Category Archives: Notre Dame Educational System

Seeds Grow in Southern California

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Kindergarten give a group hug to Sister Judith Flahavan, SNDdeN.

Over the course of her last thirty-one years as an active ministry educator, Sister Judith Flahavan, SNDdeN was a principal in three Catholic elementary schools in South Los Angeles, CA. In June 2012, she retired from full-time ministry. Then, during a six-month sabbatical, Sister Judith learned that Notre Dame School (NDS) in Santa Barbara, CA, the last existing Catholic school among the original four Catholic schools there, did not have a full-time principal. She made a decision to use her gifts as an educator in this city!

 

Reflections: Sister Judith Flahavan, SNDdeN

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8th Grade students at Notre Dame School in Santa Barbara, CA.

The Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur (SNDdeN) have a long history at Notre Dame. In 1906,
Fr. Stockman, OFM invited SNDdeN to begin a school for children at Our Lady of Sorrows Parish in Santa Barbara. In an old Armory Hall belonging to the parish, four Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur (SNDdeN) opened Dolores Catholic School with 150 students in 1906. Through the efforts of those first Sisters and the many who followed them, the school grew and flourished. In 1911, the Jesuits assumed responsibility for the parish. In 1974, the school was renamed Notre Dame School. Over the years, people recognized the school’s strong education, academic excellence and dedicated alumni/alumnae. When the number of Sisters diminished, the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur withdrew from NDS in 1990.

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Primary students learn with iPads at NDS in Santa Barbara.

Common Realities
In January 2013, Sister Judith was happy to assume the leadership role as Principal at Notre Dame School. Moving to peaceful Santa Barbara after her many years in South Los Angeles was a bit of an adjustment. She received an amazing welcome by the many people thrilled that an SNDdeN was back, and she immediately felt “at home.” Also, as Sister became more and more involved as an administrator, she realized that among the families at NDS there are common realities shared also with the families in South Los Angeles. She learned that at this school many children (166 students out of 260 students) qualified for the federal breakfast/lunch program, which is considered the benchmark for persons living in poverty in the United States. She came to realize that the income of many families was comparable to that of families she knew in South Los Angeles.

She rejoiced in the beautiful goodness of the families:
• the respect for all persons which was evident among them,
• the way they helped each other when possible,
• their commitment to Notre Dame School,
• their reverence toward God, and
• their ethic for hard work.

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Transitional Kindergarten children learn about St. Francis and Pope Francis from Notre Dame Associate, Jackie Gonzalez.

She appreciated the dedicated faculty, two of whom were Notre Dame Associates. She saw that at NDS, St. Julie’s vision of educating those living in poverty is alive and well. She was overwhelmed by the number of alumni/alumnae living in Santa Barbara and remembering with gratitude and happiness the Sisters who gave them a strong educational foundation. Mainly, Sister Judith realized that the seeds of education planted by those Sisters were in full bloom. Even though the Sisters had not been in the school for about 20 years, their spirit and St. Julie Billiart’s charism of proclaiming the goodness of God by educating children for life still inspires and permeates with energy the daily experiences within the Notre Dame community.

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Since June 2016, a competent educator, Ms. Christina Stefanec is replacing Sr. Judith as Principal. Grateful for the opportunity of serving for 31/2 years at Notre Dame School, Sister Judith is confident that the mission of St. Julie will continue to be integrated and grow in the school, and in making known God’s goodness and love in Southern California.


“Truly, I tell you that just as you did it to one of the least of these, you did it to me.”

Matthew 25: 45
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Santa Barbara School students say “Thank you.”

Sisters Teach in an Isolated Place

Sister Obioma Ezewuzie, SNDdeN, Headteacher

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Sister Obioma Ezewuzie, SNDdeN, Principal, speaks at a graduation ceremony.

As the poorest school mission of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur (SNDdeN) in Nigeria, Notre Dame Nursery and Primary School, Ugwuomu-Nike, fosters the charism of our Congregation by taking education to a small village, an abandoned place. This educational mission is certainly close to the heart of our foundress, St. Julie Billiart. Our school serves specifically the children of people living in poverty: palm-wine tappers and peasant farmers. The school helps many parents who are unable to pay school fees or buy books for their children. The school provides also a source of employment for the wives of these farmers as well as young girls trying to earn a living in Ugwuomu–Nike.

