A foundation chez les Yankees!
Upon receiving the request of the Archbishop of Philadelphia for a foundation in his Diocese, the Mother General (Marie Celestine) and her council took some time to consider the proposal, provoking a series of urgent letters from the Archbishop anxious to have the school ready to open in September. In fact the sisters were hesitating, worried whether the style of “Spartan simplicity” for which the Congregation was renowned would be acceptable in the United States. They were reassured by an American friend saying that “there was in fact many – the old American families – who indeed appreciated this type of austere simplicity, but they were not the kind of Americans that Europe knows.”
The Council did not “hesitate to declare that this unique and truly providential opportunity should not be missed and Mother General agreed despite the repugnance she had felt up to then to the idea of a foundation in the land of the Yankees.”
The Assumption is an International Congregation. From the first community of five young women in 1839, the congregation quickly spread throughout Europe, Africa, Asia and the Americas. Today the Assumption is present in 34 countries in 5 continents.
In 1919, eleven Assumption Sisters made the foundation at Ravenhill in Philadelphia, they represented 4 nationalities : French, English, Spanish, and German. At the time of the foundation the Assumption was present in eight other countries (France, England, Spain, Italy, Philipeens, Nicaragua, San Salvador, Belgium) making the United States the 9th country to welcome Assumption Sisters. Today, 100 years later, the Assumption Sisters of the United States Province represent 11 nationalities : American, French, German, Spanish, Vietnamese, Filipino, Canadian, Mexican, Ecuadorian, Fijian, Kenyan.
Love of the Church
An interesting “relic” from the past. This striking and colorful 1930’s epoch postcard sent from Rome where he had participated in the Conclave which had elected Pope Pius XII in March 1939, attests to the warm relationship of Cardinal Dougherty with the Assumption. He was referring to the visit of the then Cardinal Pacelli, to the United States in 1936 in particular to his visit to Ravenhill. Pope Pius XII was known as the “Pope of the Assumption” not only for his declaration of the Dogma of the Assumption on November 1, 1950, but for his personal friendship with the Congregation (when he was a young priest he had known the Assumption) : “We have had countless occasions of knowing personally your activities and your spirit since those far off years when We performed Our priestly duties amongst you. Our thoughts willingly dwell on those times … you are here really in the house of your Protector and Your Father.” … words of Pope Pius XII to the Superior General of the Assumption during a visit in May 1946.
On that occasion he continued : “To take in hand the education of girls and to form for the family, for the society and for the Church, women capable, because of their active and conscious faith, of coping with the problems of their time – such was the ideal of Mere Marie Eugenie and, such was the work she accomplished. Our times, even more disturbed and sad than hers, have all the greater need of women of keen faith, patient, persevering in resisting evil – women with a mission to accomplish. Even more than others, you the children of the Assumption, thanks to your education, are called on to be leaders in the world by the profession and practice of your faith. To uphold the courage of your neighbors by word and example; to make your homes living centers of a society reborn in Christ by using all your resources in political and social life.”
Those who have attended an Assumption school, such as Ravenhill in Philadelphia, Bayhaven in Miami, Manila in the Philippines, Lubeck in Paris, Bafoussam in Cameroon, or anywhere in the world, can recognize something called “Assumption Spirit”. This spirit is a certain way of educating that the sisters had that marked their students and prepared them for life. That Philosophy of Education so particular to the Assumption, which existed from the first beginnings of the congregation, was first expressed in the writings of the Foundress, Saint Marie Eugenie. It is still lived today in a multitude of educational endeavors in the 34 countries where we can find Assumption Sisters. The following are a series of quotations from the booklet "Education in the Assumption - Reference Guide", which is the fruit of the 1st International Congress of Assumption Education in 1998.
The education proposed by the Assumption is one that aims at the transformation of the whole human person. It favors a widening freedom which allows each individual to develop “in the particular way that is the will of God for them” and allows them to discover their vocation in order to commit themselves to the transformation of society. (cf. St. ME, Instruction on the formation of character 1852)
Instruction is a powerful means of transformation, both personal and social. “The way in which an educator approaches knowledge and learning is as instructive as the lessons that are taught.” (St.ME to Lacordaire 1842) Instruction is only one of the tasks of an Assumption educator; the essential mission is to allow persons to discover and enter into their own personal vocations. For Saint Marie Eugenie, “Each of us has a mission on earth". She firmly believed “that God gives to everyone what they need to carry out their duty". Assumption education means that the educated person becomes responsible and ready to play a part in the transformation of society. “Intelligence means the ability to reflect, to judge, to discern. It is the ability to understand how human beings think and how thought leads them to make decisions and to act.” (Sr. Clare Teresa, Cannes 1993)
The natural virtues have always been spoken of in the Assumption. Today we would say “values”, meaning what we give importance to and want to practice in our daily life. For Saint Marie Eugenie, the two most important virtues are “kindness, without which one does not have the spirit of the Assumption and straightforwardness, without which one cannot live or exist in the Assumption.”
Marie Eugenie gave great importance to the education of character. Assumption education seeks to form persons who are “strong and have a clear-cut and positive action even in their own little sphere... Assumption education will above all give convictions, driving roots which sooner or later bear fruit. What is to be desired is that our young people are very thoughtful and strongly convinced. They may in the circumstances of life not always be faithful to their principles; but later, their principles will lead them to reasonable conclusions in their actions.” (letter to Fr. D’Alzon 1842)
There is a great freedom of spirit in the Assumption. The essential freedom for each person is to have the capacity to actualize his or her potential; it is the possibility of constructing one’s own destiny. The freedom of spirit that we experience in the Assumption is based on a climate that encourages and even pushes people to be themselves, to build themselves, without constraints or useless rules which can break a person’s elan. “You say the children are like butterflies?... Do not cut their wings, but orient their flight… give each being its own expression; only destroy from nature that which is an obstacle to grace, but let grace flourish freely and give each creature its particular form according to God's plan for it.”
(cf. St. ME, Instruction on the formation of character 1852)
The Assumption Crest
Looking over old yearbooks, we find the Assumption Crest appearing on the covers from 1947 for Ravenhill and on the first yearbook of Bay Haven in 1949 (with the addition of palm trees and the motto “In God we trust” around the cross). The design had existed for a long time before the foundations in America.
Three symbols express what Saint Marie Eugenie called “the three great loves of the Assumption: Jesus Christ, Mary, and the Church.” Look for the three essential symbols in any logo of the Assumption. The crest or its form is not important, but the three symbols will always be there: the cross for Jesus Christ, the star for Mary, and the boat for the Church.