Founded Dec., 1812, by the Rev. B.J.M. David (see D IOCESE OF L OUISVILLE ). Father David, while establishing his seminary on the farm of St. Thomas, near Bardstown, Nelson County, Kentucky, took charge of the missions among the surrounding Catholic population. Here he found children without instructors, sick, aged, and poor without care. The need of devoted religious women was felt. He found a few young girls willing to consecrate their lives to the service of God and their neighbour. The first to offer herself was Teresa Carrico; Catherine Spalding, her assistant, Harriet Gardiner, and others followed. Very soon six were assembled, and the number continued to increase. All were daughters of pioneer settlers (see K ENTUCKY , Religion ); their zeal and capacity for good works formed their only dower. They taught the children, spun wool or flax, and wove it into cloth out of which they fashioned garments for themselves and for Father David's seminarians, who, on the side, found time in the intervals of study to fell trees, hew logs, and build the seminary and convent. The first log house occupied by the sisters received from Father David the name of Nazareth . This name the mother-house has preserved, and thence the sisters are popularly called "Sisters of Nazareth", being thus distinguished from other Sisters of Charity.
Mother Seton could not spare sisters from Emmisttsburg to train the new community, as Bishop Flaget had requested, but she sent him the same copy of the Rule of St. Vincent de Paul which he himself had brought her from France, and Father David carefully attended to the training of the novices. In February, 1816, he found the first sisters sufficiently prepared to take the vows. The little body was fairly organized, and its work was fast extending. Miss Eleanor O'Connell (Sister Ellen), a scholarly woman and experienced teacher, came to them from Baltimore, and to her the early success of the educational work of Nazareth is largely due. The reputation of Nazareth Academy was soon established, and students, even from a distance, crowded the classrooms, although it was not until 1829 that the Legislature of Kentucky granted its charter to the "Nazareth Literary and Benevolent Institution". Sister Ellen prepared others to assist her, establishing what was virtually a normal school for the sisters, which has been zealously maintained ever since. In 1822 the mother-house was removed to a farm purchased for the purpose near Bardstown. Both the convent church and the academy building were completed in 1825. The sisters, at the same time, never lost sight of their primary work of succouring the sick and the poor. In each of their houses destitute children were cared for. St. Vincent's Orphan Asylum was opened in Louisville, after the cholera epidemic, in 1834. Thenceforth schools, hospitals, and asylums grew apace.
Besides the mother-house, the congregation now has sixteen branch academies and high schools modelled upon it. The sisters teach about 15,000 children in parochial schools, and care for more than 5000 sick in their hospitals and infirmaries. On petition of the present superior, Mother Eutropia McMahon, the congregation received the formal approbation of the Holy See, 5 September, 1910, nearly 98 years after its first foundation.
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