Immaculate Heart of Mary, Sisters, Servants of the

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(IHM); founded in Monroe, MI in 1845 by Louis Florent Gillet and Theresa Maxis duchemin. To the original foundation in Monroe were added two independent congregations in Pennsylvania, one centered in Immaculata, and the other in Scranton. All three congregations engage in a variety of ministries evolving from their original focus on the works of education.

Gillet, a Redemptorist missionary from Belgium, established a mission in Monroe in 1843. Concerned about the evangelization of the French Canadian girls in the area, Gillet was eager to obtain the collaboration of bilingual sisters. He turned to a sister he had known in Baltimore, Theresa Maxis Duchemin.

Duchemin was a member of the Oblate Sisters of Providence, the first congregation of African American sisters. She was one of the four founding members of the congregation, all women of Haitian ethnicity, and the first U.S.-born African American to become a woman religious. The congregation's original ministry was the education of Haitian immigrant children. As the number of Haitian children dwindled and the poor African Americans who attended could not afford to pay, the sisters turned to manual labor activities to support themselves. Archbishop Samuel Eccleston, who was not supportive of the congregation, ordered them to discontinue accepting new members.

Gillet had visited the Oblate convent during his trips to Baltimore, happy to minister to the French-speaking sisters. In 1845, he proposed that Duchemin assist him in founding a new congregation in Monroe to minister to the French-speaking girls. It seemed to Theresa that the Oblate congregation was fated to disband. She therefore accepted Gillet's invitation, traveled to Monroe, and on Nov. 10, 1845 initiated community life with two other sisters, Charlotte Shaaff (also from the Oblates) and Theresa Renault. Louis and Theresa provided an Alphonsian foundation for the congregation, adapting the Redemptorist rule to the circumstances of the new congregation of sisters. The school for girls opened in January 1846, initiating IHM ministry that has extended throughout the U.S. and to Latin America, the Middle East, and Africa.

After almost a decade of successful ministry and growth in Michigan, the congregation was caught up in difficulties arising between the bishop, Peter Paul Lefevere and the Redemptorist Fathers. The bishop's reaction was to strive to eradicate all Alphonsian influences on the IHM congregation. Theresa was eager to preserve the Alphonsian tradition to the congregation and recognized this was no longer possible in Monroe. She persuaded Bishop Lefevere to allow her to accept a mission in the diocese of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where the Redemptorist Saint John Neumann was bishop. Her efforts to move the entire congregation to Pennsylvania led the bishop to dismiss those sisters he deemed to be disloyal and to declare the two convents separate congregations as of 1859. The diocese of Scranton was created in northeastern Pennsylvania in 1868; in 1871 William O'Hara, the first bishop of Scranton, separated the sisters within his jurisdiction from the Philadelphia congregation, establishing the third independent congregation.

For the first one hundred years after the original foundation, each of the three IHM congregations focused its ministry of education. The endeavors extended from day nurseries and kindergartens to the three higher education institutions the congregations founded: Marygrove College in Detroit (1905), Marywood University in Scranton (1915), and Immaculata College (1920). During this period, some sisters engaged in social service and health care ministries, but the majority were in the education ministry.

The reforms of Vatican Council II brought numerous radical changes to the lives and ministries of the sisters. They responded to the Church's call to a more incarnationally centered and more scripturally based spirituality. They heeded the Council's urging to return to the roots of the foundation and to discern its charism and the vision of the founders. The Council's focus on individual personal dignity strengthened the sisters' commitment to personal responsibility and to supportive community. In striving to respond to the needs of God's people in contemporary times, the sisters engage in a wide range of health care, human service, educational, spiritual, and pastoral ministries. They understand their ministries as participation in the Church's mission of action on behalf of justice. Each congregation maintains a number of congregation-sponsored institutions and congregational commitments to parishes and schools. Many sisters are engaged in individual ministries within the Church and in the broader society.

The three IHM congregations, which number more than two thousand sisters, share planning on significant issues in the Tri-IHM Conference. In the late 20th century the Oblate Sisters of Providence joined with the IHM congregations in their deliberations, creating the Tri-IHM/Oblate Conference, thereby bringing the history of the four congregations full circle in the Providence of God.

Bibliography: Official Catholic Directory #2150; Official Catholic Directory #2170; Official Catholic Directory #2160. m. gannon, ed., Paths of Daring, Deeds of Hope: Letters by and about Mother Theresa Maxis Duchemin, Sisters of IHM (Scranton, PA 1992). r. kelly, No Greater Service: The History of the Congregation of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (Monroe, MI 1948). g. h. sherwood, The Oblates One Hundred and One Years (New York 1931). sisters, servants of the immaculate heart of mary, monroe, michigan, Building Sisterhood: A Feminist History of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (Syracuse 1997). The Sisters of the IHM (New York 1923).

[m. gannon]

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Immaculate Heart of Mary, Sisters, Servants of the

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