Emmanuel Celebrates History of Founders
February 04, 2012
Each year, a significant event in the life of the College is Founders' Day, commemorating the founding of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur by St. Julie Billiart and the founding of Emmanuel. On February 2nd, President Sister Janet Eisner, SND offered the keynote address at the 2012 celebration, the 20th annual, which also featured reflections by current students about a campus that values open expression of the goodness of God through words, service and actions toward others.
Sister Janet presented on the history and guiding principles of the SNDs, including details about the lives of the order's founders, St. Julie Billiart and Francoise Blin de Bourdon. She discussed how the two women from different backgrounds - St. Julie was a daughter of a shopkeeper while Francoise was a member of the French aristocracy - were drawn to each other; how their witnessing firsthand the terror of the French Revolution and resulting lack of education and knowledge of faith of young people guided them in initiating a religious congregation that would travel around the world with the mission of "making known God's goodness" and "educating for life."
In a time of political and social unrest as well as religious persecution, St. Julie and Francoise proved to be women of great strength and vision. Withstanding criticism from the bishop of Amiens, France, who sought to keep their congregation local, they moved to Belgium and became expatriates, accepting an invitation from the bishop of Namur in order to carry out their mission. Recognizing the importance of their task, St. Julie asked Francoise to record the annals of events, resulting in notes, letters and copies of St. Julie's conferences that still exist today; allowing Sisters of Notre Dame to tell the story of the founders "in their own words."
Sister Janet offered her favorite account of St. Julie in the form a letter written just five months before her death in 1816. At the time, St. Julie was being barraged with requests to open new schools, all the while struggling with finding the time to prepare teachers and seek their assistance to open the new buildings. It was then she wrote, "Trust in the good God. It is his work that is the only prayer I can say: ‘My God, it is your work! With this I pass through all difficulties.'"
"In my own experience I have found consolation in that, as I breathe ‘my God, it is your work!'," said Sister Janet, "and what amazing work it is to be engaged in the greatest work on earth, education.
"The Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur aim is to express in our time, as Julie did in hers, that God is good," she said. "We search anew in each time and place for ways to spread the Gospel and to take our stand with the poor of the earth. We value the focus on education in our tradition and give special attention to the educational dimension of our mission."
The Founders' Day tradition, which began as a one-day celebration two decades ago, expanded into a weeklong series of events in 2009. Sponsored by Emmanuel's Center for Mission and Spirituality, Founders' Week was held January 29th through February 4th and included evening prayer services; discussions; community service opportunities for students, faculty and staff working directly with the Sisters of Notre Dame in Boston; and the screening of the award-winning documentary, "They Killed Sister Dorothy," about the life and murder of Sister Dorothy Stang, SND and her work on behalf of the indigenous people of Brazil and the Amazon rainforest. The Class of 2011 also marked "100 Days: A Founders' Day Celebration," which reinstated the tradition of ringing the Chapel bells 100 times in recognition of the number of days the seniors have left until graduation.
During the week, the Center for Mission and Spirituality commissioned the students, or members, of a new leadership organization, 1804 Society, named in honor of the founding year of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur. The organization encourages students to promote service to others and provides distinguished ambassadors of Emmanuel College to the campus and the wider community. Members of the society, Emily Shea '14 and Jenny Konecnik '14, offered remarks during the Founders' Day celebration, as did Student Government Association President Jordan Coulombe '12.
Coulombe spoke about his experience of mission through academics, student life and service, highlighting his participation in the New Student Day of Service and Alternative Spring Break, during which he served in Wheeling, West Virginia, and Eagle Butte, South Dakota, witnessing extreme poverty. He spoke of his appreciation for the education he has received at Emmanuel, a place he believes truly embodies the mission of its founders.
"At Emmanuel, I've learned that education is an extremely powerful tool - a tool to empower those who have faced adversity, a tool to combat poverty, a tool to spread love and compassion," he said.
"When I look at my Emmanuel experience, I see that the mission of the Sisters of Notre Dame and the vision of St. Julie still permeates this campus and beyond."