Holy Union Sisters
HOLY UNION SISTERS
Officially, the Religious of the Holy Union of the Sacred Hearts (SUSC, Official Catholic Directory #2070); a congregation of teaching sisters with papal approbation, dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Father Jean Baptiste Debrabant (1801–1880) founded the community in Douai, France, in 1826 to provide the religious instruction that was urgently needed in the period following the French Revolution. The community received full canonical approbation from Rome in 1843. In 1902, under a law authorizing the expulsion of all teaching religious from French schools, the French government confiscated 70 convents and schools of the congregation between 1902 and 1904. The sisters took refuge in their already established convents in Kain, Belgium (1833); Bath, England (1857); Bannagher, Ireland (1853); the U.S. (1886); and Argentina (1888). Not until 1941 did the sisters reopen their French schools.
Although the chief work of the community has always been teaching, on three occasions the sisters have taken up special tasks at the request of the Holy See. From 1923 to 1934 they assisted the Jesuit Orientalist Michael d' herbigny by taking charge of the Villa Albani in Rome, a home for refugee Russians under the special jurisdiction of Pius XI. In 1928 the pope asked the sisters to train in their novitiate, then in Rome, candidates for the Byzantine Congregation of Sisters of the Theotokos Pammakaristos (founded in 1921 by George Calavassy, then apostolic exarch of Constantinople). Then in 1941, at the suggestion of their cardinal protector, the sisters opened their convent, Villa Santa Teresa, as a hostel for college and university women studying in Rome.
The community came to the U.S. in 1886 when the Academy of Sacred Hearts, Fall River, MA, was opened by Mother Marie Helena (1849–1937). Mother Helena later became the first provincial superior in the United States. A novitiate was begun in Fall River in 1902. In the U.S., the congregation is divided into two separate provinces: Holy Union Fall River Province (headquartered in Fall River, MA) and Sacred Heart Province (headquartered in Groton, MA). Since 1958, the generalate is located in Rome.
Bibliography: a. curtayne, Jean Baptist Debrabant (Paterson, NJ 1936). j. r. n. maxwell, Fifty Golden Years (Paterson, NJ 1963). a. delplanque, Portrait de M. Debrabant, fondateur de la Sainte Union des Sacrés Coeurs (Lille 1925).
[j. e. creamer/eds.]