Sisters of Nazareth

Not to be confused with the Sisters of Nazareth from Israel with convents in Nazareth and Shefa-Amr, nor with the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth

The Sisters of Nazareth, until recently known as the Poor Sisters of Nazareth, are a Roman Catholic apostolic congregation of religious sisters of pontifical right, based in London, England. Members live in "Nazareth Houses" in English-speaking countries around the world: the UK, Ireland, United States, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

Different congregations with identical or similar namesEdit

Nazareth House in Rochester, Monroe County, New York, USA is not associated with the congregation.

The Catholic order of the same name - "Sisters of Nazareth" - which owns convents in Nazareth and Shefa-Amr in Israel is not associated with the "Sisters of Nazareth" congregation discussed here.

The same is true for the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth with houses in Nazareth and Haifa.


Victoire Larmenier was born on 21 July 1827 at Liffré, near Rennes, France. In 1851 she entered the Paris novitiate of the Little Sisters of the Poor, taking the name Sister Basil Marie. Shortly thereafter, she and four other sisters were sent to make a foundation in London. This was in response to a request from the London branch of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. In keeping with mission of the LSP they directed their service to the care of the elderly poor.[1]

In October 1857 the Sisters built the first Nazareth House in Hammersmith. By this time, the Sisters were also caring for poor and infirm children.[1] In 1861 Hammersmith community separated from the Little Sisters of the Poor and were recognised as a diocesan religious community under the title Poor Sisters of Nazareth in 1864.[2] By the time of her death in June 1878, Larmenier had founded eight other Nazareth Houses in England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland.[1]

In 1888, at the request of Bishop James Moore of Ballarat six Irish Sisters of Nazareth left Tilbury on the S.S. Ormuz for Melbourne, Australia, where they found hospitality with the Good Shepherd Sisters before moving on to Ballarat. Sisters from Hammersmith arrived in Christchurch, New Zealand in 1905.[3]

In 1924, Archbishop John Joseph Cantwell invited the Sisters of Nazareth to California, where they founded the first Nazareth House in the United States, in San Diego. A home for the aging was established in September 1935.[2]

A 1952 short film, With the Sisters of Nazareth, Kilmarnock describes daily life in the convent of the sisters and the convent school.[4]

Activities and mission statementEdit

Their main focus in all regions is caring for older people in Homes, and activities including providing flexible support for assisted living, care for children and young people worldwide, and clinics and food programmes in South Africa.[5]

The Motherhouse in Hammersmith remains the organization's international headquarters.[2] As of 2013 there were 252 members worldwide. as of 2014 there were 35 Nazareth Houses in Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, South Africa, United Kingdom, United States, and Zimbabwe, operated mainly as care homes for frail older people. They also manage six schools and two day care nurseries.[6]

By the close of the first decade of the twenty first century, the Congregation operated 15 care establishments for older people in the UK and a number of services for children. Sisters are also involved in pastoral care, hospital chaplaincy, and care home and domiciliary visits.

Child abuseEdit

Allegations of cruelty and sexual abuse were made in 1998 about Nazareth Houses in Tyne, Sunderland, Plymouth, and Manchester in England, Swansea in Wales, and Aberdeen, Glasgow, Midlothian and Kilmarnock in Scotland. A report was published on allegations of abuse and brutality at one of the order's homes in Queensland, Australia, over a 90-year period ending in 1976, including 48 children who were part of the British government Child Migrant Programme.[7]

In the Northern Ireland Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry, an inquiry into institutional sexual and physical abuse in Northern Ireland institutions that were in charge of children from 1922 to 1995, Module 1 investigated the Sisters of Nazareth Homes in Derry (27 January 2014 to 29 May 2014), Module 2 the Child Migrant Programme, which forcibly sent children from NI institutions including Nazareth House to Australia, where some were maltreated and exploited,[8][9] and Module 4 (started on 5 January 2015) covered Sisters of Nazareth Belfast - Nazareth House and Lodge.[10][11]

The senior counsel to the Inquiry criticised the nuns' "haphazard and piecemeal" evidence, but acknowledged that the information was old and not stored in a single orderly archive.[12] Frank Cranmer, in an article published in Law and Religio, UK, questioned whether someone who had previously represented alleged victims in judicial proceedings be subsequently appointed to an inquiry investigating those and related allegations. He noted, "[A]ll the public and media sympathy was with the victims and overcame any rational assessment of the suitability of her appointment, ...should public sentiment determine suitability for such appointments?"[13]

Allegations included nuns beating children for bed-wetting, withholding letters from children's families to them, and often separating siblings.[14] Allegations also included sexual abuse by older children, visiting priests, employees, and in one instance a nun.[15] A 1953 report, cited by the senior counsel, from a ministry of home affairs inspector noted, "The children in these homes have nothing like a normal upbringing. They must feel unloved as it is just not possible for the number of staff to show affection to such a large number of children... This is not meant entirely as a criticism of staff, but their task is impossible."[12] In early 2014 the Sisters of Nazareth admitted that some children had been subjected to physical and sexual abuse in institutions in Northern Ireland that they controlled, and apologised unreservedly.[16]

Nazareth House in Aberdeen faced similar allegations from former inmates: sexual and physical abuse, children forced to eat vomit, bedwetters made to hold soiled bedsheets over their heads and separating siblings.[17] Archbishop Mario Conti was a regular visitor to Nazareth House in Aberdeen denied that siblings were separated. Joseph Currie, was sexually abused by a volunteer at Nazareth House in Aberdeen in 1967. In 2003 he took police, a solicitor and Nazareth house officials back to his old room, where, hidden behind a plywood panel, were notes on paper written by him 26 years earlier. Currie claimed that he reported the abuse in confession to Conti who did nothing about it.

