Onward! 1877-1913


The nineteenth century was marked by the collapse and rise of empires in Asia and Europe. The Spanish; First and Second French Empires; Chinese; Holy Roman, and Mughal empires declined,  giving way to new countries and governmental styles.   The British, German and Russian empires became leading players while the United States of America and Japan were gaining status. Latin American colonies and old countries, like Poland and Ireland, erupted in struggles to regain their autonomy.


It was also the century of industrialization; capitalism; demographic explosion (Europe's population doubled from 200 million to more than 400 million); migration to the cities; rapid travel via railroad. New government structures that allowed broader participation were created . Public opinion became a social force. Advances in medicine and the sciences offered hope for a better life. The invention of electricity, telegraph, radio, and telephone initiated an era of instant communication. Meanwhile, social injustice, horrid working conditions, and the employment of children in mines and factories were prevalent. Slavery, although almost universally abolished by law, still influenced many hearts and minds.


EmilieOur congregation, born in 1856 under the inspiration of Emilie d'Oultremont  d'Hooghvorst, was a child of those times. For over 22 years Emilie lived and promoted its foundational principle: love and generosity expressed in a life devoted to reparation-reconciliation with Mary. After her death in Florence on February 22, 1877, the first SMR General Chapter was convened in Rome on May 29, 1878. On June 1, Mother Marie de Saint Maurice, née  Berthe Blanche Goulet, was elected General Superior of the congregation. Re-elected in 1890 and 1902, she died in Liège on October 8, 1913.


Two Popes spanned the transition between the 19th and the 20th century. The first of these, Leo XIII (1878-1903), is especially remembered for  Rerum Novarum (1891) the first social encyclical. Recognizing the changing times, he promoted the renewal of theological and biblical studies and used diplomacy to strengthen  relationships between the Vatican and new political realities. Pius X (1903-1914) accomplished important changes within a short period of time: the creation of a new code of canon law; frequent reception of the Eucharist; reception of the sacrament by children at the age of reason; emphasis on education and spiritual growth of the clergy and participation of the laity in apostolic activities such as Catholic Action.


During the first decade of the 20th century, 28 dioceses were created, primarily in the United States, Brazil and the Philippines as well as 16 Apostolic vicariates and 15 Apostolic prefectures. Religious congregations multiplied in response to global needs. At the same time, religious indifference began to be all too prevalent among  European Catholics.


Our congregation was certainly influenced by the socio-political-economic changes taking place, and by the  Church's responses to those realities. Maybe it was the deeper sacramental life, or maybe it was the response to the call to lay apostolic ministry, or it could have been the emphasis on social justice and the plight of the poor, or maybe it was the pervasive optimistic and transformative spirit of the times,  but whatever the reason, the fact is that during the thirty-five years when Marie de St Maurice was General Superior, the congregation increased from 334 professed sisters in 1877 to 1,308 in 1912 and from 17 communities to 51.


                                                        Concepcion Gonzalez