If you’ve visited our building in Apopka, you probably recognize this quote:
“Let your hearts be as wide as the world”
This message is written above our entry hall. It is meant both to encourage compassion and give a nod to the fact that Hope CommUnity Center was founded by four Sisters of Notre Dame. These words originated with Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur Founder Julie Billiart in 19th century France.
In February 1804, she helped establish the very first Congregation of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, and now in February 2014 we are celebrating 210 years of Sisters serving around the world. In honor of this important anniversary, we would like to share a little about the history of the Sisters of Notre Dame.
Two very different French women started the Sisters of Notre Dame: Julie Billiart, a peasant who became physically paralyzed as a young adult and Françoise Blin de Bourdon, a wealthy woman who grew up surrounded by privilege. What they had in common was that their lives were marked by the violence of the 18th century French Revolution, and they both desired close relationships with God.
Julie was devout in her faith from a young age. She prayed for hours and at other times she could often be found in the fields with the workers sharing her knowledge of God. Well known in the region for her enlightenment, she was invited to stay with aristocracy and that is how Françoise found her.
Initially, Françoise was disgusted by Julie’s condition and wanted to turn away from her. However, through their frequent visits she became impressed by Julie’s wisdom and the two forged a friendship. Eventually, Françoise adopted Julie’s mission to share God’s goodness with the people. Their shared desire to do this work brought forth the establishment of the Sisters of Notre Dame.
Françoise, Julie and two others made their vows to God on February 2, 1804. Shortly after, they took on the name of the Sisters of Notre Dame (“Sisters of Our Lady”).
For more information about the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur: