Father Nicholas Minsart, our Founder, had only been ordained a year when he was evicted, in 1796, from the Monastery of Boneffe in Belgium along with his community of Cistercian monks.

The French Revolution along with anti-Catholic policies from Protestant governments, destroyed churches, monasteries and convents. Father Minsart and his community hid in the countryside and celebrated Mass in secret. It was a dangerous time for Catholic priests.

The Industrial Revolution also brought changes to the Belgian way of life.

The great waterways of the Sambre and the Meuse, along with their neighboring coal fields, attracted industry. Towns grew up around steel works.


But then in 1800, the Emperor Napoleon adopted a more tolerant approach to Catholics. Father Minsart travelled to Namur where, in 1802., he started work as an assistant priest.

In 1813, he was appointed Parish Priest of St Loup, the largest parish in Namur.

War, civil unrest and industry changed landscapes…
changed relationships…

People moved from villages into towns looking for work…
They faced constant change…
They lacked security…
There was no sense of community…
no Catholic networks…


In 1819 Father Minsart asked Josephine Sana and Elisabeth Berger to open a workshop to teach young women how to sew. It opened in rue Fumal, one of the poorest streets in Namur.

Life was shared around a table…
Faith was shared…
A skill was learned…

Community was formed…
A new religious order was born…

The workshop offered space,
and a place of welcome, support and safety at a time of civil and religious unrest…
when religious education was suppressed…
when women had no legal status or civil rights.

rue Fumal, Namur

constate-changeThe small group of sisters faced
constant change

1823 Josephine Sana died
1826 Elizabeth Berger died
1830 Belgium gained independence and religious freedom.
1834 The Sisters of St Mary were officially recognized as a Religious Order.
1835 Catherine Roosen, the newly elected Superior General, died.

Rosalie Nizet was 24 years of age when Father Minsart asked her to take on the leadership of the group.
She had lived through civil unrest and religious persecution….
She had lived through famine and poverty…She had seen friends die….
Her ‘yes’ was an immense leap of faith in God and in her sister companions.


Priests asked for sisters…
Parishioners financed schools…
By 1850 sisters of 10 different nations worked in nine Belgian cities and towns ….

They taught beside coal mines…
lived opposite the blast furnace of a steel forge…

When Karl Marx urged the workers in Brussels to violence in order to create change…

Mother Claire urged the sisters to bring about change through Gospel values and gentle means.

Meeting the needs of the local church led sisters to travel the waterways of Belgium.




Civil War prevented them from travelling to their original destination in St Louis, Missouri to work with the Native Americans.

Meeting the needs of the universal church led the sisters to accept the invitation of Bishop Timon to come to the diocese of Buffalo, NY to Lockport.

assembly-buffalo-2011-212aSo, Sr. Emily, Sr. Mary of St. Joseph, Sr. Mary Claver, Sr. Augustine and Sr. Paula crossed the Atlantic ocean on August 12, 1863, surviving an 18 hour hazardous storm which almost ended in shipwreck. But God knew better!

The sisters desired to share faith and the gospel, the gift of an education and their spirit of simplicity and joy with the people in the U.S. to whom they would be sent.


From New York city, the sisters travelled by train, arriving in Lockport at the train station on August 27, 1863.
And the rest is history! The Sisters of St. Mary had arrived in the U.S. and their work for God’s people began with 96 children to teach in a basement school room.

Many others followed as the sisters traveled to Texas and Canada.


The sisters desire to live the same spirit which was Mother Claire’s:
– Simplicity and joy
– Passion and generosity drawn from the heart of Christ
– Her great zeal which extended to the whole world

Would you ask God in ardent prayer to give YOU that kind of love?