Sister Formation Movement and Marillac College, St. Louis

Marillac College students in class, 1960. Some twenty-five communities sent Sisters to Marillac and all took classes together (used with permission of Daughters of Charity Provincial Archives)

Marillac College students in class, 1960. Some twenty-five communities sent Sisters to Marillac and all took classes together (used with permission of Daughters of Charity Provincial Archives)

Forty years ago, Marillac College in St. Louis closed its doors and graduated its last class of Sister students. Marillac, begun in the late 1950s and located on the grounds of the provincial house of the former St. Louis Province, was unique in that it was a Sister Formation College. It combined a liberal arts education with the spiritual formation of young Sisters. A 1963 article in The SIGN Magazine described Marillac as:

“a nun’s place, a shining, modern $5.5 million place on a 180-acre estate where college life is lived to its fullest in a nun’s habit. In this sense Marillac is a college like any other, but it is also unique because of its position at the forefront of the Sister Formation Movement, which aims at improved training of nuns. Ultimately, some 170,000 U.S. nuns are involved in the consequences of the movement, as well as six million students in Catholic elementary and high schools who come under the influence of nuns in the classroom.

Marillac, aware of the stake and its role, prizes its sudden success as a new college whose first degrees were awarded only four years ago. Yet, it already has achieved accreditation with highest commendation from the North Central Association of Secondary Schools and Colleges, the same prestige accreditation accorded undergraduate studies at Chicago or Saint Louis Universities. Moreover, the Sacred Congregation for Religious in Rome has singled out the college for special praise.

Both accolades stem from Marillac’s pursuit of excellence under the aegis of the Sister Formation Movement, which came to the fore in the past ten years in response to directives from Pope Pius XII stressing the best possible training tailored for religious. Many orders established special college programs for their members, but the Daughters of Charity of St. Louis Province went a few giant steps further. They not only built Marillac for their own members but opened its classroom doors – free of charge – to religious communities throughout the country. Besides the 25 orders represented in the student body of 350, a cross-section of 15 different orders have members on the faculty.

… For Daughters of Charity, who comprise about two-thirds of the student body, Marillac provides a five-year program, with the novitiate year coming between freshman and sophomore years in the college. Students from other orders normally enter in sophomore year and live off campus in their own juniorates under the direction of a mistress. This enables the young nuns to maintain the distinctive spirit of their orders. Moreover, Marillac turns the nuns over to the rules of their respective orders every day between noon and three o’clock, producing a kaleidoscopic round of religious life, manifested in twenty-five different ways.”

After the College closed, the College grounds and buildings were sold to the University of Missouri-St. Louis. They are now used primarily for studies in the health sciences.

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2 Comments

Filed under Education, Formation, Ministries, Pius XII

2 responses to “Sister Formation Movement and Marillac College, St. Louis

  1. My sister, Sr. Margaret Quinn taught there for a while. When wanting to give an A to one of her students, Sr. Mary Quinn, she needed to get permission from the Dean. Sr. Bertrande Myers, one of the founders of the College had been Visitatrix and became a dear friend of our family when she visited Chicago. The Daughters of Charity have sure left their mark in many places worldwide.

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    • Yes, they have. Marillac College, and all the other Sister formation colleges of that era, trained a whole generation of women who went on to become leaders in their fields. Sister Bertrande asked a lot of the students at Marillac, but they came out very well trained – many Marillac alumnae have told us that graduate school was no problem for them because Marillac was so rigorous. Sr. Bertrande was President of Marillac College, but she was not Visitatrix – the Visitatrix from 1952-1962 was Sr. Bertrande’s close friend, Sr. Catherine Sullivan. After her term as Visitatrix, Sr. Catherine moved to Chicago and ran the vocation office for the St. Louis Province. Sr. Mary Rose McPhee (RIP) was Visitatrix in St. Louis from 1962 to 1974.

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