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Congrégation de Notre-Dame legacy as first educators in Bourbonnais and Kankakee

Theresa Galvan, CND; Ann Wheeler and Alicia Parkinson, CND Associates

On Saturday, October 20, 2018, visitors of the Kankakee French Heritage Museum, located in an historic stone barn in Kankakee, Illinois, were treated to a dramatic presentation on the history of early education in the Bourbonnais and Kankakee area.

Local theater actress and French teacher at Kankakee High School Bonnie Brewer appeared as Soeur Marie de la Victoire, one of the three original Congregation de Notre Dame Sisters who arrived in Bourbonnais in 1860 to start a school for the local children at the request of the pastor from MBVM Parish. Dressed in an improvised Congrégation de Notre-Dame habit, “Soeur Marie de la Victoire” spoke to the overflowing audience with a convincing French accent. She traced the strong and lasting foundation of sound academic and faith education provided by the CND Sisters.

With questions from the assembly and the memories shared, it was evident that the influence of the Sisters in Kankakee County remains alive and well. CND Associate Ann Wheeler shared her experience as a student of the Congrégation de Notre-Dame at St. Joseph Seminary in Kankakee, and the lifelong formation she continues to receive. Others shared their experiences at Congregation-staffed schools, and spoke with appreciation and affection for the sound academic learning, coupled with the careful development of the moral and spiritual formation they received in the care of the CND Sisters.

“Soeur Marie” completed her presentation by citing the early collaborative efforts with other educators, churches, and health care institutions in joining the call to minister together for the total education of the local youth.

As we left, we thanked Bonnie Brewer for her excellent and well-researched presentation. She expressed how impressed and moved she was by what she had learned in her research, and asked us for something to read on the life of Marguerite Bourgeoys.

Yes, Marguerite Bourgeoys and the presence and legacy of those CNDs who taught and lived among the people here, continues to live on in their memories and lives.


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