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Notre Dame De Sion - Estambul - Visión histórica y 150° Aniversario

06/04/2006: Turkey

On October 7, 1856, eleven Sisters arrived in Turkey. They came to take charge of a boarding school in Istanbul, in the city’s Pangalti quarter. The school was called “House of the Holy Spirit” because of the cathedral next to it; until then, the Daughters of Charity had run the school.

On November 27, 1856, the “boarding school” of Our Lady of Sion officially opened its doors; it was the first high school for girls in Turkey.

In the beginning, the pupils, who were virtually all boarders, were recruited solely from a Christian milieu. But very soon, Jewish children came. Also very quickly, the establishment had drawn the Sultan’s benevolent attention, and it received requests from high dignitaries of the Empire to enroll their daughters. The first Muslim pupils arrived in 1863. This mixture helped each person to become open to respecting the other, to welcoming differences, to tolerance, which is one of the goals and even a characteristic of the education given at Sion, as Father Theodore desired. Also according to his desire, a primary school was opened next to the boarding school for less well-to-do children from the area (1861-1964).

The First World War led to the French Sisters’ departure and the closing of the boarding school. The buildings were occupied by an engineering school, then by a hospital, where the Sisters could work among the wounded. The house opened its doors again in 1919.
Soon, it was the turn of Mustafa Kemal, the “father of the entire new Turkish Republic” (Atatürk) to show his interest. He enrolled three of his wife’s young cousins and his three adopted daughters… This was the period when Sion acquired the Tharapia country house. Between 1932 and 1973, it was possible to enjoy the shores of the Bosphorus with all kinds of friends, groups of young people…, including Mgr. Roncalli, the nuncio in Istanbul, who came very often. A very broad welcome was the done thing.

Istanbul - Célébration du 150 ème anniversaireWith time, the school’s structure changed. Extern students and day boarders were added to the boarders. The children from the well-to-do classes were together with others who came from simpler milieus. The diploma given by the school according to the norms of public education was official. Then, as time passed, other changes took place. In 1971, the boarding school’s primary classes were closed.
In 1972, the last boarders left.
In 1989, an important change occurred: the high school’s direction passed to a lay person, although Sisters continued to work there.
In 1996, the school became co-educational and welcomed some thirty boys into the preparatory class for the entry exams to the Grandes Ecoles.
Then a Turkish law required us to add primary classes to the secondary ones; an association was created, which made it possible to open a primary school in 2001 in another part of the city.

And now, here we are in 2006, the 150th anniversary of our arrival in Istanbul. As much as the centenary in 1956 was celebrated very modestly because of the not very favorable political circumstances, the 150th had to be brilliantly visible – which the untiring committee of former students set out to make possible. There were four days of celebrating around January 20.

On January 19, an exposition on our history with old school equipment and many photographs was opened in the rooms of a bank. This bank also committed itself to printing the book that was written for the occasion by a student of the 1990’s, Saadet Özen.

On January 20 itself, a commemorative stamp was issued, thanks to the help of a former student’s family. That evening, the committee of former students and collaborators, Sisters of Sion, the staff from the high school and the primary school, ambassadors and sponsors… were welcomed by the consul general and Mrs. Peaucelle at the Palais de France. In a very cordial atmosphere and the Palais’ luxurious décor, the participants enjoyed speeches, dinner, a lottery…

This year, the traditional reunion of former students was spread over two days. On Saturday, the 21st, the graduates of 1956, ‘66, and ’81 were invited; they received their plaques from the Sisters, the teachers or the principal himself, Mr. Yann de Lansalut, who based his speech on the saying, “”, which is engraved on the playground’s fountain and which he translated as: “In Sion I build myself.” He spoke of our obligation to welcome, to know and to serve, and he ended with Sr. Emmanuelle’s word: “Yalla, you young people!”

For the next day, Sunday, January 22, 3000 invitations had been sent, and the cafeteria was used in order to split the crowd. Nevertheless, we were “squashed” everywhere. Several speeches from official French and Turkish people punctuated this meeting… A former pupil who in 2005 became assistant principal of the high school, wished that in 25 years, the graduates of 2006 would “find the same large family beside them as today and would feel the same pride” when they received their plaques. Then a short film was shown, which brought the past to life again and gave rise to great enthusiasm; this was followed by the lottery, the testimony of a graduate of 1935, the awarding of plaques to several young former students who are already outstanding in their areas of specialization, and to those who had worked so hard to make these days successful. At the end, there was a medley of French, Turkish and English songs, played with great spirit by two guitarists. And as always, a reception, very warm reunions, once again a visit of the house, including the brand new multimedia library, which surprised a number of people!

Istanbul - Célébration du 150 ème anniversaireThat Sunday, a pontifical Mass of thanksgiving gathered together the Sisters of Sion who had been invited: Maureen, Darlene, M. Thérèse and Geneviève from Gémenos (former teachers), Paule-Noëlle from Callian (a former pupil), and the usual parishioners, the many friends and the former pupils who are Christians. Directed by Father Giuseppe, the cathedral’s parish priest, the choir and organ gave this Mass its awaited solemnity, as did the homily by Mgr. Pelâtre, our bishop, which was greatly appreciated. He began by reminding us of the phrase Our Father wrote to Mère Rose on August 15, 1857: “I love the Turks very much,” a phrase which he said would “acquire a following, as Blessed John XXIII repeated it verbatim less than a century later.” He recalled “the 150 years of reciprocal friendship between the Sisters of Our Lady of Sion and the immense number of their former pupils.” Finally, he underlined that the Sisters of Our Lady of Sion are “spiritually rooted in Jerusalem, not out of an exclusive love of one people, but in order to fulfill its final vocation, which is the gathering together of all the people of the earth.” Monsignor was surrounded by some ten priests from the entire city. Afterwards, we met in the large hall of the vicariate for the traditional cocktail and friendly conversation.

The celebrations began at the opera house the evening of November 29, 2005, when the Ankara corps de ballet danced “Çalikusu”, recalling a former pupil of Sion who was well- known in Turkey.

The celebrations will continue throughout the year 2006, above all with the students, with various competitions, including in sports, with lectures, etc…
We can add that some ten newspapers published articles speaking positively of this event, and there were two television broadcasts.

During all these celebrations, we experienced immense joy in seeing how attached our former students are to the values they received in Sion, and in hearing the testimonies of all our older Sisters who worked in this country for so many years.