Category Archives: United States

STUDY: International Sisters in United States

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Sr. Mary Johnson, SNDdeN

For three years, beginning in 2014, Trinity Washington University (Trinity) in Washington D.C and the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University collaborated in a Study of International Sisters in the United States. Sr. Mary Johnson, SNDdeN, Professor of Sociology and Religious Studies at Trinity, with her colleagues in this study, Dr. Mary L. Gautier, Sr. Patricia Wittberg, SC, Sr. Thu T. Do, LHC acknowledge with gratitude the support of GHR Foundation for this project.

By Sister Mary Johnson, SNDdeN

In this study, we define an international Sister as “a woman religious who was born outside the United States and is now living in the United States, in ministry, or study or residence.”

At a time of great trial for immigrants to this country, we conducted the first-ever national survey of Sisters who were born outside the United States. We used multiple methods to find as many Sisters as possible by contacting the leaders of every apostolic, monastic, and contemplative institute of women in the United States, along with the vicar of religious of every diocese. (Only 18 dioceses reported no international Sisters.) Through these methods and using various other contacts with Sisters and groups, we identified and surveyed in this country over 4,000 international Sisters from 83 countries and 6 continents. Several Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur are included. The survey was translated into English, French, Spanish and Vietnamese. We had help with the other languages. In addition, we conducted 26 focus and individual interviews across the county.

Here are just a few demographic findings from the survey:

Continent of Origin of the Sisters (with largest sending continent first)

• Asia
• Europe (older international sisters are from western Europe, younger are from eastern Europe)
• North America (Canada and Mexico)
• Central and South America
• Africa
• Oceania

Reasons for Entering the US

39% were sent by their Congregations for ministry
28% arrived as children, teens, adults, before entering religious Congregations
13% were sent by their Congregations for study
10% were sent by Congregations as part of their formation programs
6% transferred from provinces outside US to US provinces in their Congregations
2% transferred to a Congregation in the US from another Congregation outside  the US
2% came to enter religious life in US

Demographics related to age and arrival

The average age of international Sisters is 58, which is 20 years younger than the average age of US born Sisters
On average, they entered religious life at age 23, and came to the US at age 30
Forty-one percent have been in the US for 15 years or less

Ethnic/Racial Background (self-identification)

35 % Asian/Pacific Islander
33 % European/Canadian/Australian
21 % Latin American/Mexican
11 % African/Afro-Caribbean

Current Ministries

The largest percentage of international Sisters serve in parish/diocesan/ethnic group ministry, healthcare, and education.

14 % are students in college or a school of theology.
13 % serve in congregational/vocation/formation ministry. Some of these Sisters are in Congregations that have just opened a new mission in the U.S. The mission of some of these is to evangelize.
9 % serve in social services.
5 % are contemplative nuns in monasteries all over the U.S.
1 % serve in campus ministry.

Needs identified by these Sisters:

♦  Language training to attain fluency in English.
♦  Mentoring so that Sisters are accompanied as they navigate complex situations of ministry, community, Church and society.
♦  Acculturation processes for the sending and receiving groups.
♦  New initiatives on the part of US based Congregations to reach out to international Sisters in order to increase their sense of belonging and to build solidarity.

Listed above are just a few findings. Many more findings, plus analysis and recommendations, will be provided in a forthcoming book to be published next year. In the meantime, there has been keen interest in this study, especially at a gathering of leaders of national Catholic organizations in Washington, D.C. in March, 2017 and a session sponsored by the International Union of Superiors General (UISG) in Rome in May, 2017.

Also, my colleagues and I were grateful when Sr. Mary Pellegrino, CSJ, mentioned the significance of the study to the leaders assembled in Orlando, Florida in August 2017, in her Presidential Address to the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR).

It is the hope of our research team that the findings of this study will shed further light on the experiences and gifts of those who migrate to this country. We hope that it will be a useful tool for those who are interested in issues of immigration and particularily the gifts and challenges of those women religious who were born outside this country and who minister in the United States.


