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.

Adoration of the Magi

Adoration of the Magi bas relief

The Advent and Christmas seasons share stories of the birth and infancy of Christ that are all familiar to us. It seems appropriate to share a recent aquisition of our museum: a bas relief titled Adoration of the Magi

It was given to Sister Rosalia of the Blessed Sacrament, first Privincial of the Maryland Province of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, by Most Rev. Michael J. Curley, Archbishop of Baltimore and Washington. He had commissioned it in memory of his mother, Maria Ward Curley. It depicts Archbishop Curley as he meditates on the Adoration of the Magi.

The bas relief held a place of honor above the fireplace in the parlor of the Provincial House of the Sisters of Ntore Dame de Namur, Ilchester, Maryland until it was moved to Villa Julie, Stevenson, Maryland in 1995. It came to the Museum of the Ohio Unit, where it is currently displayed, in 2021. 

May this lovely image inspire all of us to reflect deeply on the stories of Jesus' birth and childhood during this grace-filled time of year.

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Oral history & forgotten news:  Sr. Margaret Michael & the July 1942 explosion in downtown Cincinnati

Statue in St. Xavier Commercial after 1942 explosion

Above: images from the Cincinnati Post of an untouched statue of the Virgin Mary located in the St. Xavier Commercial School and an excerpt describing the damage to the school and the Sixth Street convent.  (Cincinnati Post; July 16, 1942; page 18 reprinted by permission of the “Cincinnati Museum Center, Photographs, Prints, & Media Collection.”)

It often happens, while reviewing past oral histories, that we discover a Sister was witness to and recorded local and national events. In the late evening of July 15, 1942, a gasoline explosion occurred in a garage at 511 Sycamore Street, a blast that shook the downtown area.  In the era of WWII, the thoughts of Sisters and residents of downtown Cincinnati was that the city was under attack.  Sr. Margaret Michael, living at the Sixth Street convent, wrote her recollection of the events at the convent.  A text transcription is linked here.

Recorded some years later, hear Sr. Margaret Michael in her own words.

Thankfully, all Sisters were unharmed, but sadly, four individuals perished in the explosion, and another later succumbed to injuries he sustained.  


Geraldine Marie Fitzgerald U.S.N.R.F. 1918-1919

A question about veterans buried in the Mount Notre Dame Cemetery of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur led to the discovery of three stories. Both Sister Dorothy Beach and Sister Marguerite McHugh served in the WAVES during World War II and entered the the Sisters of Notre Dame after the war. 

There is also one veteran of World War I in our cemetery: Sister Louise Joseph who, as Geraldine Marie Fitzgerald, served as a Yeoman in the U.S. Naval Reserve Force. Above is a photo of Geraldine in her winter uniform. Below is a photo of Geraldine with her brother, Joseph, after his return from active service in France. The photo was taken at the family home in Revere, MA in February of 1919. 

Geraldine Fitzgerald and her brother, Joseph. February, 1919

Geraldine entered the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur in 1921. To read more about her life, click here

Educating for Life: Needlework 

Saint Julie Billiart encouraged her Sisters to teach their students what they needed to know for life. Certainly the definition of what we need to know to live has changed over time. In the 19th and early 20th centuries needlework was high on the list. Without sewing machines and availablity of ready-made clothes, needlework was essential. 

A recent acquisition to our collection is the sampler pictured above. Mary Ann Wood finished this sampler at the age of 13 in 1847. She did it as part of her school work with the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur at Sixth Street, Cincinnati, Ohio. This work or art was treasured by Mary Ann's family for generations.

Sister Mary Adelaide Orf SNDdeN

Pictured above is a beautiful charcoal drawing of Our Lady as Mater Admirabilis (Mother Most Admirable) that was recently brought out of storage and put on display in the Ohio Unit Museum. This beautiful piece was done by Sister Mary Adelaide Orf at Notre Dame Academy, Franklin Street in 1910. A photo dated 1930 (below) shows it on display in the Mount Notre Dame parlor.

Born Mary Orf on 12 November 1863 in Columbus, Ohio, Sister Mary Adelaide was raised in Holy Cross Parish. She entered the Sisters of Notre Dame in 1883. Sister was missioned to Franklin Street to teach art in 1902. She spent the rest of her life in Dayton, dying at Julienne in 1956.

