Born in 1751 in Cuvilly, France, Julie Billiart was the very spiritual child of a poor shopkeeper. At age 22 Julie lost the use of her legs. With her body failing her, she turned to God as the source for her comfort and spent hours in prayer and meditation. Many came to her for counsel and comfort, including Françoise Blin de Bourdon, an aristocrat's daughter.
France had entered a period of political and social upheaval. The French Revolution saw the imprisonment and beheading of aristocrats and many of those in religious life. Churches closed. Schools closed. In 1804, churches reopened and the message of the Gospel could once again be preached. In June of that same year, Julie was healed from the paralysis that had plagued her for 22 years.
On February 2, 1804, Julie and Françoise professed vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience as Sisters of Notre Dame. For Françoise this meant closing the door to her former life of privilege. Though Françoise eschewed material goods for herself, her inheritance funded the opening of a free school for poor girls. Their work with the children, including some orphans, was a great success and they attracted many young women to join them.
The Sisters came to California in 1851 at the invitation of the Most Reverend Joseph Alemany, O.P., Archbishop of San Francisco, to establish a school in San Jose, then the state capitol. The location on Santa Clara Street for the new Notre Dame College (day school, boarding school, high school and college) was chosen at the advice of the Jesuit Fathers who had recently opened a school for boys (Bellarmine) at nearby Mission Santa Clara. Notre Dame opened on August 4, 1851.
In 1923, because of changes in the city and expansion of the educational work of the Sisters, the College of Notre Dame was transferred to the Ralston estate in Belmont on the San Francisco Peninsula. The high school continued on the Santa Clara Street site until 1928, when it was moved to its present location at Second and Reed Streets. The nucleus of the new site was the spacious home which the Honorable and Mrs. Myles P. O'Connor had given to the Sisters in 1898. Notre Dame High School San Jose has been at its present location for 82 years and in downtown San Jose for 160 years.