The first inspiration of establishing the Congregation of the Holy Family
Patriarch Elias Howayek first thought of founding a national missionary religious Congregation for women the year 1870 when he entered the priesthood. As he visited the towns and villages, as priest and then as bishop, he could see how much poverty and neglect existed among the population, especially in remote areas. Finally the time came for him to realize the vision given to him by God of a work that would answer the needs of the people and of the Church.
Patriarch Elias Howayek believed that a female religious Congregation devoted to forming young girls was necessary for society to prosper and be preserved from neglect and ignorance; a young girl in his opinion was a future mother, and the mother is the heart and the soul of the family. It is she who raises up future priests, officials, military and police officers, teachers, farmers, merchants, and businessmen able to ensure a just and prosperous society. The family is the first to benefit from the education of young girls, and it follows that society also benefits. So Elias Howayek wanted to provide girls with all the education, know-how, and social skills, founded on humanitarian and Gospel values that they needed. This desire spurred him on to ensure that the new Congregation focused on giving young girls an education firmly fixed on values that would strengthen families and benefit all their members, the parents, the children, the teenagers, the elderly and the sick.
At this time in Lebanon there were only religious missionary Congregations focused on education in the large cities and towns. The need of a female missionary maronite Congregation of Antiochean Patriarchal obedience emerged to reach out the poor and isolated villages, something which represented a new initiative in the Maronite Church.
A providential meeting
Howayek's plans matured in 1893 following a meeting with Mother Rosalie Nasr, a Lebanese, and Sister Stephanie Kardoush, from Nazareth, both of whom had arrived from the Holy Land to establish a mission in Kfifan in Lebanon. Patriarch Howayek considered this meeting providential, particularly when Mother Rosalie agreed to the plan, provided the Church accepted her transfer from her previous community.
The Founder Patriarch revealed in one of his letters to the Sisters how the Lord had led him to be inspired by the verse from the Gospel according to Matthew, which he later referred to in the founding charter of the Congregation. In this he wrote:
"Following my decision and action concerning this great task of founding the Congregation of the Holy Family according to my wishes, I send to you this verse from Scripture which says: "You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven
". (Letter of the Father Founder, year 1924)
On 12th August in the year 1895, Howayek called Mother Rosalie and said to her, "Through the Providence of God Almighty, our plan can pass from the phase of discussion to that of action, and we can draw strength from Jesus who had nowhere to lay his head, and to roll up our sleeves and work tirelessly." Mother Rosalie replied: "We
are ready, and God's wisdom will provide, and God's strength will bring to fruition. So do we have anywhere to go to at this time
Patriarch Elias Howayek did not have sufficient funds at the time but he made ready for Providence to intervene. There appeared a benefactress, Ursula Lahood from Amsheet, who proposed a small convent in Jbeil, a 'refuge' that Mother Rosalie was responsible for. She received the keys on 12th August, 1895. On 15th August, the Feast of the Assumption of the Our Lady, the Foundation Mass was celebrated. From this time on, the Assumption has been the Feast of the Congregation.
The Father Founder handed over to Mother Rosalie authority and responsibility, with Sister Stephanie Kardoush as her Assistant. The name of the Holy Family was given to the Congregation, a name which placed it under the care of the Holy Family of Nazareth. Elias Howayek in fact believed that this Holy Family would protect the Sisters and bestow on them virtues that would then be passed on to Christian families according to his intention of establishing a prosperous society on the "basis of virtues that build homes and protect families and preserve societies from ignorance
" (Letter of the Father Founder written in the year 1915). That is how the Holy Family was born.
The first Home, the Foundation Mass
As the necessary funds were unavailable, Patriarch Hoyek put at the disposal of the small community a convent in the plain of Jbeil that a benefactress of Amchit named Ursula Lahoud had given to the Church as an entailed estate (wakf). It was the first "home" and Mother Rosalie received its keys on the 12th of August 1895. On the 15th of August 1895, the first foundation Mass was held. Since that date, the Assumption has become the Congregation's Patron Feast.
"The Holy Family personifies its name"
The founder gave the young Congregation the name of "Holy Family", totally convinced that the holiness of the name would encourage sisters to follow the example of the Holy Family of Nazareth and to spread its virtues. Also, he was sure that it would be the ideal example to follow for all of the Lebanese families in order to form a solid and healthy society. According to him, "these virtues would edify families, save them and preserve society from any corruption."
"Towards a new destination".
