Early Beginnings

Source:  Called to Serve Marie Thérèse Retout O.P.

The French Congregation of Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena of Etrépagny was founded in 1854 in the village of Bonnay in the province of Burgundy, France.

The congregation had its beginnings in the desire of three sisters – Louise, Eugénie and Marie Agnés Bonnardel – to serve the poor and to live life as vowed religious.  They approached the bishop of the diocese, Monsignor de Marguerye, who contacted the Dominican Sisters of a monastery in Chalon and asked them to receive the sisters into their community for a period of three months in order to initiate them into the religious life.  They went to Chalon towards the end of 1851 and upon completion of their initiation returned to Bonnay to supervise the construction of a convent-school which was needed there at that time.  The sisters remained in contact with their Novice Mistress at the Chalon Monastery, Sr. Dominic of the Cross Gand.

Facade of Etrepagny, Chapel

On February 10, 1853 Monsignor de Marguerye accepted the three Bonnardel Sisters into the Dominican Third Order.  The tradition of the Third Order allows for the blending of a contemplative life with active apostolic work.  The three sisters were allowed to wear a religious habit and to accept postulants.  One year later, the Bonnay foundation had five postulants.  At the request of the bishop, Mother Dominic of the Cross travelled to Bonnay for one month in March 1854 to assist the fledgling community.  She returned to Bonnay again on April 20 1854 to prepare the postulants to receive the religious habit.  The ceremony took place on May 5, 1854 and Monsignor de Marguerye acceded to the wish of the sisters to place their congregation under the patronage of St. Catherine of Siena.

The Inner Garden at Etrepagny

The task of leadership proved to be too much for Louise Bonnardel and so, following appeals to the bishop, the community at the Chalon monastery was asked to release Mother Dominic so that she could move to Bonnay permanently.  This request was granted on October 2, 1854 and Mother Dominic of the Cross returned to Bonnay for good.  On October 10 she was canonically instituted as Prioress of the community.  On May 14, 1855 the Bonnardel sisters made their religious profession and Bishop de Marguerye instituted a council comprising Mother Dominic of the Cross, Prioress and Novice Mistress and the three Bonnardel sisters as counsellors.

Mother St. Dominic of the Cross

Mother Dominic of the Cross with the support of a young Dominican Friar, Fr. François Balme wrote the Constitutions of the Congregation and on May 5, 1858, the first draft was approved by the Master General of the Dominican Order.  It was approved by the Bishop of Autun Monsignor de Marguerye on February 2, 1859.  On July 28, 1859 the community was declared a Congregation under the name and patronage of St. Catherine of Siena.  Final approval of the Constitutions of the Congregation was received from the Holy See on August 15, 1890.

Former Mother House at Etrepagny, France

In 1882, the Congregation established a new Mother-house at Etrépagny in the region of Normandy, France.