Helen Cusiter revisited Nazareth house in 1996, and the sight of one nun, Sister Alphonso triggered a lot of traumatic memories. In particular, one incident occurred when she was playing on swings: "She took me off by the hair, twisted me round and threw me against the church wall," she says. "She broke all my front teeth, my face was a mashed mess, the other kids were all screaming." Helen Howie, a 77-year-old woman who had been raised in the orphanage and later worked there as a helper, still remembers the blood on Cusiter's face. "Sister Alphonso didn't use leather straps, she used her fists, she had some strength." Her younger brother told her he had been sexually abused at the home and later committed suicide.[17]

A former resident remembered that a girl named Betsy Owens had drowned on a visit to Aberdeen beach while on an exchange from Nazareth House Cardonald, Glasgow in the summer of 1955. She had gone into the sea to retrieve a yellow plastic ball which had blown into the sea, and was afraid of punishment if it was lost. During the same incident another girl was dashed against a log and lifted out of the water cut and bleeding.One of the nuns said: 'You watch you don't get blood on your dress or you'll catch it.' A lawyer for Nazareth house said that nobody connected with Nazareth House remembered the incident, and there were no records of the death of a child at the time. Nazareth House said there were no records or knowledge that anyone named Betsy Owens had ever stayed at Aberdeen. One of the former residents of the Cardiff House recalled, "Holidays were spent at other Nazareth House homes. I remember we all did not want to leave the home in Brecon because the nuns there were so kind."[7]

According to one victim of Nazareth House in Aberdeen "I didn't want money. We have tried every way to get the church to accept what happened, but they've done nothing. Nothing. These are major things, the experience was a severe danger to people's lives." She points out that "15 members of my group have taken their own lives. I am all right, I'm surviving. I don't need financial help. Money would never take away what happened - God's representatives on earth behaving in such an appalling manner." She had worried about what had happened for years. "I need answers, not just about Betsy but about the whole damned thing. I telephoned Cardinal Winning, and asked him to do something about all the things that were coming to light about Nazareth House. He said very little, I would have liked him just to say sorry. He wasn't prepared to accept that it was the truth. I felt terrible all over again."

In autumn 2000, Sister Alphonso, appearing as Marie Docherty, was convicted of four charges of cruel and unnatural treatment. Sheriff Colin Harris ordered that several other charges be rejected and said that he would only admonish, rather than imprison, her because of her age and her health.[17] She was advised to take a holiday.

In September 2014, when the Inquiry's module 2 was examining forced child migration to Australia, Sister Brenda McCall, representing the Sisters of Nazareth, admitted that the order had sent about 111 children to Australia, and acknowledged that this was a grave injustice to the children and their families. A Sisters of Nazareth reference from 1928 stated that the scheme was also to help “spread Catholicity” in Australia. Sister Brenda said that the sisters “acted in good faith” in cooperating with the scheme and were assured by the Australian government and the Australian Catholic hierarchy that it would be good for the children.[18]

Notable Sisters of NazarethEdit


  1. ^ a b c "History - Sisters of Nazareth".
  2. ^ a b c ""History", Nazareth House of Los Angeles".
  4. ^ "Full record for 'WITH THE SISTERS OF NAZARETH, KILMARNOCK' (2883) - Moving Image Archive catalogue".
  5. ^ "Sisters of Nazareth: What we do".
  6. ^ "Sisters of Nazareth: Regions".
  7. ^ a b "Nuns 'abused hundreds of children'".
  8. ^ Owen Bowcott (24 February 2010). "Britain's child migrants lost their childhoods to years of hard labour". The Guardian. Retrieved 15 March 2016.Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and British PM Gordon Brown both apologised for "the physical suffering, the emotional starvation and the cold absence of love, of tenderness, of care."
  9. ^ "Gordon Brown apologises to child migrants sent abroad". BBC. 24 February 2010. Retrieved 15 March 2016.
  10. ^ "Historical institutional Abuse Inquiry". Historical institutional Abuse Inquiry.
  11. ^ "Nuns forced care children to eat their own vomit, abuse inquiry told -".
  12. ^ a b "Children in Catholic care homes 'were made to eat their own vomit and bathed in disinfectant'", Mirror 27 January 2014
  13. ^ "Historic child abuse, public inquiries and recusal: Poor Sisters of Nazareth - Law & Religion UK".
  14. ^ "Northern Ireland Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry examines Australian migration" – via
  15. ^ McDonald, Henry (27 January 2014). "Children at Derry care homes were made to eat vomit, inquiry told". the Guardian.
  16. ^ McDonald, Henry (14 January 2014). "Sisters of Nazareth become second Catholic order to admit to child abuse". the Guardian.
  17. ^ a b c Beatrix Campbell (12 April 2003). "Sisters of no mercy". The Guardian. Retrieved 14 March 2016.
  18. ^ "Nun accepts 'grave injustice' done to children sent to Australia".

External linksEdit