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Founded at Dommartin-sous-Amance, France, in 1855, by John Joseph Begel (b. 5 April, 1817; d. 23 Jan., 1884), pastor of the two villages of Laitre and Dommartin. In 1854, three pious women, Mlle Poitier, the foundress, known in religion as Mother Mary Magdalen, Marie Tabourat, later Mother Mary Anna, and Sister Mary Joseph, having offered their services for the work of teaching poor children, Father Begel conceived the idea of establishing a religious community. The following year he drew up a rule which was adopted by the sisters and approved by the Bishop of Nancy, 29, Aug., 1858. The object of the new congregation was the education of youth in country districts and small towns, the training of orphans, the care of the sick, and incidentally the decoration of altars in parish churches. The association increased in numbers. Soon, however, Father Begel's open condemnation of the policy of Napoleon III towards the Church and especially towards religious orders, brought him into disfavour with the civil authorities , and the sisters of the community were refused diplomas and prevented from opening schools.

In 1862 Father Louis Hoffer of Louisville, Ohio, U.S.A. applied for four sisters to teach in his school. Bishop Rappe of Cleveland not only gave his approval, but invited the whole community to settle in his diocese. The sisters, accompanied by Father Begel, set sail 30 May, 1864, and on their arrival took possession of a farm of 250 acres near New Bedford, Pennsylvania, which had just been vacated by the Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine, and to which they gave the name Villa Maria. It was far from a railroad, and the land was uncultivated, undrained, overgrown with brush, and dotted with sloughs, the buildings being surrounded by a marsh. Moreover, the community was destitute of resources and burdened with debt. Notwithstanding this the sisters immediately undertook the care of orphans and the work to which they had pledged themselves, and were soon able to enlarge the buildings (1869 and 1878). In 1879 a hospital was built, and shortly afterwards a chapel. The year 1884 was marked by the death of Father Begel, the venerable founder. In 1899 [?] ground was purchased at Cleveland, Ohio, for an academy, which was chartered a few years later under the title of Our Lady of Lourdes, and empowered to confer degrees. In 1897 it was removed to a more suitable location.

Owing to the remoteness of Villa Maria from railroad facilities, a tract of sixty-three acres between Canton and Massillon, Ohio, was purchased in 1904 for the purpose of erecting a new mother-house, to be known as Mount Maria, and a college, which was opened in 1908 under the title of College of the Immaculate Conception.

The sisters wear a blue woollen habit, for headdress a gimp and bandeau, a black veil being worn by the professed, and a white one by novices. A silver medal issuspended from the neck on a blue band, and a rosary from the girdle, which is also of blue. The novitiate lasts from two and a half to three years, and perpetual vows are made at the end of nine years. The superior, her two assistants, and four consultors are elected triennially.

The congregation numbers (1909) about 200 members, including postulants and novices, in charge of 15 parochial schools attended by 6400 children, 2 academies, and an orphan asylum at Villa Maria.


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