In the May 28, 2013 blog entitled “Once Upon a Time…” you can read from the Chronicles of Notre Dame Academy from its earliest years to 1902. While the notes are quite interesting, there’s much they don’t reveal. Here are some background facts that may spark your imagination.
Not all the Sisters who fled Germany in 1874 spoke English; probably most knew none at all. Imagine coming into a foreign country under stressful circumstances and not knowing the language. Then imagine being assigned to teach in a grade school. Certainly American children were, even then, quite different from their German counterparts. We can assume that most of the classes were taught in German—not uncommon in Northern Kentucky since so many of the residence in Kenton and Campbell Counties were first and second generation Germans. Soon enough, though, the language barrier had to become a real deterrent to enlarging enrollments, and the Sisters’ efforts to learn English had to be stepped up considerably. Some parish priests gave the Sisters in their parish schools lessons in English. It is told that the people were very kind to the Sisters, understanding the difficulty of learning a new language as well as adjusting to their new home.
While most of the Sisters were young, not all were, but their reason for leaving Germany was probably well known, making the locals even more sympathetic. Bishop Toebbe, whose sister was a member of the German order, eagerly took advantage of the Sisters coming to the United States and invited them to teach in his schools in German neighborhoods. When the first Sisters arrived in Covington, they were offered hospitality at St. Elizabeth Hospital, by the Sisters of the Poor of St. Francis (as they were known then). That did not last long since a house on Montgomery St. between 5th and 6th Streets became available. This served as the convent for a few of the Sisters (many had dispersed to teach and to minister to orphans elsewhere in northern Kentucky and Cincinnati).
Regarding the Sisters’ reason for emigrating from German, Chancellor Bismark’s Kultur Kampf (Culture War) was in progress and religious women were forced to leave their communities or leave the country. His efforts were to solidify the power of Emperor Wilhelm I, negating, so he thought, any influence of the Catholic Church. Under this duress many religious orders of women were forced to leave scores of their institutions in Germany. But Germany’s loss was gain for several countries, especially the United States. Eventually the SNDs were able to return to Germany, but very many stayed, having established roots in northern Kentucky, Toledo and Cleveland. Thank you, Chancellor Bismark!