“I was a stranger and you welcomed me…” (Matthew 25: 26)
The city of Glasgow, Scotland has welcomed more dispersed asylum seekers than any other city in Britain. Since the year 2000, the Government in the United Kingdom (UK) has been dispersing asylum seekers throughout the country to ease pressure on London and surroundings. Many Glasgow-based organisations are rising to the challenge.
In collaboration with an organisation in Britain, called Positive Action in Housing (PAIH), three Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur are making a difference today in the lives of refugees and migrants in Glasgow. PAIH supports and highlights the plight of destitute asylum seekers, i.e. those whose cases are rejected. This organisation provides some financial support through a Destitution Fund, raised by public donation, and tries to find overnight accommodation for the most vulnerable, either in hostels or with accommodation volunteers. Three Sisters assist these asylum seekers who lose all support entitlements, including their homes, and who find themselves evicted onto the streets. Sisters Patricia Cassidy and Maureen Coyle, SNDdeN are among those volunteers who open their home in Glasgow to asylum seekers. Living next door to them, Sr. Eileen Cassidy, SNDdeN also offers “on hand” support in this ministry.
Voice for the Homeless: Interview with Sister Linda Bessom, SNDdeN
Serving as Outreach/Senior Community Organizer since 1995, Sister Linda Bessom, SNDdeN works with the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless (Coalition). Since its beginning in 1981, the Coalition acts from a strong belief in the inherent human dignity of each person, and considers housing as a basic human right, integral to the common good. Through direct service, homelessness prevention and advocacy, the Coalition attempts to ensure that everyone has a place to call home. In her ministry in Lynn, MA, Sr. Linda fulfills the organization’s mission to eradicate homelessness in the State by collaborating with people who address the root causes of homelessness. She listens to the voices of people most impacted, and engages them in a process to find long-term solutions for systemic change. She is a voice also for people experiencing homelessness and those at risk in their struggle for decent affordable housing, adequate income and accessible services. Sr. Linda sees her ministry as direct service, education andadvocacy.
In her outreach, she engages organizations, schools, faith communities through an educational process involving testimonies of people most affected. Her phone calls and meetings every day lead her to direct those in need to resources for shelter, food and rental assistance. Sometimes she advocates for them, especially when there is a wrongful denial for shelter. Occasionally, she solicits emergency funds from faith communities to house temporarily individuals or families denied shelter or rental assistance. Her direct service for Emergency Aid to the Elderly, Disabled and Children involves many agencies, groups and individuals. For this reason, she promotes project drives for the Furniture Bank in Lynn. She collects back to school supplies, holiday gifts/toys, winter coats and accessories, toiletries, gift cards for emergency aid, especially for children who are truly destitute.
The Furniture Bank provides cost-free furnishings to low-income families and individuals transitioning from homelessness to permanent housing in new apartments, when they do not have any furniture. Assistance with basic house items gives them a solid foundation as they rebuild their lives. Throughout the year, Sr. Linda conducts specific drives. This past year over 9,500 men, women and children (3,776 were women and children) received assistance from one of the Furniture Bank programs. 1,462 persons/families were able to access furniture and household goods for apartments. To families in need, the Coalition distributed 4,800 hygiene kits which included deodorant, soap, shampoo, conditioner, tooth brushes, tooth paste, combs, hairbrushes, razors, and shaving cream.
Recently, Sr. Linda asked for help from a community of over 60 Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur who live in Ipswich, MA. Most of these Sisters are retired from active ministry, after having served many years, especially as educators. Now, they engage in a ministry of prayer, remembering all the intentions asked by those in the area as well as those who send prayer requests to the religious Congregation. Their ministry extends also to a variety of services for those living in poverty. Responding to Sr. Linda’s request, the Sisters in the Ipswich Community sent 35 bags and 32 cartons of clothing in early April to the Coalition for the Homeless. This clothing replenishes needed items in the Clothing Closet at the Furniture Bank in Lynn. This is one way that the Sisters are able to collaborate with Sr. Linda for those in need of clothing.
Education Leads to Advocacy
Sr. Linda knows firsthand how difficult it is for families to survive with such meager benefits to meet basic human needs. She represents these critical voices of people experiencing poverty and most affected by homelessness. She meets with faith communities, shelter and human service providers and concerned advocates who bring these voices to state legislators, able to influence public policies for long-term solutions. Often the Sisters become advocates in post-card campaigns to endorse legislation for emergency aid for elderly, disabled and children living in poverty. Sr. Linda is an organizer with other staff in this campaign for public policy. Many Sisters become endorsers of advocacy campaigns for helping the homeless. Now, after so many years, there is legislation to strengthen a state funded program reaching more than 21,000 extremely destitute individuals.
A proven pathway out of homelessness is assurance of an education through high school for children in low-income families. A good night’s sleep has a major effect on a child’s capability to learn; lack of sleep has negative consequences for learning. A Bed for Every Child Initiativearose from a critical need for beds. Coalition staff, collaborating with public schools three years ago, noticed hundreds of exhausted students too tired to focus on learning in the schools. They were sleeping at night on floors, couches or with siblings or parents. With a goal to distribute 1500 new beds annually, Sr. Linda helps to raise funds and collects new bedding as well. The Coalition provides these beds ($250 a bed) and linens for children in need. This past year 940 children received new twin beds, mattresses, bed frames and linens. This ongoing project is demanding to meet the goal.
In these projects for the homeless, the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, their Associates and co-workers respond with action to requests from Sr. Linda. Her outreach expands as she continues to organize drives and distribute necessary items to people made vulnerable through homelessness or limited income. Collaboration and partnerships with faith communities are keys to success in Sr. Linda’s ministry as she networks and stands with those made poor in our society.
