The Sisters of Nazareth in Africa

In 1881, a small group of Sisters arrived in South Africa at the invitation of the Bishop of Cape Town. Their mission was to care for indigent elderly and orphaned children. Today, more than a hundred years later, Nazareth House South Africa still provides a caring and compassionate haven for. the most vulnerable members of our society. Assisted by lay administrative and nursing staff, and a small army of volunteers, the Sisters of Nazareth continue to uphold the core values of Victoire Larmenier, which are as timeless as humanity: justice, patience, love, respect, compassion and hospitality. Throughout Nazareth House Africa’s rich history there have been numerous visitors including politicians, human rights activists and well known celebrities. Some of the highlights included visits from Nelson Mandela in 1998 and Tony Blair in 1999.

Our Legacy


We, the Sisters of Nazareth, aim to share the love of God through our ministries of care and education and our openness to respond to the needs of the times. 

From the late 1850s, our ministries as Sisters of Nazareth are carried out in many ways across the world, always reflecting our Mission Statement and Core Values. 

The five Regions we operate across, in our Nazareth Houses include America, Australasia, Ireland, Southern Africa and the UK. 

Our work involves: 

– Care for older people in nursing and residential Homes – our main focus in all our Regions – and in care villages, providing flexible support for assisted living. 

– Care for children and young people of all ages, from babies in South Africa, through nursery schools in England and Wales and high schools in other Regions. 

– Other Ministries according to the needs of the local area. 

– Clinics and food programmes in South Africa. 

We run ‘Mission Alive’ programmes to help all people involved in Nazareth Houses to help them understand and reflect our Mission and Core Values in their daily activities. All those who work and live in Nazareth Houses are invited to share the vision of  Victoire Larmenier. We need YOU to help us pass on the spirit which animated those early pioneers.


The Sisters of Nazareth roots can be traced back to 1851 when Victoire Larmenier, a young novice in Rennes, France was sent to England.

Foundress and 1st Superior General

Victoire Larmenier was born on 21st July 1827 at Liffré, near Rennes which is the capital of Brittany in France. Her father was a marine carpenter and wood trader, and the family lived comfortably in a small hamlet on the fringe of the Liffré state forest. She was educated at the village school until her early teens. After the death of her father in 1838, and the re-marriage of her mother a few years later, she was sent as a boarder to the Ursuline convent at Vitré. There she received a sound secondary education with some emphasis on commercial subjects. After leaving school she worked in Liffré at her step-father’s tailoring business as a secretary and book-keeper. Working in Rennes in 1845 Victoire left home and set up a small haberdashery business in Rennes. Her shop was in the parish of Toussaints in the poorest part of the town. It was here that her religious vocation developed under the influence of Father Gandon, one of the curates.

The Little Sisters of the Poor had recently established a house for the care of the elderly poor in Rennes, and Victoire became acquainted with them and their work. Saint Jeanne Jugan, their foundress, was in Rennes during this time and worshipped at Toussaints. Victoire was much influenced by the commitment to the poor of the Toussaints clergy and the Rennes Little Sisters of the Poor. With Father Gandon’s encouragement, Victoire gave up her successful business and entered the Paris novitiate of the Little Sisters of the Poor in February 1851.

London Foundation

After a few months in the novitiate Victoire and a party of four Sisters were sent from Rennes to start a foundation in London. This was in response to a request from the London branch of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, strongly supported by Cardinal Wiseman, first Archbishop of Westminster. Within a few months she was appointed Superior. The foundation community, despite its lack of resources, gradually gathered poor old people into its care.

First Nazareth House

After three moves in central and west London, the Sisters eventually managed to build the first Nazareth House at Hammersmith, which opened in October 1857. By this time, the Sisters were also caring for poor and infirm children, greatly supported by Father Claude Bernin.

Sisters of Nazareth Established

In 1861, the Holy See allowed the Hammersmith community to separate from the Little Sisters of the Poor as an independent pious society of laywomen. After three years the London sisters were recognised as a diocesan religious community under the title Sisters of Nazareth.

Within a short period, the mission had extended and houses were opened in Aberdeen, Scotland in 1862; Cardiff, Wales in 1872 and Belfast, Northern Ireland in 1876. Under the leadership of Victoire a total of eight Nazareth Houses were founded in England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland.

In June 1878 Victoire Larmenier died leaving behind the strong roots that she had established.

