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During the Middle Ages, among the hospitals established throughout the West ( Maisons-Dieu or Hôtels-Dieu ), in which religious of both sexes lived under one roof, following the Rule of St. Augustine , and vowed to perpetual chastity and the service of the sick and poor, the most famous was the Hôtel-Dieu of Paris, Early in the seventeenth century Mère Geneviève Bouquet established a novitiate to replace the system by which each religious trained a certain number of postulants, and introduced the custom of taking a saint's name. Up to the Revolution twelve resident canons recited the canonical hours. The congregation survived both the Revolution and the disorders of 1830.

The military orders organized at the time of the Crusades did not overlook the care of the sick, and found auxiliaries in the communities of women instituted for this work, under the same rules and patronage. Thus the labours of the Lazarists in tending those afflicted with leprosy were shared by the Hospital Sisters of St. Lazarus .

The Hospitaller Sisters of St. John of Jerusalem , early in the twelfth century, were established in the hospital of St. Mary Magdalen, Jerusalem, for the care of pilgrims. The year after the fall of Jerusalem (1188) a community was established at Sixena, Spain, by Sancha, wife of Alfonso II of Aragon, for the care of poor ladies of noble families, and the rule was confirmed by Celestine III in 1193. Except from 1470 to 1569, when they were under the immediate jurisdiction of the pope, the sisters were subject to the Grand Master of the Hospitallers. Other communities were soon founded throughout Spain, Italy, Portugal, and England. A reform was instituted in the hospital of Beaulieu in the first years of the seventeenth century; new constitutions were drawn up in 1636, and approved in 1644. After the fall of Rhodes the original habit of red, with a black mantle, embroidered with the cross of St. John of Jerusalem, was exchanged for one of black. On the suppression of the Templars, the few houses of sisters of that order were united with those of St. John of Jerusalem .

The first house of the Hospitaller Sisters of the Teutonic Order in Germany was founded in 1299 at Kunitz near Bern, soon followed by others, none of which survived the secularization of 1803. The order was revived in 1841 by Maximilian III Joseph, Duke of Austria-Este. Besides the care of the sick, the sisters devote themselves to the work of teaching. There are four mother-houses: Troppau, with 2 filial convents and 123 sisters ; Lana, 15 filial houses, 89 sisters ; Freudenthal, 3 filial houses, 67 sisters ; Friesach, 1 filial house, 29 sisters.

The Hospitallers of the Holy Ghost , were a branch of the male order of the same name, founded in 1180 at Montpellier ; established at Neufchâteau, they were driven thence in 1842 to Rouceux, which was made the mother-house, under a superior-general. In Germany the houses at Memmingen and Wimpfen, in Swabia, survived until the secularization of 1803. There is still a house at Cracow, founded in 1618. with 27 sisters, conducting a boarding-school. The convent at Poligny was revived after the Revolution, the religious devoting themselves chiefly to children, especially foundlings.

Among the foundations of more recent times are the following: The Hospitallers of Loches , founded in 1621 by Susanne Dubois, a religious of the Hôtel-Dieu of Paris ; some seventeen convents were founded at Clermont, Riom, and other cities of France. The Hospitallers of St. Thomas of Villanova were instituted in 1660 by Ange Le Proust, prior of the Hermits of St. Augustine at Lamballe. During the Revolution their house in Paris was not closed. The congregation was re-established in 1804 and in 1903 had 100 institutions in France, under the mother-house at Aix, having received papal approbation in 1878. The Hospitallers of Dijon and Langres were founded by Père Joly in 1685. The Hospitallers of Ste-Marthe , established in 1687 at Pontarlieu, for the care of the sick and poor and the education of girls, soon spread over France and Switzerland. The Hospitallers of Ernemont , also known as Sisters of the Christian Schools and Bonnes Capotes, owed their foundation (1698) to Archbishop Jacques-Nicolas Colbert, their aim being gratuitous teaching and the care of the sick. The mother-house was reopened in 1803 after the Revolution. Since 1903 the sisters have confined themselves chiefly to the care of the sick in hospitals and their own homes.

The Hospitallers of St. Joseph were founded at Laflèche, France, in 1636, by Marie de la Ferre, under the direction of the Bishop of Angers. Convents were soon established at Laval, Baugé, and Beaufort, in all of which Mlle de Melun, Princesse de l'Epinoy, and a member of the order, took an important part. The religious were first bound by simple vows only, but the custom inaugurated at Laval in 1663 of taking solemn vows was soon followed at Moulins, Baugé, and Montreal. The congregation was approved by Alexander VII in 1666 and recognized by the Parlement of Paris in 1667. The constitutions were revised in 1685 by Henri Arnaud, Bishop of Angers. In addition to the three vows, the sisters were bound by a fourth to the service of the poor. Besides the choir and lay sisters, associate sisters are received, who, through some cause unable to take upon themselves the full obligations of the professed, desire to pass the rest of their life under simple vows. The Laval sisters survived the Revolution, and on the reorganization, regained their convent and boarding school. The founders of Montreal were accompanied to the New World by Mlle Mance, who after carrying on the work of caring for the sick for seventeen years in the Hôtel-Dieu, in 1659 brought over the Hospitallers of Laflèche, who in spite of three serious conflagrations and the deprivation of their income from France after the Revolution have now 132 sisters caring annually for 3205 patients. In 1845 the first filial foundation was made at Kingston, and now numbers 54 religious, 60 patients, and 32 orphans. The Kingston house also opened convents at Cornwall, Ontario, in 1897 (27 sisters, 30 patients), and Englewood, a suburb of Chicago, in 1903 (11 sisters, 300 patients); in connexion with the latter is a training school for nurses. From Montreal were founded in 1869 the Hôtel-Dieu at Chatham, N. B. (44 sisters, 25 patients, and an academy, with 42 pupils); that of St-Basile (1873), where there are also a boarding-school, academy, and orphanage (54 sisters, 150 pupils, 50 orphans ); Windsor, in 1889 (20 sisters, 35 patients); Tracadie, New Brunswick, 1868 (30 sisters, 38 orphans ), where since 1820 leprosy had been rampant, and where were later established a general hospital, an orphanage, and a dispensary, treating 2000 patients annually; Athabaskaville, in 1881 (23 sisters, 60 patients); Campbellton, in 1889 (14 sisters); Burlington, Vermont, in 1894 (28 sisters, 45 patients).

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