Our Heritage

As Napoleon II began to expand the French empire through military might, he decreed that church bells throughout France should ring whenever he had a “victory.” Appalled by this demand, Father John Joseph Begel refused to ring the bells of a tiny church in Donmartin, France, where he had gathered a group of women to teach the children of the poor.

In retaliation, the authorities notified the priest that the teaching credentials of the young community would be revoked. They were faced with a choice: stay and obey or leave France. So in 1864, 11 sisters, their founder, Fr. Begel, and four orphans left the small French farming community to come to America seeking religious freedom.

Twenty years later, five members of the young community set out from their home in Pennsylvania to “go west” with the pioneers. Seeking always to respond to “the greatest need” the group ultimately settled in southeastern Iowa where they flourished as a community, built schools and hospitals to serve the growing population and continued their pioneering spirit in many “firsts” throughout their history:

Our Heritage

Our Heritage

  • Established the first private “normal” school–St. Joseph Jr. College–in 1925 to train thousands of young women as teachers for Iowa’s rural school system.
  • Created the first religious “vacation schools” to educate the children of rural Montana families in the basics of their Catholic faith. The model spread quickly to Iowa, then throughout the Midwest.
  • Established Marycrest College in Davenport, the first liberal arts college for women in southern Iowa. Click here for Transcript Request Process.
  • Among the first of women’s communities in the U.S. to support talented sisters to obtain advanced degrees and specialty credentials at top-ranked universities.
  • Instrumental in establishing the Sister Formation Movement of the 1950’s which prepared the way for thousands of American sisters to become professionally prepared for ministry and service to the people of God.
  • Among the first American communities to implement the reforms called for by the Second Vatican Council, especially the principle of self-determination in ministry, prayer and lifestyle.

Click here for a PDF copy of the Meditation for the 150th CHM Anniversary Jubilee Mass by Sr. JoAnne Talarico.

Humilities TodayToday, Humilities continue to pioneer in numerous ways. Like those before them, the sisters seek always “to build a better world for those who will follow.”

  • Humility of Mary Housing, Inc. has rehabilitated 56 affordable housing units in central city Davenport, Iowa, developing a model program over 22 years that has provided a step out of poverty for single parents and their children.
  • In 2008 Humility of Mary Shelter was formed assuming the operations of the local shelter for single men and women.
  • Sisters of Humility have led the way nationally and internationally in fields such as media literacy education at the Center for Media Literacy in Los Angeles and the training of priests and pastoral ministers in Spanish language and culture at CIRIMEX, Inc. in Guadalahara, Mexico.
  • Challenged by needs everywhere around them, individual Humilities, both vowed members and associates, respond by creating innovative ministries in areas such as fetal alcohol syndrome, environmental awareness, conflict resolution, holistic spirituality, health-based pastoral ministry, art and music therapy and dozens more.

Currently, 76 Sisters of Humility and 70 CHM Associates are ministering in the U.S. in 20 different states and also in Mexico and Canada.