No sooner had the first community stepped forward than it found itself obliged to move to the abandoned school of Boutros Chéhadé at the south of Jbeil, which is situated not far from the Church of Our Lady of Martine. The building turned out to be uninhabitable, so Mother Rosalie found herself forced to look for another "home".
With the approval of the founder, she bought four cellars that needed restoration at Ibrine. She moved there at the end of September 1896, one month after the foundation date. In 1898, the Congregation had eight nuns, four novices and three postulants, a school at Amchit and another one at Ibrine, the Mother House.
The big ordeal
After barely four years of hard work of founding the Congregation, a significant blow occurred, with the martyrdom of the founder. It happened on the night of the 22nd to 23rd of August 1899 when a young girl, expelled because of her inability to cope with the religious life, stabbed her to death. On a hot night of full moon, and knowing the entrances of the small convent, she made her way towards the Mother's room on the ground floor, entered through an open window, approached her bed and stabbed her in the heart. Half an hour later, Mother Rosalie passed away. There were many who thought that her death would be a fatal blow to the young congregation, but divine providence was looking mercifully over it. The Founder's martyrdom did nothing but strengthen it through greater riches bestowed upon the mission.
The taking over
"The Congregation is a divine project, not a human one, it is founded on divine providence, it shall persist as long as God wishes so", "it is the field he cultivates and the edifice he constructs. It is He who made it prosper and He who preserved it. He shall preserve and bless it. This task is incumbent upon Him. "With these words, the Founder revived the young Congregation after this distressing ordeal.
On the 30th of August 1899, one week after Mother Rosalie's death, the Founder named as Mother General, Sister StéphanieKardouche, her friend and companion. About thirty years of age, Stéphanie, whose motto was "my God and my Congregation", started working, absolutely certain that neither the farmer nor the waterer could make the young plant grow but that God alone gives life.
Building the Mother House
The basic objective of Mother Stéphanie was to build the motherhouse. The decision was taken at once, with the new construction to be built over the blood of the Founding Martyr. Mother Stéphanie, herself, directed the labor force and the works. The first stone of the chapel was laid in 1907. The Founder consecrated it in 1913 and the work was completed by 1917. The convent doors were wide open to accept young girls, according to the main aim, for which the Congregation had been founded. Mother Stéphanie built a school as well as a boarding home.
Fortified by the blood of the Founding Martyr, the unshakeable faith and iron will of its co-founder, the nascent Congregation developed and expanded with astonishing rapidity, to become a very huge tree where birds have come to nest, from having been a mustard seed, as the Founder witnessed himself.
Since the Foundation...
Moved by its faith and hope in Providence, the Congregation did not stop the foundational task. At each period, it drew its strength of pursuing its course, thus remembering the words of its Founder who tirelessly repeated to it with Paul saying: "He who began in you the good work, will fulfill it to the day of Jesus-Christ" (Ph 1). One quarter of a century later, the young Holy Family Congregation counted seventeen institutions and over one hundred sisters. Seventy years later, its educational and hospital institutions amounted to seventy along with eight others in Syria.
In the seventies- nineties, civil war, which raked the country and its infrastructures, also hit the Congregation, its persons and institutions. After the war, the Congregation recovered quickly by rehabilitating its diverse sectors so as to face the new challenges of the third millennium.
In 1995, the Congregation celebrated its first centenary, remembering its Founder's words: "We are grateful to the Divine Providence, which watches over the work since its foundation to our days, helping it to develop, to strengthen, to fulfill good works and to succeed spiritually well and temporarily".
In the beginning of the third millennium, the Congregation started a second foundation by discovering again its own spirituality by voting in its new constitutions, and by modernizing its institutions so as to best meet, the mission's needs.
Today, the Congregation pursues its growth seeking to further highlight the face of its institutions, which are currently sixty-two in Lebanon, two in Syria and four in Australia. With its Founder, the Congregation gives thanks to the Lord for all the gifts it was granted to fulfill for the Kingdom through its presence in the world.
Elias Hwayek (1843-1931)
1843 Born in
Saint John Maroun School in Kferhi.
1866 Was sent
to Rome by Patriarch Boulos Massaad to pursue his
1870 Was ordained
on the fifth of June.
his PhD in theology on the ninth of August and came
back to Lebanon.
1872 Was nominated
secretary of Patriarch Massaad in Bkerké.
1875 The idea of founding an Apostolic Feminine Religious
Congregation began to take shape in his mind.
1889 Was consecrated
Bishop on the fourteenth of December, Archbishop
of honour of Araka and Patriarchal Vicar.
1892 Was sent
by the Patriarch to Istanbul and the Sultan greeted
him with due honors.
the Patriarch in Rome during the Jubilee celebration
of the Great Pontiff. He established in Jerusalem
a Patriarchal seat.
