As we mentioned on Tuesday, this is National Catholic Sisters Week. It’s no coincidence that it’s situated in Women’s History Month. So we’re showcasing two of our beloved Ursuline foremothers. Today I’m proud to introduce you to Marie Madeleine Hachard. She was one of the fearless band of French Ursulines who crossed the Atlantic on the Gironde, arriving in 1727 in New Orleans. The youngest of the 12 nuns (20 years old), and still a novice, Marie Madeleine wrote long, detailed letters to her father back in Rouen while on board ship and after landing in New Orleans. This painting depicts the landing of the nuns. [Marie Madeleine is in the white veil] As you can imagine, it was no easy passage, and Marie Madeleine described the ordeals they faced on board ship, as well as life in Louisiana in the early 18th century. They definitely were no longer in France! The local, patriarchal civil authorities didn’t know how to relate to a group of women who were not subject to male authority. The education of women, black and white, slave and free, was the focal point of their ministry. They quickly began a school for the education of girls, ran an orphanage, ministered in the military hospital, and were catechists. Whew!
Fast-forward to the 21st century, where the influence of that small group of French Ursulines continues to spark ongoing “French Connections.” Ursuline Academy New Orleans continues the 287-year tradition of educating young women to meet the needs of our time. At the end of February I had the pleasure of meeting a group of 15 Ursuline high school students and their chaperones from Nantes, France
who are visiting their sister-school in St. Louis for an immersion experience.
Marie Madeleine Hachard and those pioneering Ursulines had no way of knowing the enduring bonds that their presence and sacrifices would make. Both here and in France, Ursulines carry on their legacy and take courage from their witness.
To learn more about Marie Madeleine and the first Catholic Sisters in what is now the U.S.A, I recommend the book Voices From an Early American Convent, edited by Emily Clark. It contains the translated letters of Marie Madeleine, as well as other fascinating information about life in 18th century New Orleans.