Lastest Finds in Our Collections
Periodically our Archives Staff comes across a treasure that might be of interest to you. We post them here so you can enjoy them.
Pictured above is a signal recently returned from the St. Joseph Alumnae Association. The tradition of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur holds that it was Mother St. Joseph, our co-foundress, who introduced the use of the signal in the classroom of Notre Dame staffed schools. Saint Julie mentions its use in a letter written from Bordeaux in 1807: "The little girls of Bordeaux are very quiet; not a word is heard in the large classrooms full of them. The mistresses speak only in a very low voice or, so to say, scarcely at all. They have signals like those at Amiens." (1)
Nicknamed "the clicker" by Notre Dame students because of the clicking noise it made, the signal was used to keep classroom order and minimize the necessisty of speech. New students were immediately taught to be quiet as they worked and to keep both ears open for clicking sounds that would literally "signal" what they were to do next.
The Rule of the Signal was included in the 1895 Course of Study in the Academies and Parochial Schools of the Sisters of Notre Dame written by Sister Superior Julia. An except (2) is pictured here:
(1) Letter 56, The Letters of Saint Julie Billiart
(2) Course of Study in the Academies and Parochial Schools of the Sisters of Notre Dame, pages X-XI
Many of us have favorite images of the Saints. Two of our favorites are pictured above.
We knew these lovely wooden statues had come to Mount Notre Dame when the Sixth Street convent closed. Further research revealed that they were commissioned for a chapel built in 1874, the same year Sisters form Ohio traveled to Belgium for the celebration of the 50th Jubilee of the Mother General. While in Belgium, the Sisters ordered carved wooden Stations of the Cross and matching statues of St. Joseph and Our Lady for the new chapel.
The December 1874 entry in the Sixth Street Annals records the Sisters "... received our beautiful statues and stations from Antwerp executed by M. Joseph Geefs. All the Sisters consider them beautiful and we thank the Saviour for giving them to us to ornament our Chapel and to strengthen our devotion." (1) A search for Joseph Geefs showed he was part of a family of sculptors and on staff at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp. (2)
These beloved images of Our Lady and St. Joseph recently underwent a five month restoration process so they can continue to strengthen the devotion of Sisters, coworkers, friends and students into the future.
(1) Sixth Street Convent Annals 1-A 1849-1886
Circular letters were a traditional way for Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur in different parts of the world to share their stories. One dated January 31, 1937, from the Sisters living at the Summit, East Walnut Hills, Cincinnati, Ohio recently appeared in our office. It sent the Archivist scurrying to the Summit Annals. Page 170 of Volume 2 (pictured above) begins the story:
January 21 Alarm in the city. The Ohio River has reached its flood stage. 52 feet. We have been having heavy rains.
January 22 River rising rapidly. Snow has fallen all day. People abandoning houses that are near the river.
January 23 Snow turned to ice. River is 70 feet. People warned to secure all the water possible. If the river rises to 72 feet the power plants will not work. Sisters filled all tubs and pails.
January 24 Sunday – a day of anxiety and prayer. Holy Hour in churches & convents.
January 25 The 19th centenary of the conversion of St. Paul. The celebration has, of course, been postponed. No heat, light, or water. Our chaplain, Rev. Charles Hickey found his way to the convent for Mass. In the sanctuary were four seven branch candlesticks, two were outside the railing plus a large kerosene lamp furnished light enough at the Communion time. We did not need missals, nor meditation books that morning to help us pray. We had points enough in our minds. (1)
The river would reach 80 feet on January 26th and not fall below flood stage until February 5th.(2) The Summit was a community of around 142 Sisters, including 46 Postulants and Novices. The letter speaks of the challenges and God's goodness during the crisis:
Today, Sunday, January 31, 1937, the Sisters of Our Lady’s Summit start a second week of providential existence under flood conditions. The Good God has taken such extraordinary care of us that of all residents of East Walnut Hills, I believe we have suffered least. Our greatest inconvenience has been a lack of water. Plenty of drinking water has been sent to us, but even our most solicitous friends could not supply our needs for washing and sanitation. Even in this line we have been helped in ways little short of miraculous. A heavy fall of snow, that fell one day only, has kept our hands clean and smooth all the week. Today, one Sister, who has been filling buckets with the precious snow, is begging prayers that the bit that still remains on the ground may last until the city gets power enough to pump the water to our height. This, the officials say, will be in ten or twelve days provided the machinery of the power house has not been too badly damaged by the flood.
It also speaks of the relief efforts:
The Catholic and Jewish (and Chinese) Charities of Cincinnati are working nobly. Fifteen parochial schools are filled with refugees. Five hundred are in St. Peter’s Cathedral where 2800 meals are served daily. The Sisters of Notre Dame (at Sixth Street) are giving hospitality to a community of Franciscans from the flooded district. Being down in the business section of the city they can draw water twice every day. We are up on East Walnut Hills where the water is never turned on. This prevents us from acting as hostesses, but our young Sisters, by the second day of their school holiday had made and sent to Catholic Charities, or Red Cross, sixteen comforters, and thirty-four pairs of foot warmers.
The COVID-19 Pandemic continues to challenge our world and change our lives. Reflecting on the experience of 1937 might help us see God's goodness with us and around us in 2020.
(1) Summit Annals Volume 2 1923-1938, pages 170-177
(3) Summit Circular Letter, January 31, 1937
We often think of "logos" as a relatively new concept. The term "logo" may be contemporary, but their purpose was served by many predecessors including crests.
After the beatification of Julie Billiart in 1906, a crest design for the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur was created and formally approved. It became widely used in art decorating Notre Dame de Namur convents, chapels and schools. A simple black and white rendition of the crest was often used by Notre Dame schools as their "logo."
The symbols incorporated into the crest each say something about Saint Julie or the community she founded:
- The crown and the blue behind the stars represent Our Lady, patronness of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur.
- The red Cross and the ND represent Saint Julie's founding vision that the congregation would be marked by the cross.
- The three stars represent a number of things: the theological virtues of faith, hope & love all Christians strive to live; the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience taken by the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur; and simplicity, charity and obedience which are characteristic virtues of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur.
- The white lilies symbolize purity and the red roses symbolize charity. Saint Julie, who was baptized Marie-Rose Julie, was sometimes known as the Rose of Picardy.
- The final symbol is Julie's favorite saying: Ah! Qu'il est bon le bone Dieu. How good is the Good God. This saying is incorporated on the back of the cross worn by all Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur today.
The Ohio Unit Archive and Museum holds many renditions of the Notre Dame crest, including a stained glass window that is used to denote this blog.