Continue Growth and Notable Events

he Congregation continued to expand, this time globally. It was in 1882 that the first Nazareth House in South Africa was founded, in Cape Town. In 1888 the first house opened in Australia, in Ballarat and in 1905 the first was opened in Christchurch in New Zealand. The first presence in America was in 1924, in San Diego, followed in 1937 by a house in Harare, Zimbabwe. The houses were organised into regions in the 1960’s.

More information on the history of Sisters of Nazareth and Victoire Larmenier can be found in the book Victoire Larmenier: Spirit and Vision.

Our Mission

We, the Sisters of Nazareth, aim to share the love of God through our ministries of care and education and our openness to respond to the needs of the times.

“Whatsoever you do to the least of my people you do to me.” –  Matt.25:40″

Our Core

The Sisters of Nazareth are led by 6 Core Values. We endeavour to live out the Gospel and our Core Values in everything we do. These values give the Nazareth Houses and all our ministries their special spirit. 



Love motivated the care provided to the old and the young by Victoire Larmenier.

“Let your love for each other be real and from the heart.” – 1 Peter 1:22

Unselfish concern for the good of others is shown through patience, kindness, trust, hope, endurance, truth and a strong affection.


Victoire Larmenier was fair and impartial with everyone, even when people or issues were difficult or challenging.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice for they shall be satisfied.” – Matt 5:6

We uphold what is fair, decent, respecting his/her rights in a balanced and fair manner.


Victoire Larmenier welcomed everyone in a spirit of friendship and acceptance.

I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” – Matt 25:37

We welcome and receive all into a warm friendly and open atmosphere.


Victoire Larmenier showed consideration, appreiation and regard for the rights, values and beliefs of all.

As often as you did it to one of these….you did it to me.” – Matt 25:40

The unique dignity of each person is held in high esteem and with special consideration. Without exception, we show thoughtfulness, courtesy and care.


Victoire Larmenier showed compassion by seeking to relieve the suffering of those with whom she came in contact.

Be compassionate as your heavenly Father is compassionate.” – Luke 6:36

Being open and attentive to the whole person, spiritually, physically and emotionally, we show empathy for the suffering of others and try to relieve that suffering.


Victoire Larmenier was an example of patience to all who knew her. She encountered and overcame amazing difficulties.

Blessed are the gentle for they shall possess the earth.” –  Matt 5:5

In all circumstances we persevere calmly with understanding and endurance.

The Life of
The Sisters

A vocation is a gift from God which has the commitment made at baptism as its foundation.

In 1851 Victoire Larmenier, a young Sister from Rennes, France, was sent to England and six years later founded the first Nazareth House in Hammersmith, London. Since then the Congregation has expanded throughout the world, and now has a presence in five regions.

The Congregation of the Sisters of Nazareth worldwide is governed by the Superior General and the General Council who are elected by the General Chapter and oversee the operation of the Congregation.

The Sisters of Nazareth model their lives on the Holy Family of Nazareth: Jesus, Mary and Joseph professing the three Vows of Poverty, Chastity and Obedience. They live the Rule of Saint Augustine placing high importance on prayer and community living.

The Sisters of Nazareth aspire to live the Congregation’s core values of Love, Compassion,Patience, Respect, Justice and Hospitality. These values are shared by all who are part of the Nazareth Community.


The Sisters follow the Rule of Saint Augustine. The two themes running through the Rule are charity and community. Prayer is at the heart of community life of the Sisters.

“Where two or three are gathered in My name I am there in their midst.” – Matthew 18: 19-20

The celebration of Holy Mass is the central act of communal worship each day. The Divine Office is prayed in common at the canonical hours throughout the day.

Communities also have a regular Holy Hour of adoration before the Blessed Sacrament, daily recitation of the Rosary, and time for personal prayer in private moment, in which an intimate relationship with the Lord is nurtured.


The Sisters model their lives on the humble house of Nazareth where Jesus lived with Mary and Joseph.

“For as in one body we have many members, and all the members do not have the same function, so we, though many, are on body in Christ, and individually members one of another.” – Romans 12: 4-5

The Sisters strive to live together in unity, peace, charity and joy. In their community life the Sisters live out the charism of the Congregation under the guidance of an appointed Superior. The spirit of care, trust and friendship both strengthens the unity of each community and enables the Sisters to faithfully engage in ministry


The Sisters ministry is the external sign of their love and commitment to the Lord in their vowed life.

