Brief History of the Sisters of Nazareth
Victoire Larmenier Mother St. Basil
Foundress and 1st Superior General
Early Life Victoire Larmenier, the foundress of the Sisters of Nazareth, 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 Fr. 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, Sister Basile Marie Larmenier was sent from Rennes among a small party of four Sisters 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, 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 several 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 by the Roman authorities as a diocesan religious community under the title Sisters of Nazareth. Victoire Larmenier, now with the religious name Sister St. Basil, was among the first group to make their profession in April 1864. Before she died in June 1878, Victoire Larmenier had founded eight other Nazareth Houses in England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland, one of which remained with the Little Sisters of the Poor in 1861.