Renée Ernestine Françoise (Sister Josephine) Potard was born on February 25, 1822, in Bartheleme, France, the daughter of wealthy landowners. She was admitted to the convent conducted by the Sisters of the Holy Cross at Le Mans on April 13, 1846. While in the novitiate she was called to go to Indiana on foreign mission work. When the student infirmary was built, she became one of the nursing staff and subsequently developed into an expert nurse. She made her perpetual vows as Sister Joseph on August 6, 1857. In 1870 she volunteered for missionary work in Texas. After the Civil War the city of Nacogdoches invited the Holy Cross Sisters to reopen Nacogdoches University during Reconstruction. In April 1871 the convent was moved to Nacogdoches and a school was opened in the abandoned building. Sister Joseph was sent from the motherhouse in Notre Dame to Nacogdoches to teach. In 1874 the convent moved to Clarksville, but Sister Joseph chose to remain among the Spanish-speaking people of Nacogdoches. She changed her name to the feminine Sister Josephine. For the final twenty years of her life, she labored alone for her church in the Nacogdoches area. After the convent moved the Masons prepared to assume the operation of Nacogdoches University, but the lodge gave Sister Josephine permission to teach in one room of the college building until the room was needed. In 1878 she bought a house and lot on South Street in which she conducted her school. At her death the house was willed to Rev. P. J. Hurth, C.S.C., President of St. Edward's College in Austin. In 1880 she left her home in Nacogdoches to move to the Moral community to care for the Spanish-speaking Catholic families in the area. She lived the remainder of her life among these families, taught school in the church building, and ministered to the physical and spiritual needs of the community. One Texas bishop said she did more and better missionary work than any man could do. In 1893 when age and infirmities had weakened her, she at last consented to go to St. Joseph's Infirmary in Houston for treatment. She died on April 27, 1893. Hurth brought her remains to St. Edward's College in Austin for burial. A simple cross, erected by the sisters of St. Mary's Academy in 1926, marks her grave.
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The Handbook of Texas Women project has its own dedicated website and resources.
Evelyn M. Carrington, ed., Women in Early Texas (Austin: Pemberton Press, 1975). Southern Messenger, July 16, 1936.
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
Carolyn Reeves Ericson,
“Potard, Renee Ernestine Francoise [Sister Josephine],”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed May 19, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Original Publication Date:
June 1, 1995
Most Recent Revision Date:
April 30, 2019
This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: