Rousse Regional Museum of History
"All that I experienced afterwards had already been in Roustchouk". Elias Canetti
For the Training at the Schools of Notre Dame de Sion in Rousse

Nadezhda Tsvetkova

After the Crimean War the number of the Catholics in Rousse increased up to 250-300 people, mainly foreigners. For them after an Austrian initiative in 1858 was opened the first Catholic devotional home in town. Immediately after the Liberation, Rousse became the seat of a Bishop and its role in Catholicism grew. The first parish priest appointed here was father Ipolito Agosto, who after 1878 headed the Nikopol diocese. In his time was erected the Catholic cathedral in Rousse, named “St. Paul of the Cross” (1890-1891) by a project of the Italian architect Valentino. With the increase of foreign interests in Danube Bulgaria also increased the necessity of establishing education facilities, which were to train specialists, acquainted with the language and culture of the corresponding country.

As early as the 1860s several attempts were conducted to open a French school in the town – headed, organized and financed in different ways. The Catholic bishop of Rousse looked for support from the Notre Dame de Sion congregation, created in Paris in 1843. In January 1897 the existing up to the moment French School in Rousse was ceded to Notre Dame de Sion and in April the same year arrived the first six tutors from Galati and Iasi. For director was appointed Mother Maria Tade, who has worked up to that moment in Istanbul. The Girls’ School began its existence as the Sancta maria Externate and the Notre Dame de Sion Boarding School. In the eve of the First World War there were 64 girls studying in the Externate and 72 in the boarding school – most of them from other towns. The cares for them were taken by 12 nuns. After the war (1932) the French school, which has been moved a number of times, entered into a building of its own along Borisova Str. A kindergarten and a primary school were also opened to the Externate.

For studying French language, the Norte Dame de Sion also offered other paid forms of education – for people, who have graduated fifth or seventh grade: courses (lingual, phonetic, for French literature), for writing and composing, diction, for history and geography of France. Many and various courses offered studying other foreign languages as well (German, Italian, English), training housewife skills (serving, embroidering), modern arts, stenography, dactylography, accounting, commercial correspondence. All of these trainings made the Notre Dame de Sion popular in Rousse, and made the education facilities, supported by it, desired and preferred. The declared aims of the school, managed by the religious order of Notre Dame de Sion, with divisions in 24 states on five continents, were: solid education, proper behaviour, forming a character in the spirit of the Christian virtues. The education for girls (from 10 to 20 years old) was the same in both schools. The classes were small in number – up to 10 students, but colourful in ethnic composition – except for the Bulgarians, there were also Jews, Turks, Armenians, Czechs, Austrians, and Belgians.

Each of the women-tutors prepared her class with a detailed plan of the subsequent lesson n the black board (the boards were of four parts, two of which were mobile). Each student was tested everyday. In the 1920s the marking was implemented with points – to 7. Having a conversation in Bulgarian was leading to a decrease in the grades through deducting points in the school report. The talking in French in the recesses was controlled by the nuns. For stimulating the talking in French during the 1930s and 1940s the transferring of a wooden “tablet” was introduced, to each one who pronounces a Bulgarian word. The “guilty” on his turn tried to find another one so that he can transfer the tablet to him. At every transfer of the tablets coins were gathered in a money-box. Subsequently, the saved money were used to help poor families. This method educated responsibility towards the studied language and compassion to the poor in the same time. Almost all of the disciplines were studied in French. As early as the elementary classes German language was taught by a German teacher, and subsequently – English, Latin, and in the last years – Russian, taught by a Russian tutor. The Catholics were obliged to study religion (catechism), taught by Monsignor Teelen. Each morning he was serving a liturgy in the boarding school for the nuns and the student girls. The day started and ended up with a prayer.
The manual training and behaviour classes are emphasizing on adopting housewife skills, as well as the proper behaviour of the young girls – at home and in society. The students’ textbooks and the handbooks were delivered from France. They were distinguishable with rich, easy to remember illustrations, maps and tables. This delivery was stopped after September 9th, 1944, and this led to their manual implementation.

The education in Sancta Maria was starting in kindergarten and ended up in the last high school class. There were preparatory classes before entering the junior high school and the high school courses. Except for reading, writing under dictation and composing, and the narratives on images, in the preparatory classes there was also introduced a separate French language studying discipline. All of this was directed towards the maximum enrichment of the knowledge and the verbal skills in French. When leaving school, the students graduated with an obligatory matriculation on all disciplines. The graduates had the same rights as those from the state schools and the received certificate gave them the right to continue their education at home and in France.In junior high school studying was all day and in the Saturdays, too. Everyday after the last discipline there was a class teacher’s lesson, where success, discipline, as well as the good deeds, made by the student girls, was discussed. “Sacrifice” were good, useful steps, which every girl should mark in her notebook after their implementation.

In the interest of educating responsibility and ambition towards the order in school and the education process itself, each month the management of the Notre Dame de Sion conducted a general assembly. They were attended by the schoolgirls, the teachers, the director, sometimes the manager of the Notre Dame the Sion or the Catholic bishop. Here every class teacher reported the success and behaviour of her class and according to the merits the schoolgirls were receiving ribbons: wide ones for excellent results, and narrow – for obedience and diligence. The ribbons were with different colours depending on the grades. If an offence was made, the ribbons were taken away.

In the everyday life of the Notre Dame de Sion were set regulations, which should be taken into consideration by everyone. These regulations had to educate in every schoolgirl a feeling for order and discipline, purity, responsibility, tolerance to the others, respect for the work of everyone, who have created an excellent atmosphere for living and studying in the externate and the boarding school. Even nowadays the elderly graduates of the Notre Dame de Sion are living with the memories for their school years. Memories, related to respect for the nuns and the civilian tutors, towards their knowledge, attitude and great desire to integrate their young schoolgirls from Rousse to the language and culture of France.