The Sisters of Notre Dame of Chardon, Ohio 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. Theodore Elting, the two women decided to continue their good work as vowed religious. They were already formed in the spiritual and pedagogical tradition of Bernard Overberg. Through the Sisters of Notre Dame of Amersfoort, Holland, they received a way of religious life coming from St. Julie Billiart. The new religious 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 extending from kindergarten to teacher education. Their work extended also to the care of neglected children and of aged infirm people. “Kulturkampf” laws passed by the Bismarck government between 1872 and 1875 included the removal of religious sisters from teaching positions in the public elementary schools and the expulsion of teaching congregations from Prussia. This situation led the 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, 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 named as separate provinces. That same year, sisters from Cleveland started working in the Watts area of Los Angeles, California, which became the fourth U.S. province in 1961. The province center, initially located at 18th and Superior Avenue in Cleveland, moved in 1915 to Ansel Road and then in 1960 to its present location on Auburn Road in Chardon, Ohio.
The province grew gradually through the entrance of American young women and through volunteer sisters coming from Germany until the late 1930s. Some parish elementary schools added two-year commercial courses and then four-year high school programs, providing a wide base for education and religious instruction by the sisters. Private elementary and secondary schools were established.
Notre Dame College of Ohio was founded in 1922, beginning a strong tradition of professional preparation for women in education, business, and science. Today the commitment to faith formation and education continues in community sponsored institutions. The province also extended its ministry into such areas as education for children with special needs, early childhood programs, parish-based catechesis and pastoral work, adult literacy programs, publishing, and service in diocesan and national offices for education, spirituality, and outreach.
The Chardon province sent six missionary sisters to India in 1949. Today, two independent provinces in Patna and Bangalore are flourishing with the support and encouragement of the Notre Dame Global Mission Office. Now, sisters from India have established missions in Tanzania and Kenya continuing the journey begun so many years ago.
In 2008, three sisters from the Chardon province began a mission in Jinotega, Nicaragua. Ministering in the parish of Sangre de Cristo, they accompany the people, working together to revitalize catechesis, empower women, and find ways to improve economic conditions.
Today more than 300 sisters call the Chardon province “home.” We serve in Ohio, Florida, North Carolina, Kentucky, Virginia, and Maryland. We also have sisters in Nicaragua and Tanzania. We gladly share with all we meet the message of God’s goodness and provident care. In turn, we are delighted to see the witness and unique expression of this charism in the lives of the many people with whom we work.
Local and international conferences on spirituality, formation, and education enrich the life and ministry of the sisters. The Associate Relationship shares the spirit and charism with lay men and women in a special way. Vocation promotion, lay leadership training and volunteer outreach furnish opportunities for future growth and community involvement. United in one heart, one hope, and one mission, the sisters renew their commitment to global transformation by their daily prayer, community life, and ministry.