A New Foundation
A Thumbnail Sketch of our History
Saint Francis de Sales was a bishop who tended very
carefully to the spiritual needs of his people; he
knew many women who, for various reasons, would not have been accepted
into the already-established Orders in the Church. He sensed a need for
a religious community where women who sincerely desired to grow in
holiness -in love of God and of neighbor - could live together
in community. Together with the young widow
Baroness de Chantal, this visionary bishop of Geneva established the Order
of the Visitation of Holy Mary.
In the years following, the Order of the Visitation spread throughout Europe. Saint Jane de Chantal established over 80 monasteries prior to her death in 1641. Nearly a century and a half later, Leonard Neale was named the fourth president of Georgetown College (now University), which had been founded in 1789. Shortly thereafter, he sought to address the need for the education of Catholic women. He invited Alice Lalor, with whom he had attempted to open a school in Philadelphia, to try a second time in Georgetown. She was soon joined by the widows Maria McDermott and Maria Sharpe. They were called "the pious ladies" by the people in the neighborhood. These women, together with Archbishop Neale, founded Georgetown Visitation Monastery and the present Georgetown Visitation Preparatory School.
Archbishop Neale was certain that his humble foundation at the corner of Fayette and Third Streets (now 35th and P Streets) would be a Monastery of the Visitation. Despite a generous offer to procure Ursuline Sisters from Ireland to assist the budding community, Neale and his growing community felt called to embrace the spiritual legacy that Saint Francis de Sales left to his Visitation Sisters - and to all who follow his counsel. Perhaps most notably, it was the moderation and well- balanced approach to religious life that attracted Neale to the spirituality of Saint Francis de Sales and Saint Jane de Chantal.