“Go out to the whole world; proclaim the Good News to all creation.” –  Mark 16: 16

Every Sisters God-given gifts and talents are used in the various ministries carried out by the Congregation. The Tree of Life demonstrates the diversity of ministries carried out by the Sisters.

Servant leadership and the core values of patience, hospitality, compassion, respect, justice and love are the guiding principles of ministry. In lives committed to communion and mission the Sisters grow into their full potential and contribute to the human flourishing of themselves.

Ministries within the congregation

Serving the needs of the poor and suffering has been the focus of Sisters of Nazareth since the order was founded in 1857. The focus remains the same but modern challenges has required new ways of meeting the needs of the 21st century.


The Sisters witness to the presence of God in their lives by the love, joy, and peace of their communities.

“By this shall all men know that you are My disciples if you have love for one another.” –  John 13: 35

The Sisters witness to the love of God by their service of care, compassion, and hospitality to all. Through this they touch the lives of others with love of Christ.

The distinctive habit or dress worn by the Sisters along with their emblem is a sign of their consecration and services as a witness to all of their chosen way of life.

Victoire Larmenier Story

Victoire Larmenier was born on the 21st July 1827 in Liffré, a small woodland farming community near Rennes, the capital of Brittany, in Northern France. She had a brother, Pierre, and three sisters, Hortense, Clarisse and Céleste. From her early life in rural France to moving to London with the Little Sisters of the Poor, Victoire followed her calling to help vulnerable people living in poverty and isolation. Her commitment led to the founding of the Sisters of Nazareth. This section explores the life of Victoire and the legacy that lives on within each Sister of Nazareth today.

Victoire's Early Life

During Victoire’s childhood, France was a place of political turmoil, undergoing a series of revolutions that began in 1789, leading eventually to the abolition of the Catholic Monarchy. 

Victoire was educated at the village school. The Catholic Church would have played a major part in her life, as would housework and adventures in the forests around her home. Victoire’s childhood was marked by the deaths of loved ones, first her sister, Céleste, and later her father when she was eleven years old. Her mother remarried and Victoire was sent to board at the nearby Ursuline convent school in Vitré. 

After leaving school, Victoire worked as a secretary and bookkeeper for her stepfather’s tailoring business, then set up her own haberdashery shop in a poor part of Rennes. There she met Father Gandon, a priest at the local parish of Toussaints, and the Little Sisters of the Poor, all of whom carried out charitable works in the area.

Entering Religious Life

Inspired by the work of the Little Sisters of the Poor to alleviate poverty in Rennes, Victoire gave up her haberdashery business to join them. She entered their Novitiate and received the habit on the 25th March 1851. Victoire was given the name Sister Saint Basil, after Saint Basil who had a great devotion to the poor and to the service of the marginalised, as well as a love of community life, prayer and manual labour. 

In the same year, Cardinal Wiseman, the newly appointed Archbishop of Westminster, became increasingly concerned about the dire poverty in London. He asked Mr Charles Pagliano, President of the London Conference of the Saint Vincent de Paul Society, to invite the Little Sisters of the Poor to London to work with the elderly poor. Both he and his wife, Mary, welcomed and supported this initiative. Mother Marie Thérèse de Jesus, the first Assistant to the Superior General, and Mother Adelaide Marie were sent to London by their Superior. They were accompanied by three novices, Flavie Chevrollier, Thérèse Collotte, and Victoire Larmenier. As novices they were given the names Sister Mary Gonzaga, Sister Mary of the Cross and Sister Saint Basil, respectively.

Arriving in London

On the 10th April 1851, the five Sisters arrived from rural France to a busy industrial London. The city was swept up in the splendour and excitement of the Great Exhibition of 1851, a world fair in Hyde Park, showcasing advances in industry and the British Empire. Despite this jubilation, many people were suffering from extremes of poverty. 

After just six weeks in London, Mother Marie Thérèse de Jesus grew ill and returned to France with Mother Adelaide Marie. Victoire was put in charge of the London Sisters due, no doubt, to her leadership qualities. 

Anti-Catholic feelings in London and the Sisters’ limited knowledge of English made it difficult for them to collect money for their mission. However, they received support from the Saint Vincent de Paul Society, with Mr Pagliano paying the rent for their small house in Brook Green, near Hammersmith. When Victoire had to find larger accommodation, the only house that the Sisters could afford turned out to be in a very anti-Catholic area at 16 Great Windmill Street, London, where stones were often thrown at the windows. 

