Celebrating a Centennial of Shared Mission and Vision in Japan

Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur in Japan with students

In July 1924, six Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, led by Sister Marie Claire Leahy, SNDdeN, embarked from San Francisco to Okayama to oversee a school for young women despite the Sisters’ limited knowledge of Japanese culture. They aimed to dedicate themselves to religious life, evangelization and education, as guided by Julie Billiart. At the time of their arrival, Japan was facing social and economic upheaval due to the 1923 Tokyo earthquake. They encountered difficulties in student recruitment due to the school’s reputation, aging infrastructure and financial constraints.

Sister Marie Claire, SNDdeN sought assistance from the Massachusetts Province to revitalize the school, while the Sisters in Japan enhanced the curriculum, earning recognition for academic excellence.

Sisters Aimee Julie (Louise Koppenhafer), Frances Helena (Agnes Comber), Marie Claire (Elizabeth Leahy), Marie Raymond (Margaret Mary Lane), Marie Lucilla (Ellen Mulvaney) and Agnes St. John (Agnes Donnelly), SNDdeN. 

Global Crisis: World War II and Post‑War Resilience

Sister Mary Koska, SNDdeN, an American Sisters who returned to Japan in 1946 after the war.

With the outbreak of World War II in 1941, the Sisters faced adversity. They were confined to house arrest and later interned in a hostile camp, yet managed to maintain their faith with limited freedoms. Despite suspicions, they continued their educational duties, facing hardships such as food scarcity while caring for boarding students.

After the war, seven American Sisters returned to rebuild the school, earning admiration for their commitment to education from the government and locals. The Notre Dame institution flourished, fostering enduring bonds between Japanese and American Sisters, strengthening their shared vision.

American Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur standing with their students
American Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur standing with their students after their post-war return to Japan.

Growth of a Province

From 1947 to 1956, additional American Sisters joined, leading to Japan’s eventual independence as a Province in 1975. New convents and schools were established, contributing to Japan’s post-war reconstruction.

Today, the Notre Dame legacy endures, with numerous schools and a growing community of Japanese Sisters continuing the Mission established a century ago.

Learn more about the 100 years of the Sisters of Notre Dame in Japan

Read Sowing Goodness – Summer 2024

Read more stories from our summer magazine about the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur from the East-West Province, who are bonded in heart and spirit and strong in shared vision.