In 1863 five Sisters of St. Mary of Namur opened the order's first American house in Lockport, New York. By 1873 Irish sister Mary Angela and her companions, their white guimpes black with train soot, arrived in Waco, Texas, where they founded Sacred Heart Academy. The order was started in the chaotic aftermath of the French Revolution at Namur, Belgium, in 1819, when Cistercian father Nicholas J. Minsart invited young Josephine Sana and Elizabeth Berger to teach Christian doctrine and lace-making to neglected parish children. Others joined them, but both women died soon after, not knowing that they had begun a religious congregation. Under Mother Claire, considered a cofounder, the Sisters of St. Mary of Namur spread over Belgium, to the United States, and to Canada, England, Scotland, Africa, and Brazil. The convent of the Sisters of St. Mary was built in 1910 by Marshall R. Sanguinet for Our Lady of Victory College. Our Lady of Victory Elementary School was built on the grounds in 1952. A building for the retired and an infirmary was built on the grounds in 1988 and named Our Lady of Victory Center. The order opened a new, smaller convent in the mid-1980s, and the collected relics of the older convent were auctioned off in 1991.
Between 1893 and 1912 the sisters built seven large boarding and day academies in Texas. Three were in the Red River Valley-St. Xavier's, Denison; St. Joseph's, Sherman; and the Academy of Mary Immaculate, Wichita Falls. Others were St. Ignatius, Fort Worth; Our Lady of Good Counsel and St. Edward's, Dallas; and Our Lady of Victory Academy and College, a five-story building on twenty-one acres outside Fort Worth, later to become the provincialate and novitiate for the province. These institutions prospered and were known for excellent scholastic, artistic, and cultural training. Many ranchers, and families in rural towns without good schools, sent their daughters to the sisters during the school year. The sisters also welcomed children of immigrants from Mexico at mission schools-St. Francis, Waco; Guadalupe, Wichita Falls; and San José, Fort Worth.
In 1956 Mother Theresa Weber, provincial superior, having built a new elementary school at Our Lady of Victory College, interested the diocese and prominent laymen in moving the college to Dallas. Its faculty now included exiled Cistercian priests from Hungary (see CISTERCIAN FATHERS). Both Cistercians and Namur sisters still teach at the University of Dallas. The next twenty years saw the end of the boarding academies. The high schools moved to new "coinstitutional" schools-Nolan in Fort Worth; Bishop Dunne in Dallas; and Notre Dame in Wichita Falls. The Denison academy closed, but the Sherman school continued in a new building as St. Mary's grade school. Sacred Heart in Waco had closed in 1946. Afterward, sisters moved into new ministries as diocesan school supervisors, vocation directors, and workers in various parish ministries; originators of programs such as the international Beginning Week-End, for those who have lost a spouse through death or divorce; Cassata Learning Center in Fort Worth, for high school dropouts; and Casa Esperanza houses in Houston, for abused mothers and children. The Sisters of St. Mary are still committed to Christian education through programs for adults and through service in schools that offer training from kindergarten through college.