The Monastery of Our Lady of Charity and Refuge, also known as the Good Shepherd Home, has provided education and childcare in Hot Springs (Garland County) since its inception in the early twentieth century. The Sisters of Our Lady of Charity and Refuge, a Catholic order of nuns who operate the monastery daycare, attracted national and state attention in 2007 when most of their members were excommunicated by the Roman Catholic Church for heresy; these constitute the only excommunications issued in the history of the Diocese of Little Rock.
The monastery began with the arrival of five French-speaking Canadian nuns to Hot Springs from Ottawa on September 18, 1908. They came at the request of Bishop John Baptist Morris, who had previously inquired as to the possibility of some members of the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity and Refuge opening a home for underprivileged girls in the state. The sisters lived for three months in another house, called locally the Alton House, which was owned by the diocese, until they were able to purchase ten acres on Malvern Avenue, land that encompassed a home known as the Williamson Place, which remains their home today. A converted barn was used to house and educate some of the orphans until the 1930s, when its dilapidated conditions resulted in a statewide cry for assistance.
The sisters began St. Michael’s School in 1913 for the girls who had come into their care. They also operated a private school, St. Augustine’s, for African-American children from 1916 to 1944. It was later administered by the Sister Servants of the Holy Heart of Mercy of Chicago and was renamed St. Gabriel’s before closing in the 1960s due to desegregation efforts. Because few children could pay for their education, the sisters supplemented their income with a laundry service, which they operated for over fifty years.
Fire destroyed one of the school buildings and the laundry in 1945, but by the following year, the buildings had been replaced with new ones. In addition to St. Michael’s, the sisters started Our Lady of the Lourdes, a junior high school, though it proved less successful at attracting students and closed in 1971. By the mid-1970s, the sisters had dropped their boarding school program but were still maintaining St. Michael’s as an elementary school. However, in 2001 it, too, closed due to a drop in attendance.
In the 1950s, the sisters organized a childcare program, and with the eventual closure of the schools, this became their primary source of revenue, followed by donations and fundraisers. The monastery and its programs were affiliated with—but independent of—the Diocese of Little Rock and the larger Order of Our Lady of Charity and Refuge and so were not reliant upon either for funding. As of 2007, eighteen employees worked for the monastery and for St. Michael’s Catholic Child Care, which serves infants and pre-school children. St. Michael’s had approximately 100 children enrolled, along with another sixty in the Home Instruction for Parents of Pre-school Youngsters (HIPPY) program administered by St. Michael’s.
On September 26, 2007, Monsignor J. Gaston Hebert, diocesan administrator, announced that six of the ten sisters at the Monastery of Our Lady of Charity and Refuge had been formally excommunicated by the Roman Catholic Church for their association with a Canadian group called the Army of Mary, which the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith had defined as a heretical group; the basis for this action was the supposed claim on the part of the group’s founder to be the reincarnation of the Virgin Mary. Of the four sisters not excommunicated, two were in nursing homes and two removed themselves following the declaration. Sister Theresa Marie Lalancette acknowledged that some local Catholics had pulled their children from the daycare in response but maintained that the sisters would continue their work. As of 2008, they continue their daycare operation but are no longer affiliated with the Diocese of Little Rock.
For additional information:
Anthony, Isabel Burton. “Sisters of the Good Shepherd Have Tended Their Flock for 100 Years.” The Record 48 (2007): 104–111.
Hahn, Heather. “6 Hot Springs Nuns Are Branded Heretics.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. September 27, 2007, pp. 1A, 5A.
Hargett, Malea. “Hot Springs Nuns React to Vatican Decision.” Arkansas Catholic. October 13, 2007, p. 3. Online at http://www.arkansas-catholic.org/article.php?id=1033 (accessed January 10, 2008).
Harrison, Sheila. “Good Shepherd Home Sisters Educating Youth for 100 Years.” Arkansas Catholic. September 30, 2006, p. 11. Online at http://www.arkansas-catholic.org/article.php?id=662 (accessed January 10, 2008).
Woods, James M. Mission and Memory: A History of the Catholic Church in Arkansas. Little Rock: August House Publishing Co., 1993.
Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture