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Sister Louise

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Educator and organizer, b. at Bergen-op-Zoom, Holland, 14 Nov., 1813; d. at Cincinnati, Ohio, 3 Dec., 1886. Josephine Susanna Vanderschriek was the tenth of the twelve children of Cornelius Vandersehriek, advocate, and his wife Clara Maria Weenan. Soon after her birth her father removed with his family to Antwerp, gave up the practice of the law, and engaged in what had been the family business for generations, the manufacture and exportation of woolen cloths, in which he amassed a large fortune. From her father Josephine inherited remarkable skill in the management of affairs, firmness in whatever involved principle, and unswerving fidelity to duty ; from her mother, a gentle and amiable disposition which endeared her to all. She was educated by the Sisters of Notre-Dame, at their mother-house at Namur, Belgium, and by private tutors at home. Her desire to enter the novitiate being thwarted for some years, she busied herself in works of piety and charity, until in 1837 she was permitted to return to Namur. Clothed in the religious habit, 15 Oct., 1837, under the name of Sister Louise, her fervour was such that her time of probation was shortened, and she pronounced her vows on 7 May, 1839.

That same year Bishop, later Archbishop, J.B. Purcell, of Cincinnati, visiting Namur, asked for sisters for his diocese ; and Sister Louise was one of eight volunteers chosen for the distant mission. The sisters landed in New York, 19 Oct., 1840, and proceeded at once to Cincinnati, where, after some delay, they settled in the house on East Sixth Street, which still forms the nucleus of the large convent and schools. Sister Louise's knowledge of the English language, her great mind, but still more her edifying life, caused her, although the youngest of the community, to be named in 1845 superior of the convent at Cincinnati, and in 1849 superior of all houses which might branch out from that, a responsibility she bore until her death. During these forty years the institute spread rapidly, owing to her zeal and prudence. She founded houses at Cincinnati (Court Street), Toledo, Chillicothe, Columbus, Hamilton, Reading, and Dayton (Ohio); Philadelphia (Pennsylvania); Washington (D.C.); Boston (4), Lowell, Lawrence, Salem (2), Cambridge, Somerville, Chelsea, Lynn, Springfield, Worcester, Chicopee, Milford, Holyoke, and Woburn (Massachusetts). In many of these cities the sisters, residing in one convent, teach in the schools of several parishes so that in 1886 the number of pupils all told was 23,000, while the pupils in Sunday schools and the members of sodalities for women counted as many more. The institute itself increased in the meantime from eight members to nearly twelve hundred. From the outset the rule was kept in its integrity. Strict union has always been maintained with the mother-house at Namur ; but it was early recognized that if the supply of teachers was to keep up with the demand, a novitiate must be established in America. This was accordingly done, and the first to be clothed by Sister Louise in the New World (March, 1846) was Sister Julia, destined to be her successor in the office of provincial, after she had been her trusted counsellor for years. In 1877 a second novitiate was opened at Roxbury, in the suburbs of Boston, Massachusetts, which was later transferred to Waltham. Up to that time, colonies of sisters had occasionally been sent from Namur, and the ranks had been increased by some of the sisters exiled from Guatemala in 1859. On the other hand, Sister Louise was able to send some help to the province of California, established in 1851.

The mere recital of these facts as the outline of one woman's life-work implies her possession of uncommon talents and of administrative power of a high order. Sister Louise was a perfect religious, yet her sanctity was so free from any singularity of manners or conduct, so true to the rules and spirit of her institute, that what was said of St. Teresa by her sisters might also be said of her, "Thank God, we have seen a saint just like ourselves". From her zeal for God's glory and the salvation of souls sprang love of prayer, open-handed generosity in adorning the house of God, reverence for priests and religious. From her spirit of faith sprang trust in God, humility, charity to the poor and the suffering, and the thoughtful motherly tenderness for all her sisters with which her great heart overflowed. She sedulously prepared her teachers to impart an education, simple, solid, practical, progressive, full of the spirit of faith, capable of turning out good Catholic young women for the upbuilding of the home and the nation. She had no patience with the superficial, the showy, in the training of girls. She visited every year the convents east and west, saw all the sisters privately, inspected the schools, and consulted with the reverend pastors. It was therefore with full knowledge of her wide field of labour that she uttered as her last advice to her community, and unconsciously therein her own best eulogy: "Thank God, there are no abuses to be corrected. Individual faults there are, for that is human nature, but none of community. Keep out the world and its spirit, and God will bless you."

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