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Servants of Mary

Servants of mary

In 2018, the Servants of Mary celebrated 125 years of service in the United States and 100 years in Omaha. At Marian, we share great pride in this milestone. Marian is rooted in the charism of the Servants of Mary. Their history is our legacy and our reason for being. 

The origins of the Servites can be traced much farther than 125 years, back to 1233, when seven men responded to a call from their heavenly Mother to give themselves entirely to her service and to honor her sorrows. Not long after, St. Juliana, niece of one of the Seven Holy Founders, formed the Third Order of the Servants of Mary. She is a special patroness of the Servite Sisters. 

Throughout their history, the Servants of Mary have served as educators. After the French Revolution, in 1840, a little school was built beside the Hermitage Chapel in Cuves, France. Four of the teachers, led by Marie Guyot, formed a religious community that followed the Rule of the Servites. In 1852, the sisters moved to England, where they taught in the schools for the poorest of the poor. 

Meanwhile, in the United States, settlers began moving west; among them were great waves of immigrants in search of land, a better life and religious freedom. To serve this growing population, parish priests appealed to European congregations for sisters to teach in their Catholic schools.   

In 1893, a small group of Servites left England to teach at St. Matthew Parish in Mount Vernon, Indiana. Sisters continued to arrive from the English congregation and moved westward to Illinois and Iowa to establish convents, all-girls academies and parish schools. In 1918, the Servite Sisters answered the call of the archbishop and the Redemptorist fathers to establish a school in the newly formed Holy Name Parish in Omaha, Nebraska.  

 

The sisters’ journey from Europe to America, from Illinois to Iowa to Omaha, was no small or easy task. They made many sacrifices along the way, and with each new beginning came hardship. When first arriving in Omaha, the sisters lived in “radical poverty.”  In “Moving to Nebraska,” Sr. Mary Alice Haley describes the early days in Omaha. There were “no tables, no chairs, no stove, nothing had arrived… We took our supper at the ironing board, which served as a table… At bedtime the sisters slept on the floor.” 

At this time, the superiors were looking to move the motherhouse and novitiate from Cherokee, Iowa, to a more central location. Omaha’s access to railroads and institutions of higher learning made it an attractive place to settle. Two years later, the sisters purchased 20 acres of land outside of Benson, Nebraska, and construction began on a large convent. 

According to Sr. Mary Alice Haley, OSM, ”The location of the new convent on the outskirts of the city permitted the sisters to develop the farm, raising cows, pigs and chickens. Part of the novices’ life during those days was waving brooms, chasing the cows back to their pasture when they had slipped through a hole in the fence and wandered up to Our Lady’s circle where the grass looked greener.”  The farm grew to 130 acres, and its orchards and gardens helped to stock the convent kitchen. The sisters operated the farm until the mid-1960s. 

In addition to the farm, the other interests of the sisters were growing. The Servite presence expanded in Omaha’s parochial schools with sisters teaching not only at Holy Name but also Holy Ghost (1922), St. Rose (1943), St. Benedict (1946), Christ the King (1954), St. Pius X (1955) and St. James (1965) schools. The sisters were also commissioned to serve in schools in Detroit, Massena, New York, Denver, St. Louis and Sioux City, Iowa. During their 125 years in the United States, the Servants of Mary have had approximately 260 sisters ministering in 145 schools. 

By the early 1950s, the motherhouse was proving too small for its growing community and another plan was being considered:  a school for girls. Mother Mary Ligouri, Head of the American Province of the Servants of Mary, had a dream rooted in faith and in the belief that the world needed more educated Christian disciples of the female variety.  

On March 25 of the Holy Marian year 1954, ground was broken on the high school and motherhouse additions. In 1955, 30 years after the construction of Our Lady of Sorrows Convent, the present motherhouse and Marian High School were opened.    

When the high school opened, the sisters poured everything into the school. So deep was the sisters’ dedication that no sacrifice was too great. A limited budget made them very frugal. In the early years, there was no funding for custodial service, so the sisters, including the principal, cleaned the building after hours.  

Today the sisters collaborate with Marian as a sponsoring agency and continue to make their presence felt. Omaha continues to serve as the headquarters for the U.S. Community of the Servants of Mary. The sisters fondly call the motherhouse home and speak of Marian with great pride, viewing it as one of their greatest accomplishments.