by Sister Monique-Marie Petit, SNDdeN and Mr. Patrick François*
In April 1812, in a letter to the superior
of the community in Saint Hubert, St. Julie writes:
“Everyone wants to come to Saint-Hubert.”
In August 1809, Saint Julie Billiart founded the school of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur (SNDdeN) in Saint Hubert, Belgium, at the request of the mayor of the city. At that time, three Sisters became the community and opened the school with two classes. Even though much has changed from the early years, the Institut Notre-Dame celebrates today over 200 years of life as an educational institution! In 1985, the Institut Notre Dame joined with the Institut of the Marist Brothers in a merger school called: the Fundamental and Secondary Free School of Saint Hubert (Ecole fondamentale et secondaire libre de Saint-Hubert). The number of students continues to increase, with 700 students now in the secondary school and 240 in the pre-school and elementary schools.
SNDdeN Presence in Disadvantaged Area
A city of 3500 inhabitants, in the middle of the Ardennes Forest in the province of Luxembourg, Saint Hubert is considered an economically deprived area in relationship to the two nearest cities. Many families live and survive, inspite of unemployment, thanks to the Public Center of Social Action. The student body, both in the secondary as well as in the pre-school and elementary grades, becomes more financially and socially disadvantaged from year to year. In the secondary school, more than one student in three is not able to pay the entrance fee in September. The young people, 32 girls and boys who are welcomed into the boarding residence are for the most part children from one-parent families, with emotional and financial problems. Practically one-third of those students depend on youth-aid services. In 2016, the secondary school opened a special class to educate children of new immigrants welcomed into the region.
Two retired Sisters, Sœurs Jeanne-Emmanuel Pairon and Marie-Clotilde Gilles, SNDdeN live in the building and bring ready assistance and a happy presence to the life of the school. Another SNDdeN, Sister Monique-Marie Petit, SNDdeN, is a member of the Board of Trustees. Today, at the heart of this school, is an oratory, a place of calm, prayer and reflection. Faculty, staff and students, faithful to St. Julie’s spirit, visit frequently this oratory. The directors in the different sections of the school are particularly sensitive to the educational values transmitted by Saint Julie: one director, Mr. Patrick François, belongs to the group of directors organized by the South Belgium/France Province whose goal is the implementation of Julie’s charism in our heritage schools, in our time.
In the pre-school and in the elementary school, a special effort is made to have the children eat the noon meal at school and also to have staffing for supervision/counselling for student-boarders. Offering this possibility demands a big investment of time and energy for supervision of the students by the teachers and brings peace, security and enjoyment for the children.
A major objective of the school is to educate the whole person and to help every young student to find his/her way and place in life. The administrators, faculty and staff welcome each child to the school, whatever may be his/her way, and allow each one to have new opportunities, and sometimes a third or fourth chance to succeed. These students, like all others, are “lifted up” to Christian values which motivate and guide the adults serving in the school. The full staff has the will to help the weakest and most deprived, which is a strong value inherent in this school. As a goal of our Notre Dame foundresses, this value inspires teachers and administrators to form these young people to the best of their abilities. Among other Notre Dame values, the school is a place of respect and welcome, an inclusive community where differences are lived out each day by students from different cities, town, social classes, and enrolled in different academic programs or options. Sharing and good relationships are born in exchanges among students and teachers from day to day.
In order to give the children in the early years more quiet spaces in their life and apprenticeships, a renovation of the buildings was undertaken in the summer of 2016. Now the pre-school and elementary classes are located in one large building, on a green and ventilated site. During recreation time for the elementary school, constructive activities take place in order to involve students and limit any conflicts. Also, the space reserved for games is more self-contained, with the yard divided into different zones: discussion, games, sports and ball games…etc. Consequently, the secondary school uses now the property from the elementary school which enables a greater cohesiveness for their sports teams.
Welcome and inclusion of students from a disadvantaged milieu becomes possible, thanks to creativity and the involvement of many people. To permit each student to pursue his/her studies and to have some materials involves great financial efforts at the school. The members of the Board of Trustees, administrators, teachers and the students organize lucrative activities to accomplish these ends/aims: fancy-fair, plays, sale of lasagna, etc. This is a challenge each year. The young people are aware of these charitable and disinterested actions in participating at gatherings for increasing funding sources. They learn to contribute to projects for fighting against leprosy or tuberculosis in the Third World, for animation in day nurseries or homes for the aged, and become involved in other service projects.
As a former student of the Institut Notre-Dame and the merged Institut Saint-Joseph, Sr. Monique-Marie realizes that this school has remained faithful to the educational values of Saint Julie and Marcellin Champagnat (Marist Brothers’ Founder). In spite of difficulties experienced, St. Julie’s spirit is active and alive daily in Saint Hubert: “Ah ! Qu’Il est bon le Bon Dieu.”
**Sister Monique-Marie Petit, SNDdeN is a Member of the Board of Trustees at Saint Hubert. Mr. Patrick François is Director of the first degree level at the school and also a member in the Association of French-speaking Congregational Schools in Belgium/France (ASSOEC)—See Good Works, June 2012, pp.12-14
Please show your support for the heritage schools carrying forward St. Julie’s legacy of education in disadvantaged areas.