For those in religious life, their life is not their own and they are often transported to areas or parts of the world where culture and language are not familiar. Consider the journey of these religious sisters. The Sisters of Mary of the Presentation were exiled from France in 1901 when an anticlerical government enacted legislation to weaken the influence of the Catholic Church in France. Though just passing through, Rev. John A. Zahm, C.S.C., learned of the Sisters’ situation from the Holy Cross superior general in France, and Fr. Zahm offered the sisters employment at Holy Cross institutions in the United States, including the University of Portland.
Thus Fr. Zahm, arranged the Sisters’ travel and personally met the first contingent of Presentation Sisters in New York in June 1903. Then from New York to Notre Dame. Three sisters remained at Notre Dame while twelve traveled to Portland and the new University beginning there. The sisters resided temporarily in West Hall until the construction of a Convent was complete. The three-story convent building (with a porch) was semi-secluded, located in a grove of trees at a spot that today is green-lawn inside the Academic Quad — west of St. Mary’s and the Chapel of Christ the Teacher, north of the Commons. The St. Mary’s Convent was meant to serve as a residence for the Sisters while also accommodating a small school for small boys (a plan which never materialized). Instead, the children’s wing became the student infirmary.
The Sisters served the teachers and students through duties variously exercised in the kitchen, dining room, laundry, infirmary, and poultry yard. Their wages in 1903: annual payment of only 300 francs, thus in American terms, about $58 a year, including room and board. Jim Covert writes about the Sisters in A Point of Pride— “Various views have been recorded about their cooking. Some claimed the meals were exceedingly frugal and the diet too frugal, but others took delight at their tables, especially praising the pastry”. Brother David Martin, C.S.C., arriving at UP in 1928, recalled how “the waxed floor of their recreation room would always stay spick-and-span [because] they moved around in this room by skating along on small pieces of carpet when they needed to go from one part of the room to another. . . . Despite their constant work they never seemed to get sick. I asked them about this once or twice to which they responded that they didn’t have time to get sick.”
The Presentation Sisters (a rotating membership, renewed beyond the original twelve?) remained on the Bluff until 1940 when they were recalled by their religious community.
Presentation Sisters in Holy Cross Apostolates 1903-1963 by Brother Franklin Cullen, C.S.C., p. 1-4
Rev. Barry Hagan, C.S.C. recollections