Fourth-graders bring Christmas spirit to Sisters of Saint Mary of Namur

by Marty Sabota

North Texas Catholic

December 19, 2017

Sr. Mary Michael, SSMN, speaks with students from St. Andrew Catholic School during a visit with the Sisters of St. Mary Namur, Dec. 14 at Our Lady of Victory convent in Fort Worth. (NTC photo/Ben Torres)

FORT WORTH — It’s been many years since the religious sisters at Our Lady of Victory Center in Fort Worth have been in elementary school — the eldest is 95.

But the decades melted away recently at the Sisters of Saint Mary of Namur’s provincial house during a holiday get-together with fourth-graders from St. Andrew Catholic School.

“I never met a nun before,” said a wide-eyed 9-year-old girl.

Although students from area diocesan schools regularly take field trips to the retirement center, the Dec. 14 visit was particularly sweet because the theme was Christmas.

The approximately 60 students from three classes began their program of appreciation with some Christmas songs including “Away in a Manger.”

“Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” drew laughs when the students peppered the traditional phrases “reindeer games” with “Monopoly” and “call him names” with “Pinocchio.”

St. Andrew Development Director Rose Hall, who is the product of Catholic schools from grade school to college, thanked the sisters who serve the Diocese of Fort Worth, saying that although they are mostly retired they “are still working hard and giving back to Jesus Christ.”

The children then mingled with their hosts and handed out personal cards made in religion classes. One card brought a smile to Sister Roberta Hesse, SSMN, with a message in a heart: “You are speshal (sic).”

“I want to tell you I love you,” Marisa Lewis told Sr. Roberta as her proud grandmother, Nellie Conner, looked on.

Sr. Roberta, who took her vows in 1952, responded that she loved the 9-year-old, too.

“My granddaughter and I really enjoyed the visit because it’s nice for the students to gain understanding of the Church and for Marisa to learn that we’re supposed to give back,” Conner said.

Marisa, who plans to be a baker, said she enjoyed the day because it was “fun.”

Sr. Frances Vuillemin listens to a question from Alfred del Castillo during a visit from students from St. Andrew Catholic School Dec. 14. (NTC photo/Ben Torres)

St. Andrew and the religious order have had a long and close relationship.

When St. Andrew Catholic School opened on a Monday morning on Sept. 13, 1954, with 270 first- through eighth-grade students, the staff didn’t have a long commute to work.

The school was mainly staffed by the Sisters of Saint Mary of Namur, from OLV a few miles away.

Although the sisters have not taught at the school for many decades, their harmonious relationship continues to this day.

The school has also had a long relationship with other orders. By 1963, the school began to be served by the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth, with more lay faculty added each year.

In 1984, the Third Order Regular Franciscan Friars of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus Province were entrusted with leadership of the parish and school.

“Today, at around 700 students, St. Andrew has grown to be one of the largest Catholic elementary schools in Texas, with three classes of each grade, including 3-year-old and 4-year-old preschool classes,” said Lisa Harrington, St. Andrew communications director.

“Above all, St. Andrew Catholic School continues to fulfill its mission to educate children to develop their God-given talents, and to adopt a worldview proper to those who know that they are children of God, brothers and sisters of each other, and citizens of two worlds,” Harrington said.

It was a long journey from the humble beginnings of the congregation of the Sisters of St. Mary of Namur to its presence in the Diocese of Fort Worth.

The order was established in Namur, Belgium in 1819, at a time when religious communities were forbidden throughout Belgium and France. The community rapidly spread to other towns.

Soon, parents asked that their girls be taught to read and write and given sewing lessons, and thus began the tradition of Catholic education that continues to mark the Sisters of St. Mary of Namur on four continents.

The Sisters of St. Mary came to the United States in 1863. As demands for schools increased, more sisters were sent from Europe, and in 1873 they arrived in Waco. Following the path of the early railroad lines, the sisters established academies in Fort Worth, Dallas, Corsicana, Denison, Ennis, Sherman, and Wichita Falls.

More young women started joining the community and in 1921 the Western Province of the Sisters of St. Mary of Namur was established.

The motherhouse for mostly retired and infirm sisters is located south of downtown Fort Worth near Texas Christian University.

“It’s a wonderful home, and it’s even more special when we get visits from children,” said Sr. Roberta, a Muenster native.

FORT WORTH — It’s been many years since the religious sisters at Our Lady of Victory Center in Fort Worth have been in elementary school — the eldest is 95.

Published (until 12/19/2035)