The 11 sisters who came the first year lived at 102 West Lugonia Avenue in Redlands.
Their primary ministry was the religious education of youth. The sisters quickly reached out to local parishes to offer assistance. They began working in Redlands, Colton, San Bernardino and Fontana. The second year, the OLVM Sisters were teaching in Yucaipa, Crafton, Bryn Mawr (Loma Linda), Etiwanda and Devore. In their third year, they expanded to Ontario, Upland, Cucamonga and Chino. By 1938, the sisters had reached out to San Jacinto, Hemet,
Perris, Lake Elsinore and Coachella.
Their catechetical efforts grew immediately in every outreach area. By the late 1930’s, enrollment in the Coachella area was 2,680 students. Besides the actual teaching of the children, the sisters had a strong commitment to developing lay catechists. The OLVM sisters also conducted home visits, sponsored boys and girls clubs, and distributed food to needy families. Bishop Charles Buddy of the Diocese of San Diego wrote in 1963: “ No one could measure the vast amount of good you have achieved especially in areas that are hard to reach and entail many sacrifices.”
As the religious community grew, the sisters began to look for a larger home. After trying several locations in the Redlands area, they finally settled on a large home at 1205 West Crescent Avenue in 1937. This home was built by Mr. Albert Burrage, a Boston millionaire, for use as a winter home. He followed the architecture of the Santa Barbara Mission and the 26 acres of land was home to every kind of tree found in California.
From the 1940’s to the 1960’s, the outreach of the OLVM community continued to grow.
The sisters were serving 3,073 students in the greater San Bernardino area in 1952. At its peak, there were 16 sisters serving 34 different locations in today’s diocesan area. The Redlands house was also used for summer retreats by members of the community across California.
After World War II, many of the regional instruction centers started by the sisters became parishes. As these new parishes grew, they were able to provide their own religious education programs. There was no longer a need for a community retreat location. The burden of maintaining a large home and property in Redlands became overwhelming. In 1974, after much prayer and discernment, the OLVM community decided to sell the entire property.
When the new Diocese of San Bernardino began in 1978, the Our Lady of Victory Missionaries had a strong presence. The religious community consisted of Sister Eva Maria Sanchez, Sister Anne Hitzier, Sister Veronica Hirjak, Sister Trinidad Luna, Sister Mary Jo Nelson, Sister Helen Rodriguez, Sister Mary Marguerite Shields, Sister Charlene Talbott, Sister Joachim Stetar, Sister Elizabeth Hann and Sister Mary Matilda Spetter.
Many catechetical leaders who are in ministry today owe their early ministry formation to the sisters of the Our Lady of Victory Missionary community. Their legacy continues to serve the Catholic community of San Bernardino and Riverside counties.
Peter Bradley is Archivist in the Diocese of San Bernardino.