Sisters of St. Mary of Namur celebrating a milestone

CONTRIBUTEDThis is St. Joseph’s Academy as seen from Ontario Street in 1905. The girls-only Catholic high school was established by the Sisters of St. Mary of Namur in 1865. In its place today is the Spires, a senior housing complex.

The Sisters of St. Mary of Namur are celebrating 200 years as an International Community of Sisters. A Mass of Thanksgiving will be celebrated at All Saints Church, 76 Church St., at 4:30 p.m. Aug. 27. Supper will follow in the parish hall.

Since seating for the meal is limited, free will offering tickets will be available after the Masses this month on a first come, first served basis.

Also, sheets for a Memory Book will be available so that people can share stories or memories of sisters who had a positive influence on their life.

Founded in Namur, Belgium, in 1819, after the French Revolution, two women of the parish, who were touched by the exploitation of women in the aftermath of the war, offered sewing lessons to help these women find honest work. Other young women joined them and eventually this group of caring women became the Sisters of St. Mary of Namur.

At the invitation of Bishop Timon, Mother Emily and four other sisters arrived in Lockport on Aug. 27, 1863, to teach the children of the people building the Erie Barge Canal. They experienced struggles against prejudice, poverty, and a lack of familiarity with the English language as did many of the people they served.

With the help of the immigrant people of Lockport, who longed to have a good education for their children, St. Joseph’s Academy was built in 1866. The academy was a home for the sisters and a boarding school for children and eventually an all-girls high school. St. Joseph’s Academy flourished until 1958 when the sisters joined the Oblates of St. Francis DeSales, forming a co-ed high school. The academy remained a home for the sisters while they taught in the parish grade schools and DeSales until 1968.

In 1968, St. Joseph’s Academy was sold. The present Spires was built on the site. The sisters then moved into parish houses.

In 1970, two significant events occurred: St. Joseph’s Academy was demolished and the three parish schools, St. John, St. Mary, and St. Patrick, merged into one Catholic school. Lockport Catholic School became one school in three buildings. Then enrollment increased.

DeSales High School was closed in 1989, leaving Lockport without a Catholic high school. The building remained empty until 1984, when the parents and teachers of Lockport Catholic School, in a great “Move of Faith,” convinced the bishop to allow the Catholic elementary school to move into the DeSales building. Lockport Catholic School now became known as DeSales Catholic Elementary School.

The Sisters of St. Mary have flourished in Lockport. Many girls joined the community and the sisters kept reaching out to help where they could. Today the sisters have provinces in Belgium, the eastern and western United States, England, Brazil, Rwanda, Congo and Cameroon.

Throughout the lengthy history of the sisters in Lockport, the loyal alumnae and people of Lockport have maintained their appreciation and generosity of the Sisters' ministries. SJA Split Club supports the financial needs of the apostolates. Some alumnae have committed themselves to prayer and support of the Sisters of St. Mary as SSMN Associates. Other alumnae are active in parish ministries and the outreach ministries in the city.

For more information about the celebration, call Sister Mary Asarese at 433-3966 or Pat Walker at 433-5833.