Our founder, Father John Joseph Sigstein, was a man of prayer, vision, and action with great love and compassion for poor and oppressed peoples. He was driven by his sense of being part of God’s Mission, and by his devotion to Mary under her title of Our Lady of Victory.
Our founder, Father John Joseph Sigstein, was a man of prayer, vision, and action with great love and compassion for poor and oppressed people. He was driven by his sense of being part of God’s Mission, and by his devotion to Mary under her title of Our Lady of Victory.
While visiting the American Southwest as a young priest in the early 1900s, Fr. Sigstein was distressed by the poverty he saw and by the many problems and needs of people that were not being addressed by any existing religious congregation. To meet some of those needs in the areas of religious education, social services and health care among the poor from a personal non-institutional perspective, Fr. Sigstein founded Our Lady of Victory Missionary Sisters in Chicago.
The ministry of OLVM called for creative, daring and innovative women who knew how to translate dreams and visions into actions. Its first two members, Julia Doyle and Marie Benes, were sent to New Mexico in 1922, and the ministry continues to the present day.
The new congregation advanced in part from the help of an Indiana priest named John Francis Noll, and his national publication, Our Sunday Visitor. Noll, who would soon become a bishop and later Archbishop, had founded and printed the publication in Huntington, Indiana, and it was through his generosity that the Central House of OLVM was built in Huntington in 1925. It was named Victory Noll, combining Our Lady of Victory and Bishop Noll. Although John Joseph Sigstein was the founder of the congregation, OLVM could not have grown and developed without the help of John Francis Noll.
Father John Joseph Sigstein
The first OLVM Sisters were sent to New Mexico to provide religious education, social services and health care to an underserved population.
Fr. Sigstein asked his Chicago friend, Will Frey, to assist those first Sisters in New Mexico. He was a versatile handyman who often shared his gifts and talents, not only with the Sisters, but with the people among whom they lived and worked. Will worked in relationship with the Sisters and the people, who together continued the mission of Jesus.
One of Fr. Sigstein’s favorite sayings was, “Meet modern needs with modern means.” His quote has shaped the evolution of the OLVM congregation from the Sisters’ manner of dress to the way they live in community and minister among the people of God.
Since working with those living in poverty was a priority of this new congregation, Fr. Sigstein set up a network of people across the country who raised funds to help the Sisters with their own survival needs. These groups, called bands or burses, would send food, clothing, and religious goods, along with monetary donations to be used in the ministry of the Sisters or distributed among the families and children in the area.
Fr. Sigstein was an image-breaker from the beginning. The traditional habit, which he referred to as a uniform, was not practical for the harsh New Mexico conditions the OLVM Sisters encountered. By not having a traditional rosary or a veil that completely covered their hair, Sisters were criticized and were said not to be true women religious. Fr. Sigstein and the Sisters shrugged off the criticism and continued their mission work in their practical garb. After the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s, Sister chose to wear civilian clothing as they worked among the people, with the OLVM medal and congregational pin distinguishing them as Victory Noll Sisters.
After Vatican II, women religious were called to return to the original spirit of the founder and to be guided by the changing conditions in the Church and world.
Fr. Sigstein’s original intention was to have OLVM catechists — teachers who gave Catholic instruction — go into the remote communities underserved by the Church, and instruct the laity to the point where they could take over the teaching for the following generation. The catechists would then move on to the next place of need. The plan was only slightly modified. The catechists ended up doing most of the teaching and in many cases remained in the community for many years. But the idea of being among the people in the parishes and small towns continued to be fulfilled.
Harkening back to those early days, the OLVM Sisters have worked to develop leaders wherever they have been missioned. Training of leaders could be within a parish or even within the community, whether it was among an inner-city neighborhood or in a rural population. Each situation had its special needs, and the Sisters would help the local people develop leaders to help meet those particular community needs.
Much of the ministry of Victory Noll Sister Regina Marie Morrissey (center) has been spent helping to guide individuals on their faith journeys and to develop adult leaders.
Sister Teresa Aparicio (left) works in a neighborhood in Albuquerque to empower women with life skills to help them rise out of a cycle of poverty.
Proclamations from Vatican II called for greater participation of the laity within the Church. This fell in line with the ideas of Father Sigstein and the mission of the Sisters. They started to work not only in parishes but also in setting up Diocesan Religious Education or CCD (Catholic teaching) offices around the country. Theological schools opened to women, and the Victory Noll Sisters entered higher education. Most earned bachelor’s degrees, and many went on to earn master’s degrees in areas such as Theology, Religious Education and Social Work.
Victory Noll Sisters take advantage of being part of a non-institutional community. Not bound to certain places by schools and hospitals, they are free to move from place to place as needs arise. This freedom of movement demands creative women adept at meeting change and living with uncertainty. It has allowed them to live among people who are powerless, and sharing in their lives and struggles. The faith and courage of the marginalized people have had a tremendous effect on the lives of the Sisters. They have raised awareness of injustice and has spurred Sisters to become involved in efforts to promote human rights and a better quality of life for all. Working in many areas with immigrant and migrant farm workers, Victory Noll Sisters have made immigration issues a priority. The non-institutional stance of OLVM resulted in Sisters moving out of diocesan offices and into the communities where they once more work directly with the people to further the mission of Jesus.
Through its ministry, OLVM reaches out beyond Church structures to make tangible God’s love and care for all people. The shape of the ministry is determined by the needs of the time. Today, the dehumanizing effects of poverty and unemployment, immigration issues and trafficking of women and children are at the forefront. A simple lifestyle and missionary flexibility enables Victory Noll Sisters to go where people are hurting. They are committed to walk with the people in their struggle for a better life.
Over the years, Victory Noll Sisters have served across the United States and in South America. Their strength is in their diversity. As women religious, they have lived counter-culturally and served in multi-faceted ministries. They have been in small rural parishes and large suburban parishes, in diocesan offices and social service agencies, and in other ministries working to deepen the relationship with God during troubling times or to advocate for justice and peace.
As the Sisters age and the congregation grows smaller, their main ministry has become one of prayer and presence. But they continue to focus on those places, issues and concerns that have always been at the heart of our mission. They continue to follow the words of Father Sigstein, who said, “Always go to the poor first.”
From their beginning, Our Lady of Victory Missionary Sisters have reached out beyond the church to stand alongside marginalized people working with them to deepen their relationship with God, and also to raise awareness of injustice in an effort to promote human rights and a better quality of life for all. They continue to live out the mission and vision of their founder, Fr. John Joseph Sigstein.
More of Father Sigstein’s mottos:
"Pioneers as we are in the work of our Blessed Lady of Victory, we must blaze a path that is straight and true...faithful to our original foundation."
"Remember to keep yourself always in the Presence of God."
"All for Jesus through Mary."
"Have a smile for all even when your own heart is heavy."
"Go to the poorest first. Always have preference for them."
"Always keep your first fervor."