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Pioneers

Saint Julie Billiart

The roots of Julie’s Family Learning Program are traced to Saint Julie Billiart, the foundress of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur. She holds a special place in the life of the Church, not only as a saint but also as a visionary woman who responded to the needs of the suffering world around her.

In the days of social, religious, political, and economic upheaval in post-revolutionary France, Julie envisioned a crucified Jesus Christ, surrounded by a large group of religious women dressed in a habit she had never seen before. An inner voice told her that these would be her daughters and that she would begin an institute for the education of young women.

Along with Francoise Blin de Bourbon, Julie founded the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur.

Julie’s founding vision was the development of a community of women who through simple and prayerful lives commit themselves to educating and serving others, especially those who are poor and marginalized. 1805, Julie, Francoise, and three companions made their profession and took their final vows. At this time, Julie was elected as Mother General of the young congregation. She died on April 8, 1816 in Namur, Belgium, at 64 years of age.

In the nineteenth century, the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur continued to carry Julie’s mission as they set out for North America, Europe, and Africa. Early in the twentieth century, they went to Asia, and in the mid-twentieth century Latin America. There are now more than 2100 Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur in fifteen countries on five continents.

In 1849, three sisters came to Boston. Within days, they were teaching at St. Mary’s in the North End, at that time the only Catholic school in Boston. From Boston the congregation continued to grow and headed north, south, and west of the city. They settled first in large mill cities, then later in less settled but equally needy places. In 1919, Emmanuel College, the first Catholic college for women in New England, was established in Boston. From their foundation, the Sisters of Notre Dame Namur have always had a particular care for the education of women and girls.

This year, 2004, the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur celebrated 200 years. Today more than 625 Sisters of Notre Dame continue to live and work in New England. Sisters from New England also continue to serve in Africa, Latin, Asia, and Europe. Wherever they are, the sisters serve those in need through prayer, compassion and in action. The sisters continue to proclaim in the spirit of St. Julie that “Our God is good.”


Maria Montessori

Dr. Maria Montessori, born in 1870, was the first woman to receive a medical degree in Italy. She worked in the fields of psychiatry, education, and anthropology. She never published theory until she had observed it for many years with children of all social classes and in many countries.

She believed that each child is born with unique potential to be revealed, rather than as a so-called “blank slate” waiting to be written upon. Her main contributions to the work of those of us raising and educating children are in the following areas:

  • Learning to prepare the best environment for a child, according to the different stages of his or her life.
  • Learning to observe the child living freely in this environment and continually adapting the environment for the ever-changing child, in order that she or he may fulfill her or his greatest potential; physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually

Trained in science and medicine, Maria Montessori used her skillful powers of observation to analyze young children’s most natural and effective learning strategies that she found rooted in a series of sensitive periods (birth to six years). To enhance these early learning periods, she then designed an ingenious series of hands-on education materials, reproductions of which are still used in Montessori classrooms on every continent.

More important than her materials, however, is Maria Montessori’s philosophy that enables both teacher and parent to have a very comfortable and fruitful relationship with youngsters. Basic to all her efforts for reform is her conviction that civilization can be saved by children who are respected as individuals, nourished by caring adults and educated for peace.