The Congregation came into being through Mary‘s intervention. She appeared to Alphonse Ratisbonne in a vision in 1842, an event that marked his life so profoundly that he chose to be baptised Marie-Alphonse as a way of carrying the encounter with him always. For his brother Théodore, the event helped confirm a growing conviction that he should start a group in the Church, dedicated to Mary.
Both Théodore and Alphonse loved Mary’s sense of absolute gratitude for God’s gifts; it was the foundation of her humility. Mary also symbolises hope. Although she does not take a leading part in the Gospel narratives, her tranquil, strong yet gentle presence pervades Jesus’ story. She willingly became his mother and followed her Son to his death on the cross. Then she remained present with the Apostles at Pentecost for the birth of the early Church.
Sion is the Biblical name of Jerusalem, City of Peace. When Théodore’s group started out, he puzzled over a fitting name. While praying one morning, his eyes fell on the word “Sion”. It was his immediate choice; the name epitomized the Biblical dimension of his project and the central place within it of God’s love for the Jewish people. “Sion: the word evokes all the hopes of our vocation”, he said.
Jerusalem is founded on Mount Sion, a symbol of stability. Our motto In Sion firmata sum, taken from the Book of Sirach, means “I am established in Sion”. It conveys the firmness of our faith in the fulfilment of God’s promise: those who trust in the Lord are as unshakeable as the mountain of Sion.
The roots of our faith are embedded in the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. The significance of Jerusalem reminds us of our history and calls us to action, to help bring justice and peace in our world.
Mary was “daughter of Sion” par excellence. Our founder’s brother, Marie Alphonse Ratisbonne, lived his whole priestly life in Jerusalem. He died in Ein Kerem, Jerusalem, and is buried in the cemetery there. The continuing presence of communities of sisters of Our Lady of Sion in the Holy Land, since 1856, is a vital assertion of the Congregation’s commitment to our vocation.