Skip to content
Home » About » History


black and white photo of RSHM novices in habits walking in a double line.

A Rich Heritage

Founded on February 24, 1849, in Béziers, France, the Institute of the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary continued to run a shelter and an orphanage established by Father Jean Gailhac. These works gradually transformed with the addition of a boarding school and a small dispensary which treated both the children at the Mother House and the poor and outcast of Béziers.

black and white photo of the six original founding sisters with Father Gailhac seated in front of an altar.

By 1872, the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary expanded to Ireland, Portugal, and England and by 1874, Father Gailhac and Mother St. Croix, then General Superior, had already started discussing sending sisters to the United States. In February 1877, six Irish sisters, with Mother Basil Davis as superior, set out from the Mother House and arrived in New York.

Development of the American Provinces

The sisters began their work in Sag Harbor, New York, taking charge of a parochial school and teaching catechism to young adults. The sisters opened a paying boarding and day school, as well as a free night school for young women working in the mills. Under the leadership of Mother Joseph Butler and Mother Gerard Phelan, the sisters played an active role in the parochial school system and in the establishment of private schools at all levels of education: primary, secondary, and college. 

RSHM planted more roots in New York City and Tarrytown, New York (Marymount College, Tarrytown, 1907); later in Arlington (Marymount Arlington) and Richmond, Virginia; Ferguson and Florissant, Missouri; Rolling Meadows, Illinois; and Boca Raton, Florida. In 1923, in response to an urgent appeal by Bishop John J. Cantwell of Los Angeles, Mother Cecilia Rafter along with four sisters from New York and three from Europe established Marymount School in Los Angeles. The establishment of Marymount College, Los Angeles, and schools in Santa Barbara, Studio City, Palos Verdes, Montebello, and San Jose soon followed. 

Ministries Evolve

As they responded to the needs of their times and reflected on the gospel and the origins of their Institute, the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary began to diversify their work beyond schools into other social, pastoral, and educational ministries. Their lives continue to be rooted in the gospel, in faith and zeal for Christ’s work in this world, and in a strong desire to make God known and loved.


One of the major gifts of the RSHM is our internationality. Our Constitutions remind us:

“We may be sent anywhere in the world where the Institute recognizes a need. We seek to grow in that freedom which allows us to relinquish our security in order to be available for mission.”

Today, our sisters from the Eastern and Western American Areas are active in ministry in California, Florida, New York, Virginia and Lampedusa. We also have communities in Mexico and schools in England, Italy, and France. Moreover, sisters from our American provinces helped expand the RSHM Institute to Spain (1911), Italy (1930), Wales (1939), Canada (1943), Colombia (1947), Mozambique (1952), Zimbabwe (1956), Zambia (1966), Mali (1971), and Scotland (1971). 

Besides France, the Institute also established communities in Ireland (1870), Portugal  (1871), England (1872), Brazil (1911), Mexico (1954) and East Timor (2012).

Our collaboration with other religious congregations and the laity across the globe to ensure “that all may have life.”

Our Founders

Jean Gailhac

Jean Gailhac was born in Béziers, France, on November 13, 1802. He was ordained a priest in the Diocese of Montpellier in 1826. Shortly after his Ordination, he requested of his Bishop placement as chaplain of the civil and military hospital in the city of Béziers. This work, which he continued until the foundation of the Religious of the Sacred of Mary in 1849, put him in contact with the neediest and marginalized of his society. 

Jean Gailhac seated
Jean Gailhac

One of the groups whose needs became obvious to him was women who had fallen into a life of prostitution. In working with these women, he realized that most of them had no social or family support to assist them. Gailhac arranged for many of these women to be received in a shelter in Montpellier, paying their room and board from his own small salary, assisted by funds from his parents. When he could no longer afford the fees, he founded in Béziers the work of the Good Shepherd, a shelter for women and very soon afterward, an orphanage as well. 

The death of his good friend, Eugène Cure, in 1848, brought an unexpected turn to Father Gailhac’s life. Appollonie Cure, widow of Eugène, expressed to him her desire to give her life and her wealth to his works. For many years Gailhac had considered founding a religious congregation. He saw Madame Cure’s desire as a providential opportunity to do so. 

Under Father Gailhac’s direction, the Institute of the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary was founded in 1849. He worked closely with the community, especially with Appollonie Cure, who became known as Mother Saint Jean. Father Gailhac’s primary focus was the solid formation of the sisters. With the sisters, he continued the various works in Béziers. As the Institute expanded, he communicated with the sisters at a distance through his numerous letters and visits. Toward the end of his life, Father Gailhac wrote treatises on a number of spiritual topics. 

The death of the sisters always caused him great sorrow. He outlived the first two General Superiors, Mother St. Jean and Mother St. Croix. He died on January 25, 1890, at the age of 88. In the 1950’s, Mother Gerard Phelan introduced his cause of beatification. In 1972, he was declared Venerable by the Church.

A short video on Fr. John Gailhac

Mere St. Jean (Appollonie Pelissier Cure) 

“How happy I am that the God of mercy put in my soul the vocation I have undertaken with so much courage: to be associated with such a holy priest who lives and breathes only for his children. I will work with all my strength and will support you [Father Gailhac] to the best of my ability in this beautiful work.”

Mother St. Jean Pelissier Cure, General Superior 1849-1869
portrait of Mother St. Jean Pelissier Cure
Mother St. Jean Pelissier Cure

Born February 2, 1809, into a well-established family of Murviel-les-Béziers, in the south of France, Appollonie Pelissier grew up in a deeply Christian home. At twenty, she married Eugène Cure. Together they generously supported the many works of charity initiated by Eugene’s lifelong friend, Jean Gailhac. Eugene Cure died suddenly in November 1848. Soon after, Appollonie offered herself and her considerable wealth towards the founding of the religious community already envisioned by Father Gailhac for the direction and service of the women’s shelter and orphanage of the Good Shepherd which he had begun.

On February 24, 1849, Appollonie moved to the Good Shepherd where she and five companions became the first members of the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary. As co-foundress and first superior, Appollonie, now known as Mother St. Jean, worked closely with Father Gailhac and governed the Institute until her death. During her time as superior, the shelter for women was transformed into a preservation for young girls at risk, and a boarding school for girls was begun. As the young Institute took on a variety of works, Mother St. Jean emphasized the need to strengthen unity amid this diversity. During Mother St. Jean’s lifetime, the Institute grew to seventy-two religious: sixty French and twelve Irish. An important moment for the new Institute was the granting of legal status in 1856 by decree of the Emperor Napoleon. Mother St. Jean Pelissier Cure died on March 4, 1869.