1893 Met Mother
Rosalie Nasr in Kfifane.
the Congregation of Maronite Sisters of the Holy Family with Mother Rosalie Nasr and Sister Stéphanie
Kardouche in Jbeil.
1896 The new
Congregation settled in Ebrine.
1896 Went to
France accompanying with him his niece, later Mother
Josephine, so as to pursue her studies.
1897 Took over
the management of the Maronite school in Rome at the
request of Pope Leo XIII.
1899 Was elected
Patriarch on the 6th of December.
1899 Was informed of Mother
Rosalie Nasr's murder on the night of August
the Shrine of Our Lady of Lebanon in Harissa on
the third of May.
the Holy Family Chapel in Ebrine.
1915 Met Jamal
Bacha in Sofar.
the opening of monastery doors for starving persons
of the war.
Lebanon in the League of the Nations, claiming independence
for Lebanon after wining all Lebanese trust.
1920 In his
presence, General Gourot proclaimed the State of
Greater Lebanon on the first of September.
1927 Was informed
about the death of the Second Superior General,
Mother Stephanie Kardouche.
the Constitutions of the Congregation of the Maronite Sisters of the Holy Family.
his apostolic letter "The Love of the Homeland". Rested
in peace on the twenty-fourth of December, on Christmas
A few months before his death, he wrote in his last letter to his daughters the sisters:
"Blessed be God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the God of all consolation. God Who consoled us by establishing this Congregation and causing it to grow thanks to His particular Providence, lavishing on us the pleasure to see it with our own eyes, working tirelessly so as to satisfy Him and fulfill His Will".
A man of great personality, head and pastor of his Church, sensitive to the needs of the society, constantly listening to his people, so was Patriarch Hwayek whose memories and presence will never fade.
Mother Rosalie Nasr and her mandate (1899-1927)
Born in Nazareth in Palestine on the seventh of January, of Orthodox origin.
Joined, for the first time, the Sisters of the Rosary in Jerusalem on the twelfth of December.
Entered effectively there after, fleeing from her paternal home for the second time.
Took her first vows on the first of October.
Accompanied Mother Rosalie to Kfifane where she met Patriarch Elias Hoyek
Took part in the celebration of the Congregation Foundation Mass with Mother Rosalie Nasr in Jbeil on the fifteenth of August.
Took over as Superior of the Congregation on the thirtieth of August for the duration of 28 years, after the murder of the Founder.
Summoned to a General Assembly so as to elect another Superior General. Was unanimously reelected.
Rested in peace on the fifteenth of March repeating: "Lord, remember Your Love and Your Mercy for they exist in all eternity" (Ps. 25/6).
During her succeeding terms (28 years), Mother Stephanie Kardouche showed iron determination, absolute detachment and sweetness combined, with steadfastness. She founded fifteen houses and schools, welcomed ninety-seven postulants and passed away at the age of fifty-seven. Her double motto was always "God and my Congregation" and "Strongly backed by You Lord, I will never fail".
Mother Josephine Hoyek and her mandate (1927-1961)
1880 Born in Hilta on the fourteenth of September, daughter of SaadallahHoyek, brother of the Founder.
1900 Entered the convent of the Maronite Sisters of the Holy Family.
1901 Took her first vows on the thirty-first of December.
1911 Took her perpetual vows on the twelfth of November.
1919 Was elected General Vicar.
1927 Was elected Superior General for the period of thirty-four years.
1936 Brought the Body of the Founder from Bkerké to the crypt of the Mother House in Ebrine.
1964 Rested in peace on the sixth of February.
Open minded, sweet hearted, Josephine Hoyek, distinguised by a clear vision and a disinterested soul, governed the Congregation during thirty-four years, succeeding Mother Stephanie Kardouche. She founded seventy-three institutions with the Congregation not as yet having reached its seventh decade. She established between hospitals and schools 8 houses in Syria, making sure that each house had its own oratory.
She focused on religious and academic education of the sisters, fostered arts and particularly music. Our Lady of Lebanon Church in Achrafieh, along with its magnificent mural frescos and the crypt of the Mother House, where rests the Founder her uncle since the eight of May 1936, were the greatest achievements that she accomplished with her brother artist Youssef Hoyek's contribution.
She was decorated twice, first time by the President of the Republic Alfred Nakkache and then by President Sheikh Béchara El-Khoury.
