Victoire Larmenier Mother St. Basil
Foundress and 1st Superior General
Victoire Larmenier was born on 21st July 1827 at Liffré, near Rennes, the capital of Brittany, in France. Her father was a marine carpenter and wood trader, and the family lived comfortably in a small hamlet on the fringe of the Liffré state forest. She was educated at the village school until her early teens. After the death of her father in 1838, and the re-marriage of her mother a few years later, she was sent as a boarder to the Ursuline convent at Vitré. There she received a sound secondary education with some emphasis on commercial subjects. After leaving school she worked in Liffré at her step-father’s tailoring business as a secretary and book-keeper. Working in Rennes In 1845 Victoire left home and set up a small haberdashery business in Rennes. Her shop was located in the parish of Toussaints in the poorest part of the town. It was here that her religious vocation developed under the influence of Father Gandon, one of the curates.
The Little Sisters of the Poor had recently established a house for the care of the elderly poor in Rennes, and Victoire became acquainted with them and their work. Saint Jeanne Jugan, their foundress, was in Rennes during this time and worshipped at Toussaints. Victoire was much influenced by the commitment to the poor of the Toussaints clergy and the Rennes Little Sisters of the Poor. With Father Gandon’s encouragement, Victoire gave up her successful little business, and entered the Paris novitiate of the Little Sisters of the Poor in February 1851.
After a few months in the novitiate Victoire and a small party of four Sisters were sent from Rennes to start a foundation in London. This was in response to a request from the London branch of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, strongly supported by Cardinal Wiseman, first Archbishop of Westminster. Within a few months she was appointed Superior. The little foundation community, despite its lack of resources, gradually gathered poor old people into its care.
First Nazareth House
After three moves in central and west London, the Sisters eventually managed to build the first Nazareth House at Hammersmith, which opened in October 1857. By this time, the Sisters were also caring for poor and infirm children, greatly supported by Father Claude Bernin, a former Marist, who was their ecclesiastical superior during these years.
Sisters of Nazareth
In 1861, after protracted and difficult negotiations, the Holy See allowed the Hammersmith community to separate from the Little Sisters of the Poor as an independent pious society of laywomen. After a further three years the London sisters were recognised as a diocesan religious community under the title Sisters of Nazareth.
Within a short period the mission had extended with houses opening in Aberdeen, Scotland in 1862; Cardiff, Wales in 1872 and Belfast, Northern Ireland in 1876. Under the leadership of Victoire a total of eight Nazareth Houses were founded in England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. Requests to open more houses were turned down to avoid overstretching resources and to maintain the wellbeing of the Sisters. During this time Victoire had also selected and trained her assistant to be her successor, a position that she held for thirty years.
It was in June 1878 at the age of fifty that Victoire Larmenier died leaving behind the strong roots that she had established. Pontifical approval of the Sisters of Nazareth was given on 3 August 1881 and the institute was afforded the status of a Congregation on 23 December 1890.
Continuing Growth and Notable Events
The Congregation continued to expand, this time globally. It was in 1882 that the first Nazareth House in South Africa was founded, in Cape Town. In 1888 the first house opened in Australia, in Ballarat and in 1905 the first was opened in Christchurch in New Zealand. The first presence in America was in 1924, in San Diego, followed in 1937 by a house in Harare, Zimbabwe. The houses were organised into regions during the 1960s. The number of houses was at its peak in 1968, at 68 houses before reducing back to the current 37.
One of the most momentous times in our history was the stay of Pope John Paul II at Nazareth House, Manchester in 1982.
Superior Generals are elected, usually every six years and in 2006 Sister Mary Anne Monaghan was elected as the 11th Superior General, and was then re-elected in 2012.
More information on the history of Sisters of Nazareth and Victoire Larmenier can be found in the book Victoire Larmenier: Spirit and Vision.