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Sister Schola Onwumar, SNDdeN helps little children with a project.

This Notre Dame School, Ugwuomu- Nike, is in Enugu State, East Local Government Area, which is the Southeastern part of Nigeria. In, 1996, the Diocesesan Office of Peace and Justice asked the SNDdeN to assume responsibility and to manage this educational project. At first, the Sisters lived among the people by renting a small house. Since the nursery and primary school were never economically self-sufficient, eventually in 2006, the Diocese handed over the school and land to the SNDdeN. In assuming ownership, the Nigeria Province built a small convent on the property to show that we had come to stay and to throw in our lot with the local people. A Catholic church, half built, graces the village today and does have a resident priest.

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Sister Nkechi Onah, SNDdeN, shows her pupils how to weave palm leaves into mats.

Quality Education
Our school is without any doubt the best school in the local region. In this far-away place, five Sisters, with lay co-workers, offer quality education in the early stages of learning. Every day, some children walk a very long distance of seven to eight miles from their homes to the school. To reinforce the learning process in school and at home, we print exercise books for the children. In school, we do also seasonal farming and plant cassava which is one of the major foods here; and we sell snacks to the pupils. We ask help from some of the parents who are more secure economically. They have contributed resources to put ceilings in a few of the classrooms. At present the school has two hundred and fifty pupils with twelve teachers and two helpers. Twenty percent of children in the school are supported financially by our Notre Dame sponsorship program.

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Sister Chidinma Nwasunja, SNDdeN, teaches her pupils computer science.

Challenges for Power and Transportation
In the community where the school is located, there is electricity. Even when the residents pay as much as they are able, the electrical current is low or scarce. Most of the time, we need to run our generator, especially for the computer classes. Another obstacle is the bad road leading from the city to our village. Cars are not very popular on that road because only four-wheel drives can manage the terrain on an untarred road. The mixture of sand and clay is very dusty during the dry season and slippery during the rainy season. The main public transport is to climb on the back of a motor bike behind the driver. The cost of this transport rises considerably when the road is almost impassable. Sometimes two or three passengers climb on one bike. Some Sisters have scars on their legs and arms from the poor drivers’ efforts to avoid hitting a goat darting out from the bush or slipping and sliding in the sand and the mud. Mud also sticks to one’s shoes or sandals when walking during the rainy season. The majority of the children walk to school; a few students pay to ride a motor bike.

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Sister Jumoke Balogun, SNDdeN, makes reading a priority for her students.

God is so visibly present here in many ways.
The Sisters called to this ministry in nursery and primary education are happy, adaptable women who find joy and God in serving people living in poverty and in supporting them and one another. The village is quite isolated. Most resources, provisions and contacts are located in the nearest city at a distance of 45 minutes to an hour’s drive. The people of Ugwuomu-Nike are happy to have the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur in their village; they value the education and support their children receive in the school. They appreciate also help provided from abroad. From the funds contributed by many generous donors, our Province has been able to advance the growth of our school. Through grant funding, the school has more resources for education: some recreational equipment for the nursery section, football posts for the primary section, classroom furniture, computers for children to reach the wider world and learn more through technology. Funding has also provided a portion of staff salaries.

The Sisters called to this ministry in nursery and primary education are happy, adaptable women who find joy and God in serving people living in poverty and in supporting them and one another.

In Our Time

by Sister Brigid Rose Tiernan, SNDdeN

“Our common aim… to express in our time as Julie did in hers, that God is good.” (Constitutions 9)

ZimSA-8Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur (SNDdeN) make known God’s goodness as we respond to specific needs “in our time.”

This year, 2016, marks a milestone in the life and Mission of the Sisters in the ZimSA Unit (Zimbabwe and South Africa).  St. Peter Claver Primary School  in Maokeng, Kroonstad, South Africa is celebrating one hundred years of quality education begun and continuing by our religious congregation.

