Sisters of Charity, BVM celebrate 190 years

Two BVM sisters prepare for the move to Mount Carmel Bluffs in Dubuque.

For The Catholic Messenger

DUBUQUE — The Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary (BVM) congregation celebrates its 190th anniversary Nov. 1. This milestone recognizes the mission of the BVM sisters to commit to a vowed life of faithfulness to the Lord; faithfulness to one another in community; and faithfulness to God’s people, especially the poor.

The story of the BVM sisters began with Foundress Mary Frances Clarke and her companions boarding a ship in Dublin, Ireland in 1833. They left their families and homeland, driven by a vision of a better life for immigrant children through education.

BVMs were teachers who opened schools that led to a network of Catholic elementary and secondary schools nationwide and two colleges. They staffed more than 300 schools across the United States and in three foreign countries, providing students a quality education, opportunities for development and Catholic values, according to a news release.


In the 1960s, ministries grew to include healthcare, social services, community advocacy and parish administration. The congregation has taken on corporate stances on nonviolence and immigration reform, and against human trafficking and the death penalty. Their commitment includes joining with others to work for justice and to care for the earth.

As BVMs have retired from active ministry, partnership grants and scholarships for women seek to ensure that the BVM legacy will continue through organizations that hold similar values. Endowed scholarships also have been established in every U.S. diocese in which BVMs have ministered.

BVMs continue to honor the core values of freedom, education, charity and justice, the news release states. Sister LaDonna Manternach, the BVM president, said, “BVM shoes have left footprints around the world for ministry, study and travel experiences.” Today, “virtual BVM footprints are being established via Zoom meetings, grant funding, scholarships and gifts to organizations that send aid across the world,” she said. She expressed thanks to God “for all the gifts we have received: from Dublin to Dubuque, and around the world.”

Nearly 5,000 women have followed in the footsteps of Mary Frances Clarke. Like many religious congregations today, the BVMs face new challenges. Today, the community has more than 200 sisters with an average age of 85. In the Diocese of Davenport, Sister Agnes Giblin, BVM, serves as a pastoral associate at St. Mary Parish in Iowa City.

The Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary invite everyone to join them in a live, virtual Mass Nov. 1 from 10:30-11:30 a.m. at https://portal.stretch A recording of the Mass will be available afterwards at the same link.

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