Besides teaching art, Sister Mary Adelaide also served as community historian and annalist at Franklin Street and Julienne for many years. She is the one who captured the Franklin Street Community's experience during and after the horrendous flood of 1913. Her account of the flood and its aftermath is linked here

Below is a photo of Sister Mary Adelaide taken at Franklin Street before June of 1927.

"Why was the academy in Columbus called St. Joseph?"

The first 50 years of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur in the Ohio saw the Sisters respond to calls to serve in various parts of Cincinnati, Dayton, Columbus and Hamilton. The Sister's day schools and boarding schools that supported their work in the parish schools were all called "Notre Dame Academy". But when the request came for a day school in Columbus, it was called "St. Joseph Academy". A recent phone call asked why.

The Archives Office was delighted to find a clear answer in A History of the Sisters of Notre Dame in Columbus: The First Fifty Years 1855-1905 by Sister Anne Feth, SNDdeN. It seems that when the request came in 1873 there were many obstacles to overcome: wide spread economic difficulties, securing land and financial backing, and uncertainty about whether the Catholic community in Columbus was large enough to need another day school for girls. By 1875 most obstacles were overcome. On pages 64-65, Sister Anne wrote:

However, the success of the school was something of which the Sisters were anything but sure in that summer of 1875. Therefore, they placed the whole venture under the patronage of Saint Joseph, naming the proposed school in his honor. They had earlier, buried his medals in the property when there was some danger the owner would ask an exorbitant price. Sister Mary Liguori’s ardent devotion to the saint, which led her even to carry a small statue of him in her pocket, was easily caught by the Sisters of her community and prayerful trust in his intercession did not go unrewarded.

Besides prayers to Saint Joseph, during that summer when the building was being erected, the Sisters began a novena of evening holy hours, from ten to eleven o’clock, once a week, “to draw the blessing of heaven on our undertakings, especially on the new building and work undertaken in it.” After the novena, the holy hours were continued, but sometimes from nine to ten, “in order not to tire the Sisters too much” after a long day that began with the rising hour of five o’clock.

St. Joseph's Academy opened September 6, 1875 even though the building was unfinished. It would flourish for the next 100+ years.

An excerpt of the pertinent chapter in Sister Anne's work is linked here.

Sixth Street Infant Jesus

"Let us all meet at the holy crib of our good holy Infant Jesus to learn there the virtues of which he came to give us an example."  (Letter 289, Saint Julie Billiart)

Quotes, like this one, link to the devotion to the Infant Jesus among the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur. From Saint Julie's time, the tradition has existed of centrally placing a beautiful image of the Infant in our Christmas decorations. Every year the Archives loan one from our collections to place in the chapel at Mt. Notre Dame. The Sixth Street Bambino, pictured above, is sometimes chosen.  

Carved from a single block of wood in Italy, it was presented to Sister Superior Louise in 1855 by Mrs. Sarah Peter. It is said that each Christmas, Sister Superior Louise took this infant from the crib and blessed the Sixth Street Community. This Christmas may we all be "born again with our good Jesus". (Letter 293)

Franklin Street Stained Glass

Anchor Cross stained glass window from Notre Dame Academy, Franklin Street, Dayton, Ohio

Recently our office received an email from Chaminade Julienne High School (CJ) with a photo of the piece of stained glass pictured above and a question: did we have a photo of "the original SND building" in Dayton showing where this piece of stained glass came from? The short answer was "no" because the "original SND building" in Dayton had been demolished in 1904 to build an addition to Notre Dame Academy. The new edition opened at the corner of Franklin and Ludlow in 1905. 

The provenance of the stained glass showed it had once been in the "old Chaminade High School building." CJ went through old yearbooks looking for any photos showing the glass. They found one that showed the window over a door1


With that information, our office found a photo (pictured above right) within minutes! The original window was over the Ludlow Street entrance to Notre Dame Academy. Around the image of the anchor cross, also in stained glass, were the words: Notre Dame Academy.

The Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur moved their school from the corner of Franklin and Ludlow to the newly built Julienne High School in 1927, selling the old academy property to the Marianists. The Marianists kept the anchor cross and simply replaced "Notre Dame Academy" with "Chaminade High School." 

CJ is delighted to have this stained glass that connects to both their Notre Dame and Marianist Heritage. Click here to read more about the history of CJ.

(1) Photo courtesy of Chaminade Julienne High School


a signal or "clicker"

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

Sixth Street Statues

Our Lady and St. Joseph from the Sixth Street Convent

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

1937 Ohio River Flood

Page 170 of Summit Annals Volume 2

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

The Notre Dame Crest

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.