Despite hardship, the Sisters slowly established their mission and adapted to life in London. With the help of friends, they began to settle into their new home and adapt to the British culture. 

Over time, the Sisters in London developed a different way of life from the Sisters in France. The eventual outcome was the separation of these two groups of religious women.

The First Nazareth House

The land that the current Nazareth House in Hammersmith stands on was purchased in June 1856. By February 1857, the architect, Mr Blount, had designed the building and the foundation stone was laid. The house cost £15,000 to build, a huge amount of money at that time. The builder, Mr Bird, a Catholic, understood the Sisters’ financial situation so he did not ask for the final amount until they were able to pay. Three Sisters were sent to Ireland with the difficult task of begging for money for the building. They were so successful that enough money was sent back to Hammersmith for the building work to continue uninterrupted. Many people known to the Sisters donated to the cause, including Victoire’s and other Sisters’ families, Cardinal Wiseman, and Caroline Hicks who later joined the Sisters and was given the name Sister Mary of Jesus. 

Throughout this time of financial uncertainty, Victoire remained strong in her faith, trusting totally in Divine Providence that the money for the building would come. She was also clear that housing the residents was the priority so the chapel was not built until the residents were settled and more funds had been collected. 

The Sisters and their residents moved into Nazareth House in October 1857. During the early days they were supported by many people. Father Bernin, who had been appointed Chaplain and Superior to the community by Cardinal Wiseman, became a dear friend to Victoire and her Sisters. He donated money and developed a small plot of land to grow vegetables for the residents. The Duke of Norfolk donated a carriage to the Sisters, who previously had no means of transport.

The Early Life at Nazareth House

Begging was often the only way the Sisters could support the poor and homeless. Sometimes they suffered verbal and physical attacks when collecting and would frequently return empty handed. The early Sisters also had to contend with hard physical work in caring for their residents while living on poverty themselves. They would often eat the food left over from residents’ meals, coffee grains were used and reused and, when space was short, the Sisters would give up their own rooms to sleep on straw mattresses in corridors.

from the very beginning, the Sisters cared for people regardless of their religion or belief. the first resident, Margaret Chambers, was a Protestant and arrived at the house in Brook Green on Monday 14th April 1851, four days after the Sisters arrived.

The public came to appreciate the good work of the Sisters to alleviate poverty and suffering, and as a result donations began to increase. ‘In time, the children who were orphaned or in need were also cared for by the Sisters. By 1891, there were 60 Sisters, 250 children and 200 elderly people living at the Hammersmith site. It is said that up to 1900 people came every day from all over London to recieve free soup.

Becoming a Congregation

Gradually, the Sisters in Hammersmith developed an identity distinct from that of the Little Sisters of the Poor in France. In 1861, after protracted and difficult negotiations, the Holy See allowed the Hammersmith Sisters to separate from the Little Sisters of the Poor and to become an independent community. 

Seeing the success of the Nazareth House in Hammersmith, the Sisters were invited to open a House in Aberdeen (Scotland) in 1862. Sister Mary of Jesus set out with five Sisters including Sister Gonzaga and Sister Mary of the Sacred Heart, Victoire’s cousin. Further requests from Bishops followed and the Sisters continued to expand, opening houses in Cardiff (Wales), Southend, Oxford, Northampton, Nottingham (England) and Belfast (Ireland). All of these houses were opened in Victoire’s lifetime. Later, expansion continued into South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, America and Zimbabwe. 

The journey towards becoming a distinct Congregation was a lengthy one and involved Victoire and Sister Mary of the Nativity in visits to Rome. On 23rd December 1890, twelve years after Victoire’s death, the Roman Decree of Final Approval and Confirmation was granted.

Victoire's Legacy

Victoire died on Trinity Sunday, 16th June in 1878. That year the feast of Saint Basil, after whom she was named, was held on 14th June. Although ill, she was happy to be able to celebrate the feast one last time. She was in great pain but began the day by receiving Holy Communion and even managed to sing a hymn that evening. 

By the time of Victoire’s death, the Sisters of Nazareth had expanded their charitable works to eight houses, in Scotland, Wales and what is now Northern Ireland. One of the locations chosen was Southend-on-Sea where the elderly, children and Sisters could benefit from the sea air. 

Victoire had been a strong leader and her death was a heavy blow to the Sisters. From the early days of the Congregation, her unwavering commitment and deep spirituality inspired those around her. A Sister who knew Victoire well wrote that, ‘there was one thing that struck me very much and that was her attitude in prayer; it was reverential; it made me think that she felt with her whole heart and soul that she was in the real presence of Our Blessed Lord in the Most Holy Sacrament.’

