Seal Congregation of the Infant Jesus - Nursing Sisters of the Sick Poor, Inc.
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Life, Mission And Dreams

Echoed In Mother Marie Antoinette's Words

Mother Marie Antionette

Mother Marie Antoinette

Foundress of The Congregation of the Infant Jesus

Brooklyn, New York - October 21, 1905

My Christian name is Mary Host and I was born on February 9, 1862 in Alsace, France. My father died while I was an infant and my mother joined him when I was eleven. I enjoyed going to school and learned quickly. I was fortunate to be taken care of by relatives who were of the middle class. When my education was ended, I spent my time helping at home and among the sick and afflicted of the neighborhood. At eighteen, I recognized within myself an ardent desire for religious life, but was unable to enter a congregation until I was 21 years of age.

My journey to Neufchatel was a long one. However, I wanted to be a Sister of the Infant Jesus. My postulancy was difficult in that I was very homesick. I received the Holy Habit of the Sisters of the Infant Jesus and the name Sister Marie Antoinette only eight months after entrance. My resolution on that day was to follow Christ wheresoever He would lead. I made my final profession in 1894 at age 32, eleven years after entrance. In 1888, I cared for orphans and served as a nurse in the homes of both the rich and the poor. This work was very dear to me. I also taught in a school in Belgium. From 1890-1901, I was supervisor of a large hospital in Le Mans.

The years 1901 and following were very difficult and were years of great suffering. The French Revolution and the Law of Associations in 1901 forbade religious communities to meet for works of charity. The Separation Law of 1905 turned over Church property to the State. The work of religious communities in France was brought almost to a halt. Many of our Sisters began leaving France to serve in other countries where they would not be subject to ridicule and scrutiny and where they could serve those in need.

At the request of the Archbishop of Canterbury, I along with eleven other Sisters were sent to St. Edmund's College and Seminary in London where we cooked, cleaned, and did laundry for 40 students. Illness and dwindling funds forced us to find other places to go. I met Father Patrick McHale, a Vincentian and Rector of St. John's College in Brooklyn, and he encouraged me to go to the United States.

In 1905 at age 43, after suffering hardship in England, I with two other Sisters obtained permission from Mother Euphrasia, Bishop de Bonfils, and the Ecclesiastical Superior of the Congregation to come to America and work among the French speaking people in the west.

As we crossed the Atlantic in the steerage compartment of a freighter, suffering filth and illness, my hopes and my dreams were to establish a teaching and nursing mission in America. Bishop Charles McDonnell, the Bishop of Brooklyn, awaited our arrival. Mother Celistine of the Little Sisters of the Poor, who was responsible for a Home for the Aged, the oldest charitable organization in the Diocese, took us in and introduced us to the Bishop. Bishop McDonnell wished us, the three Sister from France, to remain in his Diocese to care for the sick poor in their homes in spite of our desire to move westward. After prayer, I and my companions realized that this was God asking us to stay in Brooklyn. This was a work I had long loved from my youthful days at home. In 1907 Bishop McDonnell traveled to France, where he obtained from Pope Pius X authorization to establish the community as a separate American foundation and to open a novitiate.

Our early foundation grew and bore much fruit. My Sisters through the years have carried out my dreams for the care of the sick and poor. As I did in my beloved France, they have administered a hospital, provided nursing in the homes, counseled those in need and provided health care for the poor. The spirit and mission of the original foundation are alive to this day in the lives of the present members of the Congregation. For this I am most grateful.

As we face the new millennium, I see many parallels in history. In 1905, there were many immigrants in great need - need for housing, health care and education. There were few Sisters at the time. Today you find yourselves in similar circumstances. Along with the needs of the poor, there are new immigrants, many needs and few Sisters.

May a new wave of people rise in response to the present needs for the glory of God .

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