 

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Please show your support for all efforts to welcome “the strangers” among us.

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.”

On the Margins of Society

“I was hungry and you gave me food…thirsty and you gave me something to drink… a stranger and you welcomed me…” Matthew 25:35

st-margaret-logoSister Elizabeth Smoyer, SNDdeN finds energy and passion in her ministry in South Bend, Indiana at St. Margaret’s House (SMH), a day center committed to the Gospel value of hospitality. Opened 26 years ago, St. Margaret’s House helps women and children who live in poverty, as they struggle on the margins of society. The mission, central to SMH, is to empower women for improving the quality of life for themselves and their children. Staff and volunteers respond to immediate needs and open a pathway for women to make long-term changes leading to a new life. They offer programs to these women for acquiring skills to face the future with hope.

An Interview: Sister Elizabeth Smoyer describes her ministry at SMH.

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Sister Elizabeth Smoyer, SNDdeN coaches participants in the seminar, Creating My Future.

Since 2010, I have been serving as guest services caseworker, kitchen manager and assistant to the volunteer coordinator. The community at SMH helps women face life with dignity and take responsibility for improving their lives. I would describe the core of our mission as building and strengthening relationships, accomplished by “the mutual transformation of guests, staff, volunteers and donors,” in a supportive community. Poverty as well as wealth can be isolating. Addictions diminish health and the self-worth of individuals. At SMH, the hospitality shared provides acceptance, guidance in a non-judgmental way, safety and a good meal. The staff guides, respects and gives direct attention to each woman for a movement forward. Volunteers welcome guests, assist them in the clothes closet, and cook the daily meal. clothes-closet-webSome accompany the women in the art studio as they uncover talents and learn skills of artistic expression in a communal atmosphere. Volunteers have hearts and minds open to listen and support the guests and the staff. They offer help and speak of how they “receive so much more than they give;” they find how their own suffering connects them to our guests. Day by day, this communal experience opens deepening wells of compassion and silkcreations32014commitment. This community is open, honest and caring for one another. I believe this is transforming action: “By what happens in the community, everybody is changed.”

Concrete Steps
Our long-range goal is helping these women trapped in generational poverty to create their own paths for a stable and secure life for themselves and their families. With concrete steps, we assist the women to improve their lives with skills essential for competing in the workplace. The program Bridges Out of Poverty, Getting Ahead in a Just Getting By World offers a deeper understanding of the challenges faced by different economic classes. Women learn the causes of poverty and the hidden rules of the middle class. Each woman examines her own reality and circumstances for creating her own action plan. She names her personal resources to make concrete changes in her life.

Another seminar, Steps for Success, offers additional lessons for these women by giving them practical skills to find and sustain employment. My responsibility is to present this seminar and to coach participants through the entire process. I accompany participants who step out of “the tyranny of the moment,” of just “doing the next thing,” to reflect on where they have been and where they want to go. The women discover a spirituality of wholeness where their gifts and talents manifest themselves. They find financial literacy with a credit review, basic budgeting and banking and learn the basics of resume writing and interviewing skills.

Providing Meals for Homeless
daily-hot-lunch-webAbout 80 persons come each day to St. Margaret’s; 23% of our guests are homeless or precariously housed. We serve a continental breakfast and an afternoon snack, nutritious food meant for some to be their main meal of the day. Before the noon meal, everyone gathers to welcome by name and applaud newcomers. This meal fosters support and inclusion in our community. We share announcements, victories as well as burdens and gather in prayer led by our guests. These women set the tables, deliver meals to the children and also wash the dishes.

St. Margaret’s House supports the varying strengths and vulnerabilities of guests, staff and volunteers. Our participation in community transforms us as we stand “with people made poor in a world marked by increasing divisions and inequalities” (Calls General Chapter 2014, p. 5). When it may seem that the “work is worthless,” we remember the words of Thomas Merton: “In the end, it is the reality of personal relationship that saves everything.”

Learn more at St. Margaret’s House website or follow St. Margaret’s  on Facebook.