Mother Marie Louise De Meester and history of ICM Sisters
Mount Carmel Church Mariapuram

Mother Marie Louise De Meester and history of ICM Sisters

Mother Marie Louise De Meester
Mother Marie Louise De Meester during mission journey
Mother Marie Louise De Meester with kids
Marie Louise De Meester with other Sisters

Marie Louise De Meester was born in Roeselare, Belgium, on April 8, 1857. As a teenager, De Meester studied to become a teacher and proved to be a competent and kind teacher who was admired and respected by her students. She then decided to leave the school where she taught to be able to serve the poor. On May 4, 1881, she dedicated her life to God in the Monastery of the Regular Canonesses of St. Augustine at Ieper, Belgium, to fulfill her calling. In this community, she received much encouragement in her great love for the missions.

In the 1880s the abbey received an appeal from a Catholic priest in the city of Mulagumudu, Tamil Nadu, India, for help in administering an orphanage, to care for orphans and abandoned children. De Meester felt that this was an opportunity to serve for which she had longed. With the permission of her superiors she left Belgium, accompanied only by an enthusiastic volunteer novice of the community, and set sail for India. Her companion was Dame Marie Ursule, a novice of that same monastery. They arrived in India on November 7, 1897. The pair arrived there, only to find that the priest had died during their journey. Though she lacked the understanding and support of the local bishop, Mother Louise and her companion took charge of the orphanage and began to care for the children it housed.

To find support in their work, new members of the community were recruited, including local women. To allow for the formation of a sustainable community, De Meester saw that separation from Belgium was needed, otherwise candidates would have to travel to Europe for their religious formation as members of the Order. As a result, in 1897 she established a new religious institute called the Missionary Canonesses of St. Augustine.

After establishing missions and schools in India, at the request of the Superior General of the Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (the Scheut Fathers), in 1910 Pope Pius X approved having the Missionary Canonesses work with the Belgian missionary priests in their work in the Philippines. De Meester enthusiastically set out for that nation, accompanied by three companions, Mother Marie Charles, Mother Marie Vincent, and Mother Marie Adeltrude, arriving in Manila on 10 June of that year. From there they traveled to the town of Tagudin, Ilocos Sur, arriving on 21 June, being warmly welcomed by the populace and led to their home in an abandoned friary in the town. They opened St. Augustine's School in the basement of the convent that following 4 July and began to teach, with 225 children enrolled the very first day. That enrollment rose to 300 within a month. De Meester shared the chores of the small community, teaching the children and caring for the house, as well as carrying out her responsibility for the young Congregation.

From that small start, the Missionary Canonesses founded what became Saint Theresa's College Manila at San Marcelino in 1915, soon followed by schools and colleges around the nation, including Saint Theresa's College of Quezon City, Saint Theresa's College of Baguio City, and Saint Theresa's College of Cebu City. After the Philippines, foundations were established in China, the United States, the Belgian Congo.

From India De Meester established new communities of canonesses in the Philippines (1910), the West Indies (1914), the United States (1919), in Congo, (1920), and China (1923).

De Meester returned to Belgium in 1923. After an active missionary life filled with joys as well as with sufferings and trials, always strengthened by a deep intimacy with God, Mother Marie Louise died peacefully in Louvain on October 10, 1928.

To advance its missionary objectives further, the congregation formalized its affiliation with the Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (CICM), also known as the Scheut Fathers of Belgium in 1963. Since then, the congregation has been known as the Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (Immaculati Cordis Mariae - ICM).

The canonesses established new communities in Burundi (1944), Hong Kong (1953), Taiwan (1959), Guatemala, (1964), Brazil (1965), Cameroon (1969), Haiti (1977), Lebanon, (1987), Mongolia (1995), and Chad (1996). Today the Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary serve in Belgium, Brazil, Burundi, Cameroun, the Caribbean, Congo, Guatemala, Hong Kong, India, Italy, Mongolia, the Philippines, South Africa, Taiwan and the United States, etc.

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