Experience Together

Celebrating Mother Caroline: A lesson in courage

Mother Caroline Friess, SSNDAs the American foundress of the School Sisters of Notre Dame, Mother Caroline Friess holds a special place in the SSND community. We remember her on the anniversary on her death, July 22, 1892. She is revered for her strength and pioneering attitude as we serve our ministries today, particularly those working with immigrants and refugees.

At the age of 23, Sister Caroline came to the United States in 1847 as an immigrant herself. Called to educate the huge numbers of German immigrant children, she arrived with Blessed Theresa of Jesus Gerhardinger and three other sisters. Before returning to Germany in 1848, Blessed Theresa put Sister Caroline in charge of SSND schools and business matters.

By 1850, Mother Caroline was appointed the vicar of North America for SSNDs, and had 24 sisters, 17 candidates or prospective members, 30 orphans and about 1,250 students in her care. At the direction of Blessed Theresa, she built a motherhouse in Milwaukee, and continued down the Mississippi River to establish missions in St. Louis and Chatawa, Mississippi, as well.Mother Caroline Friess walks with novice.

She faced many struggles along the way, such as working with both needy communities and an impoverished congregation. She also struggled to maintain a balance with the German culture and language of her students with the demands and expectations of being an immigrant to the United States.

Throughout these struggles, her spirit did not waver. She continued to send sisters wherever they were called, including small towns, rural parishes and large cities. At the time of her death in 1892, Mother Caroline had created an educational network that included 200 convents, 2,000 sisters and 70,000 students.

Her spirit and courage can be clearly viewed in sisters today. As sisters throughout the Central Pacific Province continue to promote education in a variety of ways, their call to immigrants in recent years has been heard loudly. From establishing the Immigrant and Refugee Women’s Program in St. Louis to teach women how to read and speak English and function in American society to hosting a dialogue on Christianity and Islam in Mankato, Minnesota, School Sisters of Notre Dame continue to aid immigrant populations in the United States.

Photos provided by SSND Archives

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