The beginnings of our congregation can be traced back to a log cabin in Monroe, Michigan. It was there that Reverend Louis Florent Gillet, a Redemptorist missionary, having searched in vain for religious to teach the spiritually and educationally abandoned immigrants on the Michigan frontier, resolved to found a community of sisters of his own. In 1845, shortly after settling into the newly constructed St. Anthony Church, in Monroe, Fr. Gillet was joined by Sister Theresa Maxis, and thus the humble beginnings of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary began to take root at the hands and hearts of these two founders, who were on fire with love of God and love of neighbor.
On November 10, 1845, Father Gillet welcomed three women, Mary Theresa Maxis, who became Mother M. Theresa, Charlotte Ann Schaaf, (Sister M. Ann), and Therese Renauld, (Sister M. Celestine) to begin a community based on the spirit of St. Alphonsus Liguori. Father Gillet envisioned an educational apostolate conducted by religious women who would give witness to prayerfulness, humility, simplicity, forgetfulness of self, and a deep love and respect for each individual soul.
After several years, the original community of sisters was called to serve the people of God in many new geographic locations. Mother Maria Alma, our tenth Mother General, tells us: “The tiny seed planted in 1845, in the unpromising soil of pioneer Michigan, had become a great tree whose branches, spread within three separate sections of our country, sheltered within their shadow, thousands of souls under the care of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.”
In 1858, in response to an invitation from St. John Neumann, then Bishop of Philadelphia, the Sisters agreed to staff St. Joseph School in Susquehanna, Pennsylvania, which was formerly taught by the Holy Cross Sisters. In 1859, a second mission was undertaken in Reading, Pennsylvania. In a short time many applicants sought to join the Sisters and a Motherhouse was established in what is now St. Peter’s Parish in Reading. The third and final division of the Congregation came in August 1871, when The Most Reverend William O’Hara, Ordinary of the newly formed Diocese of Scranton (1868), asked a number of the Sisters already teaching within the diocesan limits to form a new Motherhouse located in Scranton, Pennsylvania.
Because of the increased number of Sisters, the Motherhouse in Reading was transferred to West Chester, Pennsylvania, in 1872. There it remained until 1966, when the present Motherhouse, Villa Maria House of Studies, was built at Immaculata, Pennsylvania.