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Holy Names Sisters legacy crosses place and time

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placeholder April 20, 2015   •   VOL. 53, NO. 8   •   Oakland, CA
Holy Names Sisters legacy crosses place and time

The 150-year-old photo, inset, shows 13 Sisters of the Holy Names rowing on Lake Merritt in Oakland. Six Sisters of the Holy Names University Education Department faculty recreated the ride on a gondola on the lake in 2011.
Courtesy photos

On May 10, 1868, six young Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary five were in their 20s arrived in San Francisco aboard the steamer The Golden Age. It was 1:30 a.m. The Sisters came to the San Francisco Bay Area in response to an urgent appeal from San Francisco Archbishop Joseph Alemany.

The Sisters of Mercy, stationed at St. Mary's Hospital in San Francisco, greeted the Canadian-based Holy Names Sisters. After the meet-and-greet the Mercy Sisters served up a meal for the Holy Names Sisters that included California-grown strawberries. Decades later the Holy Names Sisters continue to observe the May 10 anniversary of their arrival in California with strawberries and cream.

Assigned to work in Oakland, the Holy Names Sisters traveled to the East Bay city. Not wasting any time, they soon had a convent and school, Our Lady of Sacred Heart, up and running. Not long thereafter the Sisters also started teaching at the St. Mary's Parish school, in the city's first parish. The Sisters continued to branch out to schools in newly formed parishes in Oakland, such as Sacred Heart in 1876.
Name: Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary or SNJM (from the French name Soeurs des Saints Noms de Jesus et de Marie)

Founded: 1843 by Eulalie Durocher in Lonqueuil, Quebec, Canada

Arrived in the East Bay:
1868 in Oakland

Original ministry: Education

Current ministries: Education; parish ministry; social services

Current number in California:
146 Sisters

Total congregation: 880 Sisters

Current number in the East Bay: 31

Where stationed in the East Bay:
6 Sisters at Holy Names University, 5 Sisters at Holy Names High School, Oakland, 5 Sisters (all volunteer); Next Step Learning Center, Oakland, 2 Sisters; Diocesan Superintendent of Schools, Sister Barbara Bray; parish ministry: 3 Sisters (Christ the King, St. Anne, Byron, St. Bonaventure); chaplaincy: 1 Mercy Center; Carondelet High School, Concord; 1 social services. The Sisters live in the Oakland Diocese and minister in San Francisco (hospice ministry; drug and alcohol counseling, Father Albert Center, St. Anthony's Foundation)

For information: Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, U.S.-Ontario Administrative Center, P.O. Box 398, Marylhurst, Oregon 97036; info@snjmuson.org,
503-697-3264 or

As the population grew, the Sisters outgrew their Lake Merritt campus. The high school at the lake moved in 1931 to its present site in the Oakland hills and was named Holy Names Central High School. The College of the Holy Names became Holy Names College, and now is Holy Names University, also left the lake and moved to its location in the Oakland hills, above Highway 13 and Mountain Boulevard in 1958.

The Holy Names Sisters once served in parishes across the diocese. These include Our Lady of Lourdes School, Sacred Heart School and Parish, St. Theresa School and Parish in Oakland and St. Augustine Parish in Pleasanton, Assumption School in San Leandro, and St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Livermore.

As laity became involved as teachers in schools and in religious education, the Sisters became more engaged in pastoral ministry. They have served as liturgy organizers, parish administrators, community organizers and visitors to the elderly and homebound and as Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion to the sick. Other Sisters are involved in direct ministry in the U.S. and Third World Countries.

Current ministries of the Sisters in the Oakland diocese include: counseling, music education, theological education, services for infants at risk, and pastoral accompaniment of their aging Sisters.

The Holy Names Sisters serve under one province, U.S.-Ontario province. They also serve in the San Francisco Archdiocese, and dioceses in San Jose, Monterey and the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. The Sisters are in California, Washington state, Oregon, New York, Maryland, Florida, and Windsor, Ontario, Canada.


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