Mother Marthe Andary and her mandate (1960-1973)
1898 Born in Kfour (North Lebanon) on the twenty-fifth of August.
1918 Took her first vows on the fifteenth of August.
1928 Took her perpetual vows on the fifteenth of August.
1960 Was elected Superior General for thirteen years.
1978 Rested in peace on the twenty-fifth of June.
The mandate of Mother MartheAndary consolidated the Congregation. Open minded and audacious, creative and enterprising, Mother Marthe accomplished what her successors had already started. One of her first projects was to allow to her sisters to enter different universities in Lebanon, France and USA. She brought over Canadian sisters to renovate the Lebanese hospital. In her lifetime, Lebanon was hit by a terrible earthquake that shook the foundations of the Mother House. She wept over it, but with determination and little funds, she relied on divine Providence and rebuilt it. She celebrated the diamond jubilee of the Congregation in 1971 and was awarded the national cedar decoration of knight rank. She answered the Lebanese community call in Sydney-Australia sending there pioneer Sisters to found a mission. During her mandate, fifteen new institutions were established.
Mother Marie Emile Nasr and her mandate (1973-1991)
1913 Born in Ghadir – Jounieh on the fifteenth of February.
1935 Entered the convent on the twelfth of January.
1937 Took her first vows.
1947 Took her perpetual vows.
1947 Was appointed professor of novices for twenty-six years.
1961 Was elected counselor for twelve years.
1973 Was elected Superior General for three consecutive mandates.
1993 Rested in peace on the fourteenth of June.
Mother Marie Emile bore from the Founder Rosalie her name, from Mother Stephanie her wisdom, from Mother Josephine her saintliness and from Mother Marthe her sweetness and tenderness. She was noted for her greeting and listening ability. The Lord had enriched her personality with all human and divine beauties. During her mandate she witnessed the commencment of the Lebanese war (1975-1990) but it did not stop her from working for the human, cultural and spiritual support of the Congregation and each of her sisters.
The mandate of Sister Gilberte Fares (1991-1997)
Sister Gilberte Fares was elected Superior General on the eighteenth of July 1991 for a six-year mandate. It was the time of the Synod for Lebanon, the preparation of the year 2000 jubilee and the challenges of the third millennium. Little by little, the Sisters began to resume their positions from which they were ousted because of the war. They had faced the post-war period of Lebanon, by reviving the sectors of education, nursing cares, catechesis and pastoral life. She took up the challenge of a general, educational, pedagogical, cultural, artistic, religious and spiritual revival. The amphitheatre of Patriarch Hoyek was inaugurated in Jbeil. She prepared and celebrated the first centenary of the Congregation's foundation.
The mandate of Sister Verona Ziadé (1997-2003)
Sister Verona Ziadé was elected Superior General on the eighteenth of July 1997, succeeding Sister Gilberte Fares. She pursued the updating and computerizing of all pedagogical, academic and technical fields and established a department for the financial management of the Congregation, a center for the catechesis education of professors as well as a team for pastoral vocations. She established a commission for the study of the Congregation's constitutions and spirituality, which were voted and approved during the 2003 General Assembly.
The mandate of Sister Gabrielle BouMoussa, (2003-2015)
Today, 120 years after foundation
Sister Gabrielle BouMoussa pursued the re-foundation process initiated during and following the first centenary. This second foundation is characterized by the highlight of the Founding Sense and Charisma. Strengthening persons and communities is one of her foremost objectives. The evangelical aspect of institutions is always on the agenda of her council. May she taste the fruits of her hands …
One Hundred and twenty years later! The Congregation pursues its process in Lebanon, in Australia and in Syria.
, the Congregation counts fifty-five institutions spread from north southwards and from the Bekaa plain down to the coast, as follows:
- Pedagogical Service
- A university at Batroun
- 1 technical institutes
- A catechesis education center for teachers
-Eleven secondary schools
- Six complementary schools
- Five primary schools
- Seven semi-free primary schools
- Five nurseries
- Five institutions for children with social problems
- Two centers at the service of the Maronite Patriarchate
- One hospital and service in three other
- Service in three dispensary
- One nursing home
- A reception house
- Three foyers for students
In Syria since 1937
- The secondary school of Banias (1937-1968) which became a mission place with a childcare
- The secondary school of Latakieh (1934-1968) which became a mission place with a foyer for students
- The five hospitals closed for good
In Australia, Sydney since 1968
- The secondary school of Saint Maroun in Dulwich Hill-Sydney
- The secondary school of Our Lady of Lebanon in Paramata-Sydney
- Childcare-of The Holy Family-Belmore-Sydney
- Nursing home in Dulwich Hill-Sydney