A brief look at their stories, history, and involvement at Notre Dame

From left to right, M. Angela Gillespie, C.S.C., Sr. Mary Aloysius Mulcaire, C.S.C., Sr. Stella Maris Kunihira, C.S.C.

The Rover sat down with Br. Philip Smith, C.S.C., the archivist for the Midwest-Province Brothers of the Congregation of Holy Cross, to learn about the history of its sisters, both in the United States and at the University of Notre Dame. Br. Smith has collected and preserved dozens of stories about the Sisters of the Holy Cross, each one filled with works of heroism and service.

Around 1843, after Fr. Edward Sorin had already come to the New World with four brothers and established the university, he returned to France and brought four sisters back to Indiana. Fifteen years later, the Vatican told Fr. Basil Moreau, founder of the Congregation of Holy Cross, that sisters could not be part of his order. The priests and brothers of the Congregation of Holy Cross consequently split from the Congregation of the Sisters of the Holy Cross. Despite the slight change made to differentiate the two congregations, Br. Smith emphasized that all the priests, brothers, and sisters consider each other members of the same Holy Cross family.

Shortly after arriving in the United States, the sisters established a college for women—today known as St. Mary’s College. According to Br. Smith, Mother Angela Gillespie, C.S.C., became the first director of St. Mary’s and created a robust education for the women who attended, instituting courses in advanced mathematics, science, foreign languages, philosophy, theology, art, and music. Passionate about education, particularly women’s education, Mother Angela and the Congregation of the Holy Cross founded 45 academic institutions—including grade schools, high schools, and colleges—between 1855 and 1882.

During the Civil War, Mother Angela and 87 other sisters served as nurses. Br. Smith shared that when a priest asked for assistance from the sisters at St. Mary’s, all 26 present—including Mother Angela—volunteered without hesitation. Following their lead, 62 other nuns became nurses with them. Their unhesitating response to serve characterizes the congregation and is visible in many sisters’ stories, such as the life of Sr. Mary Aloysius Mulcaire.

Sr. Aloysius dedicated her life to serving young orphaned boys who lived in the area. She formed the abandoned boys into thoughtful and studious young men through her loving but no-nonsense attitude. In a brief synopsis written by Br. Smith, Sr. Alyosius is described as “a lovable sort of tyrant who knew well how to get along with both parents and children.”

Quoting a Holy Cross priest, Br. Smith stated that “after the great Fr. Sorin himself, Sister Aloysius ranks next in years of service at the University.” Her burial, dignified with full military honors and lines of students, paid tribute to this fact.

A more contemporary sister, Sr. Stella Maris Kunihira, C.S.C., was just as passionate about education as her forebearers. Born and raised in Uganda, Sr. Stella Maris taught at Kinyamasika Primary School when she joined the Sisters of the Holy Cross in 1988. After receiving a scholarship to attend St. Mary’s and graduating with a degree in sociology, Sr. Stella Maris returned to Uganda and eventually helped spread Holy Cross schools throughout the city of Jinja. She humbly and joyfully served until her death in 2017.

When asked how the sisters live out the charisms of the Holy Cross, Br. Smith’s immediate answer was through education, though not necessarily formal education. “We [in the Congregation of Holy Cross] educate with our entire attitude toward life,” Br. Smith explained. The sisters have lived out this charism not just in their dedication to scholarly education but also in their faithful support of the priests and professors of the university.

Regarding the number of Holy Cross sisters today, Br. Smith stated that their numbers are exploding overseas. Sr. M. Veronique confirmed that the ministry of the sisters has spread from the United States to Mexico, Brazil, Peru, Bangladesh, India, Ghana, and Uganda. In the United States, there are about 165 sisters currently who continue to serve in healthcare, education, and Church and social ministries.

Br. Smith said that the number of sisters in the United States has substantially decreased. “I’ve always, always personally believed it would be the third world that [would] eventually [become] missionaries here,” he expressed.

According to Br. Smith, 95 percent of the around two hundred sisters at St. Mary’s are 70 years old or above. He identified that this decline occurred after, and perhaps because of, the Second Vatican Council. Before the Council, scores of women joined the congregation, oftentimes twice as many as the men. Br. Smith explained that the congregation has experienced a decline in members because, “a lot of priests, or at least brothers and sisters, decided, ‘I can do exactly what I’m doing and be a layperson, I suppose.’ So there were great numbers who left.”

Despite this decline, Br. Smith sees a resurgence in the congregation, at least in terms of brothers. In regards to the sisters, he believes that their future is at St. Mary’s rather than Notre Dame.

Sr. M. Veronique Wiedower, C.S.C., the current Mother General at St. Mary’s, told the Rover in an email that the sisters’ charism today is “to read the signs of the time and respond to the needs as [they] are able.”

Some concrete applications of this charism include “promoting integral ecology, assisting women who have been trafficked to find safe and secure lives again, [and] teaching children and young adults in schools and parishes around the world,” she wrote.

For her part, Sr. M. Veronique described an attraction to teaching during her discernment as a young adult, as well as a heart for service. “The Sisters of the Holy Cross were such inspirational teachers and worked to know not only their students but also the families. I knew this would be a group where I would ‘fit’ and develop as a person of faith who desired to be of service,” she explained.

Juliet Hall is a sophomore majoring in PLS and theology. She is devoted to Colorado, friendly Holy Cross religious, and Prof. O’Regan’s Christian Traditions II class. To learn why you also should be devoted to these things, you can email her at jhall22@nd.edu

Photo credit: Br. Philip Smith, C.S.C. – used with permission