Like a Fruitful Vine

The center of the plaque commemorating the 25th anniversary of the foundation of the congregation of the Schools Sisters of Notre Dame, celebrated on October 24, 1858.
This painting of Mother Theresa was created to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the founding of the congregation on October 24, 1858. It depicts her teaching children including an African child.

Mother Theresa Gerhardinger saw her role as cultivating a vineyard.1 She and her sisters were to proclaim the kingdom of Jesus wherever they were called. Those who joined her needed “a spirit of adventure” and a desire to share her global vision. Evidence of the expansion of the congregation during Mother Theresa’s lifetime is impressive. In 1864, she sent sisters to England. In 1935 the Canadian Province assumed responsibility for England. The expansion of the congregation as recorded through 1998 is also significant.

Expansion to North America was led by Mother Caroline Friess who shared Mother Theresa’s desire to share the Good News. On July 22, 1892, when Mother Caroline died, there were “more than 2,000 Sisters. They labored on 208 missions in 29 Dioceses, training about 70,000 students.”2 Students in SSND schools often welcomed visiting missionaries and learned/are learning about other cultures and countries. Seeing the dedication of sisters led some students to join the School Sisters of Notre Dame. This increase in vocations allowed for the expansion of the congregation. The sisters’ desire to create Augustinian communities provided the context that attracted many to SSND, energizing their love and sacrifice for the mission of Jesus. A challenging letter from Mother Ambrosia in 1965 characterized expectations of School Sisters of Notre Dame sent to live among the poor.

Besides a strong presence in elementary schools, Mother Caroline’s educational legacy resulted in secondary schools and two colleges. The College of Notre Dame in Baltimore is the first Catholic women’s college in the United States. Mount Mary University, Milwaukee offers many options for higher education and shares the ideals of the School Sisters of Notre Dame. A third college, Kyoto Notre Dame University has planted SSND educational values in Japanese soil.

The SSND principle of responding to the “call” of bishops, priests, and parents is exemplified in different cultures. There are stories of struggle, joy, fruition, loss, death, and beginning again. Let's remember some of those SSND missionaries as well as native vocations by viewing the Missionary Collage video.

The people and natural beauty of Latin America have blessed the School Sisters of Notre Dame with sympatico and dedication to those struggling for freedom and environmental justice. In 1915, the first SSND mission outside the continental United States was established in Puerto Rico.

Exploring the beginnings of SSND expansion among Native Peoples reminds us of Mother Theresa’s desire to support Native Peoples in her only visit to America in 1847.

School Sisters of Notre Dame responded to the call of the church to serve in Asia in 1947. Reflect on the remarkable educational legacy in the Region of Japan.

Mother Theresa’s desire to reach out to the African continent was realized in 1970 and continues with the vigor and life of newer members.

Being sent to Oceania has gifted SSND with those who see from another perspective and have educational roots in their island cultures.

The General Chapter in 1956 decided to move the Generalate from Munich to Rome. Many School Sisters of Notre Dame have had the opportunity to visit the Eternal City.

Many SSNDs have found ministry within immigrant communities and the entire congregation is richer because of their friendships and experience.

Reflect on the missionary spirit of this fruitful vine planted and pruned among School Sisters of Notre Dame. Pray the mission as it is being lived today.


  1. “Oh, what joy and consolation it would give us to work with you in the vineyard of the Lord, even if only on a small scale, by zealously teaching and training the children and thus help diminish the concerns.” #164 to the Pastor at Wolfratshausen, November 9, 1839.
  2. The Letters of Mother Caroline Friess, SSND, edited by Barbara Brumleve, SSND, 1991, p. 497, #7.

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