Currently the Primary (Elementary) School has 504 pupils, from Grade R (K), and Grades 1 – 7, and 27 teachers. A long-awaited dream, the  High School (Post Primary, or Secondary), opened in 2010 on the site of the former convent in the Kroonstad suburb called Jordania, has 284 pupils with 17 teachers in ten classes in Grades 8-12. Both schools have a small team of administrators and support staff. In the Primary School. Sr. Gertrude Izuchukwu teaches Religious Education and does pastoral care and Sr. Chantal Kissimbila is responsible for finances. In the Secondary (High) School, Sr. Marie McLaughlin is the chaplain and Sr. Kay Bridge tutors students. Sr. Brigid Rose Tiernan represents the SNDdeN owners on the Board of Governors. Continue reading In Our Time

Power of One: Impact of St. Julie Billiart

by Sister Huguette Georges, SNDdeN

St. Julie Billiart died on April 8, 1816 in Namur, Belgium. As she was dying, she sang Mary’s Magnificat in French. “My soul magnifies the Lord… All generations will call me blessed.” Like Mary, for whom she named her Congregation, Julie made a lasting impact on our world, especially on five continents where the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur live and serve in ministry. Her life, spirituality and values have inspired and influenced generations of children and adults for two centuries.

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Students in Namur celebrate St. Julie.

At a March 2015 gathering of Directors of Schools in Belgium and France, Sr. Suzanne DeMeersman, Province Moderator, stimulated ideas and touched hearts for celebrating this anniversary of St. Julie Billiart’s death. In June 2015, Sr. Marie-Thérèse Béget gathered a committee of school directors, alumnae/alumni, the General Archivist and Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur from the two Belgian Provinces. Beginning with an inquiry sent to schools for proposed activities, the planning evolved for ways to celebrate the 200th anniversary as a Notre Dame Family. School administrators, teachers and staff agreed on the importance of networking for this bicentenary and working as colleagues in a united effort.

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Sr. Suzanne DeMeersman discusses plans for the Bicentenary with Directors of Notre Dame schools.

The festivities will begin on April 8, 2016 and conclude at the time of Christmas vacation. All schools are sending information and plans to Sr. Marie-Thérèse by September 2016.

Some ideas for all the schools are already in process:

  • A flash drive containing information about the life of St. Julie and her founding of the Congregation will be distributed to all schools.
  • A newspaper, called The Julie Relay, will include news and information about bicentenary activities/events in the schools.
  • Plaques will be posted on April 11, 2016 at the entrance of all schools in Belgium and France. These plaques will say:“You are here in a school which lives the values of St. Julie Billiart and where each person finds his /her place and works with joy.” This effort empahsizes the strength of an educational system in which all experience joy and a sense of belonging.
  • On the 8th day of each month, good words of St. Julie will be given to students and teachers for reflection and for learning life lessons taught by Julie.
  • Groups of students and teachers will visit the Heritage Centre in Namur so that they will know and remember for a long time the origins and life of our Congregation.

Certain schools in Belgium and France have planned varied celebrations:

  • In Berchem, a digital screen will appear in front of the school with images and quotations from St. Julie. All girls with the name Julie will receive a gift.
  • In Namur, on May 3, 2016, the students will release hundreds of white balloons with cards attached, rising in the sky in Namur. On each card will be written the sentence: “I feel deeply for Namur something which touches my heart.” Who knows if one of these balloons, landing on firm earth, will be a messenger of the spirit of St. Julie for one or other person picking it up on the side of the road or in the center of a garden.

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    The choir from the school at Saint-Hubert prepare to sign on St. Julie’s anniversary at St. Gilles Church.
  • In Saint-Hubert, the school is making a CD with songs on St. Julie which will include also those of Sr. Marie-Ange Bonmariage.
  • In Orvilliers-Sorel, the school is inviting all groups of pilgrims to come while they are visiting the birthplace of St. Julie in Cuvilly.
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St. Julie Billiart

Will you join these schools in organizing some event or project for the Bicentenary Year? The schools in Belgium and France invite and encourage other schools on five continents to communicate any events and activities that you will be doing this year.