‘…she felt with her whole heart and soul that she was in the real presence of Our Blessed Lord in the Most Holy Sacrament. She always seemed to me to have the spirit of prayer in a very high degree ’
A Sister of Nazareth in Victoire’s time.

Charism and Mission

Victoire developed a way of living that was based on the life of the Holy Family. At its heart there was a profound trust in the love of God and a desire to love and serve the poor and needy. The Rule that gave shape to the Sisters’ living of the vows of Poverty, Chastity and Obedience was and is the Rule of Saint Augustine, the oldest monastic Rule in the Western Church. Community harmony and a love of God and neighbour are the central principles. Father Bernin’s Marist spirituality would have helped to develop this first Nazareth community, bringing to it a strong devotion to Mary. In her biography of Victoire, Sister Magdalen Ita summarises Victoire’s legacy saying that it was ‘essentially one of family love, based on the ideal of the Holy Family of Nazareth. It entailed a whole-hearted trust in the Providence of God, a loving acceptance of crosses, and faithfulness in prayer.’ 

After Victoire’s death, the second Superior General, Mother Mary of the Nativity, continued the work of Victoire, expanding the Sisters’ reach and presence across the globe, and working towards full Congregational status.

The Congregation Today

As Sisters of Nazareth, we continue the work that was started by Victoire Larmenier. From simple beginnings in Victorian London, our range of charitable works has increased as has our reach across the world. Today, we perform many ministries, as depicted in the ‘Tree of Life’, delivered through our core values of Love, Compassion, Patience, Respect, Justice and Hospitality. Today, these values, inspired by Victoire, are shared by the many individuals who work in Nazareth Houses around the world. 

Over the years of witnessing to our mission, the work of some of our Sisters has received special recognition by different groups and organisations.

La Maison de Larmenier

Since our foundation, the Sisters of Nazareth have been given many interesting gifts. Our collection includes relics of Saints, religious objects, items of significance, as well as souvenirs from the Holy Land or from Rome. Whilst some of the objects reflect our religious devotion, others show our connection to particular events such as Saint Pope John Paul II’s visit to the UK in 1981, when he stayed in Nazareth House, Manchester, and letters from Saint Teresa of Calcutta to a Sister. 

The gifts in this room have been donated. We are grateful to everyone who has contributed to this collection.


Almost twenty years after Victoire’s death Sister Mary of the Nativity wrote ‘Life of Mother Saint Basil’. She described Victoire’s early life, her arrival in England, the everyday lives of the Sisters and their struggles to finance their care of the poor. Little was said about the difficulties with Rennes and Rome, the development of the Congregation and Victoire’s thoughts and feelings. Apart from some unpublished ‘recollections’ by Victoire’s religious contemporaries, we have little other direct knowledge of her. 

In 1889, suffragist and devout Catholic, Alice Meynell, wrote a volume on the Sisters of Nazareth, illustrated by George Lambert. This book offers a unique glimpse into the lives of the early Sisters and those in their care. Further histories of Victoire and the Sisters of Nazareth were ‘Stories of Nazareth House’ by Josephine M Giblin in 1927 and Father William Lawson’s ‘History of the Congregation’ in 1982 which details Chapter meetings, community life and the final laying to rest of the remains of Victoire and Father Bernin at Nazareth House Hammersmith. 

In 1989, almost one hundred years after Sister Mary of the Nativity’s memoirs, Sister Magdalen Ita completed her biography, ‘Life of Mother Saint Basil: History of her Founding of the Religious Congregation of the Poor Sisters of Nazareth’. The work is open in its approach, and includes the struggles of religious women under the governance of clergy, the dispute with Rennes and the separation of the Sisters from the Little Sisters of the Poor. 

Thirty years on, in 2018, Peter Hughes and Eileen Pickard’s biography, ‘Victoire Larmenier: Spirit and Vision’ was published. The biography benefited from new research and a greater willingness to write openly about the spirit of the founding Sisters, their struggles to achieve Congregational identity and their legacy that lives on in today’s Congregation. This biography includes previously unavailable correspondence between Sisters, their Superiors and Rome. 

Other literature includes a brief biography of Sister Mary of the Nativity and, more recently, a collection of Victoire’s letters, memories and sayings, also by Eileen Pickard.