The Sisters of St. Mary of Namur celebrate 200 years of joy

CHARLESTON—The Sisters of St. Mary of Namur will celebrate their 200th anniversary this year. The Diocese of Charleston is fortunate to have five members of the congregation here who will mark their founding in 1819 and their 1948 arrival to the mission area of South Carolina.

A formal celebration is planned for Oct. 26-27 in Sumter with Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone, according to a press release. The details will be announced later in the year.

The Congregation of the Sisters of St. Mary of Namur was founded in the wake of the French revolution in Namur, Belgium. Father Nicholas Minsart wanted to start ‘healing the ravages of the revolution’ with the aid of young women in his parish, in whom he discerned a desire to live for God and reach out to their neighbors in distress. On Nov. 11, 1819, Josephine Sana and Elisabeth Berger began helping the poor — teaching them to sew in order to make a living — and also teaching them the faith. The Sisters of St. Mary of Namur was formally established as a religious congregation in 1834. Their motto is ‘to live in simplicity and joy, offering all to God.’

Today, the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Mary is a colorful tapestry of faces woven from numerous countries. The first five missionaries to the U.S. from Namur in 1863 represented Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg and Ireland. Today, their membership extends to Africa, South America, the United Kingdom, Canada, the Dominican Republic, and the U.S. 

The sisters arrived in Sumter in 1948 to staff a new elementary school and expanded to serve high school in 1958 and a boarding school in 1964. Around the same time, they began missionary work in Kingstree, providing social outreach services and religious education. The sisters were also sent to St. Anne parish in Florence, where they taught religion and Bible classes for the neighborhood children and eventually started kindergarten classes. This led to an outreach providing food and clothing which continues today. The sisters served at St. Anne from 1964-2000.

In South Carolina, the sisters have worked in prison ministry, social justice, and pastoral ministry in parishes and hospitals. In 1976, the sisters went to Gifford, a small rural town in Hampton County. The people were among the poorest in the state and the religious women ministered there until 1995, providing self-help programs and life skills experiences. They also served in the Catholic church in Hampton. 

The sisters serving the diocese are Sister Kathleen Kane, pastoral associate at St. Francis by the Sea in Hilton Head; Sister Roberta Fulton, assistant director of African-American Evangelization; Sister Colie Stokes, director of adult formation at Blessed Sacrament parish in Charleston; Sister Sandra Makowski, chancellor and vicar for religious; and Sister Margaret Donner, hoping to begin centering prayer groups. 

Miscellany file photo: The Sisters of St. Mary of Namur celebrate the 200th anniversary of their founding this year. Five members of the congregation work in South Carolina, including Sister Colie Stokes, above.