Has the power of this one person, Julie, influenced you and does she have an impact on your life today? How will you celebrate the life and gift of St. Julie Billiart? May this Jubilee Year strengthen the bonds of our Notre Dame Family and announce to the world that “God is Good.”

Reprinted with permission of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, ” The Power of One: Impact of St. Julie Billiart in Bicentenary,” Good Works, March 2016, pp. 12-13.

GW March 2016, Power of One.pdf

Good Works Archives on http://www.sndden.org.

Networks Link Schools and Colleges in Britain

By Sister Anne Marie Niblock, SNDdeN

Anne-Marie-Niblock,-SNDdeNIn different ways from former years, Notre Dame Schools and Colleges in Britain bring St. Julie Billiart into 21st Century Education! Founded by the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, these schools, colleges and the university share Julie’s educational vision. Formerly, many Sister administrators, teachers and staff integrated her educational ideals and principles in these institutions. Now only one school, Notre Dame Southwark in London, has a Sister as headteacher. Yet, with strong networks, these academic institutions continue the Notre Dame Educational Mission in Britain. For over ten years, headteachers and staff from Notre Dame secondary schools, colleges and from Liverpool Hope University have participated each year in educational gatherings. The yearly conference has led to educational partnerships. Some educators have extended special links with ND schools across the world to Japan, Kenya, Nigeria, Peru, South Africa and the United States (USA). This international network uses and contributes to the resources of Notre Dame Virtual School and the congregational educational Website, Notre Dame Online.

Within Britain, a Global Citizenship Conference takes place every year either in Liverpool or London for students, aged 13/14. Some high achieving students, 15/16 year olds, have shared opportunities in joint revision courses at Oxford University. Students across the schools have linked with one another in a variety of ways: leadership conferences, student exchanges, visits to other Notre Dame schools, e-mails and Social Media links on Twitter and Facebook.

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The schools and colleges have also developed excellent curriculum links, a photo competition and communications with postcards for a 7th year. Meetings for teachers of Science, Mathematics, Information Technology and Religious Education, held in different schools, have had amazing success. Participants have returned to their own schools with new ideas, resources and ways for taking Julie’s vision into today’s classrooms.

Students from Kyoto, Japan visit Notre Dame High School in Norwich, England.
Students from Kyoto, Japan visit Notre Dame High School in Norwich, England.

The headteachers and senior staff are committed to partnership in the Notre Dame tradition. Future plans include the development of a Notre Dame app, a video on how each school celebrates St. Julie’s Day and a National Certificate for Volunteering.

A recent project includes the production of a video showing that the memory of Sr. Dorothy Stang is alive for students today in the school settings. (Notre Dame Schools Remember…) In Britain, Notre Dame schools remember Sr. Dorothy in specific places named for her:

  • Notre Dame, Southwark, London has a room dedicated to the education of students who learn English as a second language;
  • Notre Dame, Plymouth has a building with a suite of classrooms for the teaching of English, Geography and Modern Foreign Languages;
  • Notre Dame, Liverpool has a central performing space at the heart of the school;
  • St. Julie’s, Liverpool has a theatre with seating for 230;
  • Notre Dame, Sheffield has an Environmental Learning Centre.

Camilla-Burns-ND-Schools-and-Colleges-ConferenceMany Sisters from the United Kingdom (UK) and USA have given keynote lectures at our yearly conferences. Themes include Pilgrimage, Rivers of Notre Dame, Roots and Wings, Leadership, Online Education, St. Julie and Young People, A Global Perspective and Our Notre Dame Tradition. Several British schools participated in the international Network for Mission Conferences in Kentucky/Cincinnati and Boston, USA. Such conferences inspire administrators and faculty to a stronger commitment to education and collaboration with other Notre Dame educational ministries. One quotation lingers from the 2006 Network for Mission Conference and encourages Notre Dame educators when the times are difficult. “Suppose the best work of St. Julie is yet to come.” In the schools in Britain, Julie’s vision and mission still shape young people for the future.


From Good Works, June 2015. pp. 8-9. Reprinted with permission. GWJune2015