soon the growing congregation began educating girls in New York, Pennsylvania and farther west to Milwaukee.
After Theresa returned to Germany, she entrusted the care of the missions in America to the capable leadership of Sister Caroline Friess, one of the pioneers.
Over the last 185 years, the SSND established Motherhouses in Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Baltimore, Maryland; St. Louis, Missouri; Mankato, Minnesota; Waterdown, Ontario, Canada; Wilton, Connecticut; Dallas, Texas; and Chicago, Illinois. From these areas sisters moved out, founding new educational missions across the United States, in Canada and in many countries around the world, promoting human dignity and assisting all to reach the fullness of their potential
- Moving forward to 1999 - Because the sisters of the Baltimore and Wilton Provinces had originally been one province, they decided to celebrate the new millennium together. And so it was that the sisters of both provinces gathered in Philadelphia to welcome the New Year 2000. At this momentous event, the first seeds of reconfiguration were sown, that is, the desire to consider becoming one province.Simultaneously, the sisters in the Chicago Province also felt the need to reconfigure with others. They chose to do so with Baltimore and Wilton.
The Canadian Province is integrated into Atlantic-Midwest - In 2012 the sisters of the Canadian Province, having discerned the future direction of their province over several years, and at their request, were integrated into the Atlantic-Midwest Province.
The Atlantic-Midwest Province Today
Within the Atlantic-Midwest Province, the sisters are involved in a variety of ministries, all directed toward education in the broadest sense of the word. There are teachers, administrators, social workers, health care providers, sisters in SSND community service, and those who minister by prayer for the community, the Church and the world. There are also many women and men who, attracted by Theresa's mission, have joined with the sisters as Associates. Another group that works in collaboration with the sisters in the mission of the congregation is those who serve as staff in Baltimore, in Chicago, in Wilton and in Waterdown, Ontario.
The spirit of Blessed Theresa continues to deepen in the hearts of her sisters, Associates and staff not only in the Atlantic-Midwest Province but throughout the world.
- For information on the history of the School Sisters of Notre Dame check out SturdyRoots.org.
- For a detailed history on our early foundation, please visit our international website.
- Learn more about Mother Caroline Friess and her experience of coming to America in 1847, landing squarely in the midst of an intense anti-Catholic tradition.
North American Archives
School Sisters of Notre Dame North American Archives is the repository of historical documents for the congregation in North America. Located at Mount Mary University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the archives include more than 2,000 linear feet of records that date back to the establishment of the School Sisters of Notre Dame in North America.