Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of April 25, 2005
Elegant convent honours Moye
Priest in rural France opened education's door to country girls
Blessed Jean Martin-Moye — May 4
By TED FITZGERALD
Special to the WCR
San Antonio, Texas
A prominent architect once commented that he had seen "perhaps the most beautiful cluster of buildings in the Southwest" at Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio. The elegant assemblage of spired buildings and stately oak trees is surpassed only by the English Gothic spire and pinnacles of the Conventual Chapel of the Sisters of Divine Providence, founders of this progressive centre of higher education.
Origins of the university go back to the 1730 birthplace of Jean-Martin Moye in Northern France. As a diocesan priest in rural Lorraine, he noticed that education and advancement were available only to some boys. The lot of most girls, until they were married, was one of working as illiterate field hands with little future in sight.
Sisters of Providence
A group of generous young women, recruited by Moye to travel to area villages and teach girls basic religion, reading and writing, were soon called by the townspeople the Sisters of Providence. From this providential beginning an organized teaching order was established in 1762. Eleven years later. Moye served a successful tour as a missionary in China, concentrating on conversions and education for young women there.
After he returned to France in 1784, his congregation of women religious was forced to flee to Germany during the French Revolution. He succumbed to typhus there in 1793. Later, major houses of the order were established in France and Belgium and in 1954, their visionary founder was beatified by Pope Pius XII. He is remembered each May 4, the anniversary of his death.
Faithful to the founder's counsel, "Leave everything for God and you will find everything in Him," Sisters St. Andrew Felton and Alphonse Boegler arrived in Texas in 1866 at the request of Bishop Claude Dubuis "to found everywhere rural schools for girls." Within 20 years, more than 20 schools had been founded from a base at Castroville and in 100 years, Sisters of Providence were teaching in 160 schools in seven states.
In 1886, the Texas congregation became independent of France and 10 years later, they moved to San Antonio where Our Lady of the Lake Academy was established. It is now a four-year liberal arts college specializing in the humanities, social services and education.
The 115-acre campus was a gift from city Mayor Henry Elmendorf whose name graces the little lake at the college entrance. From its position on Prospect Hill, the institution's spires are a familiar westend landmark.
Splendid art works
Principal buildings are Old Main which with the convent, flanks Sacred Heart Chapel. It's a real treat to visit the spacious wood-panelled foyers of both buildings and examine artistic portrayals on corridor walls of the congregation's founder.
In 1923, the acknowledged jewel of the university, Sacred Heart Conventual Church was completed, to form the centrepiece of the campus. Although it's open to the public, a tour with a convent resident provides a superior insight into the spectacular building.
The sanctuary is elaborately furnished with a multiple-spired gothic Carrara marble altar. A smaller, matching side-shrine/altar contains a marble statue of Blessed Jean-Martin Moye. Similar ornate chapels flanking the sanctuary are dedicated to the Sacred Heart and Our Lady.
The church is the venue for student liturgies and Saturday weddings, but daily Mass is celebrated more conveniently in one of two smaller chapels in the convent. Today, the congregation is active in ministries to the poor and excluded in nine states and Mexico. Many residents of the convent are retired or engaged in community service, always cognizant of their vow "I abandon myself to Divine Providence."
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