Founder’s Day this year at St. Julie High School in Woolton, Liverpool, England evolved into a unique celebration, led by the school chaplain, Mr. Mike Anderson. Sr. Margaret Walsh, SNDdeN, Chairperson of the Board of Governors, welcomed the students, administrators and faculty to an important assembly in the Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King in Liverpool. Kate McCourt, a Deputy Head Teacher, introduced the 1804 Society, a mission and leadership organization named for the founding date of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur. Words, song and dance focused on continuing the educational legacy of St. Julie Billiart on this 200th anniversaryof her death (April 8, 2016), and beyond.
Passing the Baton
The assembly seized the image of “passing the baton” in a relay race to pass on Julie’s spirit to one another and to others in our time. This symbol of running the race, as St. Paul reminds us, symbolized for the students a way of working as a team to reach a goal together in continuing the Mission of St. Julie. The entire school community made a commitment to proclaim God’s goodness to this generation and the next.
In a symbolic ceremony of “picking up and passing the baton,” the whole student body, over 1000 students, and their administrators, faculty and staff made public promises in a moving ceremony at the school. Two students invited all to stand and to respond in promises to carry on the work of St. Julie. Libby announced the ceremony in reminding the assembly of the significance of this year.
Then, Savannah, the head student, led the ceremony of promises:
Will you open your heart as wide as the world?
Response: I will!
Will you be an angel of peace?
Response: I will!
Will you stand tall as sunflowers as an example to others?
Response: I will!
Will you be a courageous soul and stand up against wrongdoing?
Response: I will!
Will you serve the good God well with much liberty of spirit?
Response: I will!
Will you follow the example of the Sisters of Notre Dame?
Response: I will!
Will you pick up the baton and continue the legacy of St. Julie?
Response: I will!
The Deputy Principal, Mr. Tony Costello reminded the students that these are big promises. He then asked the students to pray together for the grace of keeping these promises and to ask, as St. Julie did, for Mary’s intercession. The commitment ceremony concluded as the entire assembly prayed together a Hail Mary, followed by St. Julie, pray for us, protect us and bless us! The Head Teacher, Mr. Tim Alderman congratulated all involved in this inspiring programme and moving celebration.
Additional Photographs and video footage are available online from St. Julie’s High School in Woolton, Liverpool, England.
“Our common aim… to express in our time as Julie did in hers, that God is good.” (Constitutions 9)
Sisters 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→
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Sister Marie Smith, SNDdeN, Principal (1983-2013), writes: “Located in this major Ohio city, Corryville has a diverse student body from different socio-economic communities and cultural backgrounds. A wrap-around school, connecting programs and services with specific children, Corryville uses Choices for Children, a project to meet the needs of individual students. The school’s Mission is to educate the whole child, from pre-school through Grade 8, by meeting the spiritual, physical and emotional needs of each student.” Learn more
In this Year of Consecrated Life, the Church is celebrating religious congregations throughout the world. The Church recognizes also their founders and foundresses. This year 2015 marks also the 175th anniversary of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur (SNDdeN) in America.
Only 36 years after the founding of the Congregation by St. Julie Billiart in Amiens, France in 1804. Mère Ignace Goethals, our third Superior General, sent the first missionaries to Cincinnati, Ohio in 1840. Desiring herself to be a missionary in America, Mother Ignace welcomed the request of Jean-Baptiste Purcell, Bishop of Cincinnati, Ohio, USA, who, during his visit to Namur, Belgium in 1839, asked for Sisters to teach in his diocese.
Conceived from Sr. Lorraine’s vision of connecting our Sisters in Africa to places beyond their isolated villages, the African Photovoltaic Project (APP) began to take shape in 2003. Today, the dream has become a reality in Fugar and Awkunanaw, Nigeria and in Kitenda, Lemfu, Ngidinga and Pelende, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), with wonderful life changes and options. Convents, schools and clinics/hospital in two countries are now experiencing life with electricity for lighting, refrigeration, water purification and communications. Rooms set up with basic technology equipment in these ministries provide access to the Internet for teachers, primary and secondary classes as well as health care personnel. The Congo compounds organize these facilities by using available materials. Now, the wider community also benefits from technology at these four sites.
Brazil will host the World Cup in June-July 2014 and the Olympics in 2016. Mega sports events increase the market for human trafficking. On January 9, 2014, The Guardianpredicted increased child sex trade: Brazil’s Child Sex Trade Soars as 2014 World Cup Nears. The Church in Brazil has chosen human trafficking for the theme of the Lenten Campaign. Catholics throughout the country will study, pray and take action against human trafficking during this season.
Since 2009, religious Congregations from different countries have organized in small groups globally for education awareness, prevention, denouncement of human trafficking, and the protection of actual and potential victims. In Brazil, Sisters of Notre Dame serve with an anti-trafficking group, called Shouting for Life, known in Portuguese as Grupo Grito pela Vida. Read the rest of Sr. Betsy article: Shouting for Life
The Farm Project is another way for IMEC (International Medical Equipment Collaborative) to share resources for sustainability and to collaborate in an educational project in partnership with the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur. For our schools in Peru, the project will allow for effective teaching and accessibility to resources needed to tend the earth. Sr. Marleny and the staff in the Tambogrande region are planning to extend this learning and make equipment accessible to the students’ families. IMEC is shipping 40 Farm Suites to Peru in this first phase of the Farming Program. Expanding involvement in our partnership with IMEC enables SNDs to bring about growth for more people in this rural area. We are able also to envision new possibilities for our sisters and brothers who live in poverty in other cultures and countries around our fragmented world. Shovels Become Educational Tools