140 Years of Caring, celebrating the Sisters of Nazareth

Victoire Larmenier, foundress of the Sisters of Nazareth, opened the first Nazareth House in 1857 in Hammersmith, England, at the request of Cardinal Wiseman, Archbishop of Westminster.  This was to address the growing problem of orphans, abandoned children and frail elderly who were homeless and neglected in the large cities of Victorian times. By the time of her death in June 1878, Victoire had founded eight other Nazareth Houses in England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland. Since then, her vision spread across the globe with Nazareth Houses opening in Africa, Australia, and America. At its peak, there were 68 Nazareth Houses globally, all caring for young and old.  Today, there are 31 Nazareth Houses in operation today, and our ministries to the children and elderly continue.

This month, we commemorate the 140th anniversary of the arrival of the first five Sisters of Nazareth to the African Continent. On 7 September 1882, five Sisters left England at the invitation of Bishop John Leonard, Vicar of the Cape of Good Hope, to establish a home for “orphaned and incurable children” in Cape Town. The long and perilous sea journey on board the ship Pretoria brought them to Table Bay on 28 September 1882. Yet, they had to remain on board for some time as there was an outbreak of smallpox in the town.

Above: The very first Nazareth House in Cape Town was in a disused candle factory, located in Roeland Street.

Above: One of the first elderly residents in Nazareth House Cape Town. 

The Sisters of Nazareth were warmly welcomed by the Dominican Sisters and took over the running of St Bridget’s Orphanage from them in Buitenkant Street, renaming it Nazareth House.   After a couple of years, this building became too small for the growing number of children being admitted.  So, Bishop Leonard helped the Sisters to move into a larger property – a disused candle factory in Roeland Street, not far from St Mary’s Cathedral.   He even raffled his horse in order to provide the funds for a wall to be built around the children’s playground to keep them safe!  Gradually the number of children, and later frail elderly, increased and in 1902 the foundation stone of the present Nazareth House in Vredehoek was laid. Since then, over 7000 children and 2000 elderly residents have found a home in our Nazareth House Cape Town.

Above: The babies nursery at Nazareth House.

Above: Sewing class at Nazareth House.

Above: Boys music band at Nazareth House.

Many Sisters have lived, worked, and died here in Cape Town, striving to uphold the core values of the Sisters of Nazareth: love, justice, hospitality, respect, patience, and compassion. Becoming a fully professed Sister of Nazareth takes at least seven to eight years. During this time, she learns to deepen her prayer life and to live in community. She also studies more about the Congregation, as well as the Catholic Church.   She will minister alongside the professed Sisters and gradually discern her future field of professional training, be it nursing, social work, childcare, administration, etc.  It is a time of deep reflection, growth, grace, and, most importantly, joy. This joy is expressed by Sister Chitondezyo when she talks about the elderly residents of Nazareth House: “They have taught me to be more patient and loving, always sharing words of encouragement; live your life to the fullest when you are still young and active, be content with what you have, keep smiling and don’t have any regrets when you are old. They know what is ahead of us and I find joy listening to them. It is a blessing working with the elderly.”

Above: The early Sisters of Nazareth

Gradually, the Sisters opened other Nazareth Houses in South Africa and Zimbabwe.  Unfortunately, two have now closed: Kimberley in 2001 and Elsies River in 2021.  However, our Nazareth Houses in Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, Johannesburg, Durban, Pretoria, and Harare, as well as our mission at Fourteen Streams near Kimberley, are still very much in operation, thanks to our strong partnership with Nazareth Care who are now managing the business side of things.  We keep before us the maxim: “Mission leads Business, but Mission needs Business”.  

Today, as we celebrate this precious milestone, we would like to echo the words of Sister Mirriam Nduta: “I would like to thank all at Nazareth Care in all our Nazareth Houses for their dedication in ensuring that what was started by the Sisters continues to flourish. We thank you for your hard work. God bless you all.”

Nazareth Care will be hosting a gala dinner in celebration of the Congregation of the Sisters of Nazareth in Africa on the 28th of October, if you would like to attend, please book your seat below.

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