Sisters of Divine Providence

The first American foundation of the Sisters of Divine Providence was established by Bishop Maes at Newport, Kentucky, in 1889. In 1888, Reverend Mother Anna, Superior General (1885-1903) of the Congregation of the Sisters of Divine Providence, of Saint-Jean-de-Bassel, was fully aware that prevailing conditions in Alsace-Lorraine were hindering the normal development of the Congregation, as well as menacing the very existence of the teaching Community. When she broached the subject of an American foundation to Bishop Maes of Covington, Bishop Maes welcomed the opportunity of establishing in the Diocese the Sisters whose particular work was the Christian education of youth, on all levels.

While abroad, in the autumn of 1888,  Bishop Maes visited Reverend Mother Anna, Superior General, at the General Motherhouse, Saint-Jean-de-Bassel, Moselle, France, to make arrangements for the first American colony of Sisters. On August 7, 1889, three Sisters, Sister Mary Chantal, Sister Mary Lucy and Sister Mary Camilla sailed for America. The three Sisters arrived in Covington, August 23, 1889. As provisions for their future home had not yet been completed, the Sisters took up temporary residence with the Sisters of St. Francis, at St. Elizabeth Hospital in Covington.  On September 7, 1889, the historic old mansion, then popularly known as the Jones Mansion, located on a six acre tract of land in the Newport Highlands at the head of Monmouth Street was purchased as the site of the first foundation of the Sisters of Divine Providence. On October 20, 1889, Bishop Maes solemnly blessed the new convent and Provincial House, which received the name of Mount Saint Martin, in honor of the Venerable Father Founder. The new community was incorporated according to the laws of the State of Kentucky under the title of “The Sisters of Divine Providence of Kentucky.” In the fall of that same year, 1889, the Sisters opened Mt. St. Martin Academy, with an enrollment of three pupils—Clementine Hurley, Emma Fischer and Clara Nagle. Such was the modest beginning of that same school, which in 1903, found it necessary to move to a new building, the present Academy Notre Dame of Providence on East Sixth Street in Newport. For reasons of administration, Bishop Maes insisted that the field of labor of the Sisters should be kept to the East and Middle States. In time the Sisters assumed charge of parish schools in Kentucky, Ohio, West Virginia, Maryland and Rhode Island. They opened academies, private and parish schools. They undertook the care of charitable institutions from Kentucky to Staten Island, New York, including care of infant asylums, homes for the aged, homes for French immigrants, and homes for working girls. By 1908, the Sisters extended their work to the Mountain Mission area of the Diocese. In 1915, they established St. Camillus Academy at Corbin, the first permanent Catholic school in the mountain area.  Colonies of Sisters arriving from time to time from Europe strengthened the foundation. By August of the year 1890, the Sisters of Mt. St. Martin had increased to eighteen, with more Sisters expected from Europe. March, 1890, likewise marked the acceptance of American postulants into the Congregation. The little group of Sisters, most of whom were well conversant with French, German and English, offered the new community a broad field of activity. In 1890, the Sisters took charge of St. Joseph Parish School at Four Mile, and St. Boniface Parish School in Ludlow, the following year (1891) taking charge of St. Ann Parish School in West Covington.  By 1893 it was found necessary to enlarge the Convent at Mt. St. Martin, Bishop Maes dedicating the new Chapel addition in the first part of August of that year. By this time the Sisters had expanded their work beyond the Diocese. The growth of the Academy at Mt. St. Martin, as well as the growth of the Novitiate during the first twelve years, made it imperative that the academy be established under separate roof from the convent. In 1901, the Sisters began to look for a site for a new academy. Thirty-six lots on Oak and Linden Streets, between Sixth Street and Nelson Place, in Newport were acquired, and the new academy was solemnly dedicated by Bishop Maes on August 23, 1903, by special arrangement the date for the dedication of the new academy being made to coincide with the date of the arrival of the first Sisters. Thus in 1903, the academy known as Academy Notre Dame of Providence was opened at the new site, and the Provincial House continued at Mt. St. Martin’s.  In 1909, the Sisters of Divine Providence were recipients of one of the finest farm estates in Campbell County, which was located near Melbourne. The estate was the gift of Mr. Peter O’Shaughnessy. Shortly after receiving this estate, five Sisters were assigned to live in the residence on the property, and direct the affairs of the farm. One room was remodeled as a Chapel. Bishop Maes blessed the little convent on May 16, 1910, which received the name of St. Anne Convent, in honor of the primary patroness of the Congregation. August 23, 1914 marked the Silver Jubilee of the founding of the American Province. Five years later, in 1919, the new St. Anne Convent at Melbourne, which was to become the new American Provincial Housed and Novitiate, was completed. In 1920, Mt. St. Martin was converted into a Home for working girls. Within the lifetime of Bishop Maes, the Congregation had achieved remarkable growth.  Ten years later, steps were taken to bring to completion the original plan of the institution, which included a chapel, a new infirmary, and an additional wing which would accommodate over a hundred Sisters. The cornerstone of the new Chapel was laid by Bishop Howard on April 28, 1930. When completed, the buildings of St. Anne Convent centered around the new Sacred Heart Chapel. On November 11, 1930, the Chapel, marked with a simplicity and dignity of tone, was solemnly dedicated by Bishop Howard. During the episcopate of Bishop Mulloy, the Sisters have extended their work in the Mountain Mission area, opening Our Lady of the Mountains School at Paintsville in 1945; St. Julian School at Middlesboro in the fall of 1947; Our Lady of the Way Hospital at Martin, in 1947; Sharon Heights Hospital at Jenkins in 1948; and St. Gregory Parish School at Barbourville in 1952. The Sisters of Divine Providence of Kentucky commemorated the fiftieth anniversary of the foundation of the Congregation in America on November 4, 1939. The American Province today, besides its work in the Diocese of Covington, is represented in the Archdioceses of Baltimore, Cincinnati, New York, St. Paul and Washington; and in the Dioceses of Columbus, Providence, Toledo, Steubenville and Wheeling.


excerpted from History of the Diocese of Covington, Kentucky, on the Occasion of the Centenary of the Diocese, 1853-1953, by Rev. Paul E. Ryan