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Catholic Vancouver Jul 23, 2017

Sisters to celebrate 350th anniversary 

By Agnieszka Krawczynski

Anne Marie Martel unknowingly founded the Sisters of the Child Jesus 350 years ago. (BCC file photo)

VANCOUVER—The Sisters of the Child Jesus are gearing up to celebrate a whopping 350 years of work in education and service to the poor.

The big event, set for Aug. 11, will include Mass and a free mix and mingle reception at St. Mary’s Church in Vancouver.

“It’s a way of giving thanks to God for his faithfulness to us and the faithfulness of the sisters who have gone before us,” said Sister Denece Billesberger, SEJ.

The congregation is marking 350 years since their foundress, French-born Anne Marie Martel, began teaching catechism to poor children in 1667 at age 21.

“When Anne Marie started her work, she never knew she established a religious congregation.”

Martel was not a nun and died only a few years later, in 1673. The congregation of the Sisters of the Child Jesus, inspired by her work, was officially established three years after her death. They were initially called the Ladies of the Instruction of the Child Jesus.

The work we do is much the same as the work Anne Marie did. She did it in her day; we do it in our day.
Sister Denece Billesberger, SEJ

“The work that we do is much the same as the work that Anne Marie did. She did it in her day; we do it in our day,” said Sister Billesberger. Martel would teach the basics of the faith to poor women, street children, and lace makers. She also emptied bedpans and did other physical work in hospitals.

The Sisters of the Child Jesus have since brought that same legacy of instruction and works of mercy to Africa, Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Chile, Ecuador, and Vietnam.

In Canada, they have built and staffed a handful of Catholic elementary and high schools, served in parish ministries, worked as nurses, and served in groups such as L’Arche and  Personality and Human Relations International.

Honouring the 350th anniversary “is a celebration of the many women who have gone before us and have left us our legacy,” said Sister Billesberger.

The sisters invite the community to join them as they observe the milestone starting with Mass at St. Mary’s at 5 p.m. It will be followed by a free reception. Sister Billesberger said the sisters have invited many former students, including several bishops. No tickets are required.