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Preferential Option for the Poor

In studying the evolution of Holy Union Sisters from our beginnings c1826 to the formation of provinces in 1907, we can note the challenges from governments, church leaders, our own members as to our dedication to the education of the poor.  In their reports to officials in Paris,  Fr. Jean Baptiste Debrabant, Sr. Eulalie Ramon and Sr. Eleonor Lebrun provided statistics that consistently indicated the majority of the pupils were in non-paying schools.  Those figures came mainly from primary classes as secondary education was still a luxury enjoyed by the wealthy and some of the middle class. Municipal leaders like the mayor of Douai called on Holy Union to extend its ministry to the poor of the town as well as to those able to afford boarding school or fee-paying day classes.

Fr. Debrabant's friends in the clergy appealed to him to send sisters to areas where the civil districts  were fulfilling their obligation to set up primary schools for all children.  The listing of houses throughout the foundation period includes many with a community of two or three sisters holding classes in farming and mining areas.  Often the stipends the commune or parish could offer the teachers were insufficient for their livelihoods.  The increasingly prosperous boarding schools made it possible to allocate needed funds for poor areas.  Wise stewardship was needed to assure that the Sisters could respond to "all children."

When the Congregation moved beyond France and Belgium to England, the Roman Catholic hierarchy recognized their responsibility to their people, mainly immigrants attracted by the industrial opportunities and the Act of Catholic Emancipation.  Archbishop Henry Manning insisted on the need for Holy Union teachers among the working class of Camden Town area as well as with the upper class families that enrolled their daughters at Highgate Road. Foundations in Erith and Grays originated in the need for Christian education of the struggling families there.

Whereas Holy Union in England, Ireland and Argentina, as in France and Belgium became noted for the quality of education in its boarding schools,  in the United States the Plenary Council of Bishops called for an accent on parochial education.  Our sisters took part in fulfilling that mandate and making possible the intellectual as well as spiritual development of thousands of children from the hardworking immigrant population.

The Church, research studies, our own experience tell us that "at the heart of the world," women and children are disproportionately evident among the materially poor.  So, in intensifying our commitment we are called to give a corporate practical response to such injustice.

Grace Donovan, SUSC

Bridges, March 2003
(adaptation)



 
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