Voice for the Homeless

Voice for the Homeless: Interview with Sister Linda Bessom, SNDdeN

Sr. Linda Bessom SNDdeN, collects donations for the MA Coalition for the Homeless — A Bed for Every Child Initiative. (The Informer-Article 193)

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 and advocacy.

Direct Service
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.

Furnature-BankThe 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.

Coalition-Truck-at-IpswichRecently, 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.

Another Project
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 logo a bed for every childcapability to learn; lack of sleep has negative consequences for learning.  A Bed for Every Child Initiative arose 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.

Website: www.mahomeless.org
Voice for the Homeless: Interview with Sister Linda Bessom.pdf
Good Works Archive



Promises to Keep: Educational Legacy

“That they all may be one…” –John 17:21


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 anniversary of 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.


GW June 2016 – Promises to Keep


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.

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.

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.

    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.
Apr. 8 - St. Julie B_652498
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.

Life & Light in New Sites

by Sister Lorraine Connell, SNDdeN

Sr. Yerin Patricia Andakuro, SNDdeN helps workmen, installing solar panels for a new system in Oro, Nigeria.

In 2005, the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur (SNDdeN) entered into a marvelous venture to bring life and light to people and communities in Africa. Through the African Photovoltaic Project (APP), the leadership with the membership in our religious Congregation has given a serious commitment to action for equal access to information and communication for all our Sisters throughout the world. In researching this
possibility, it became evident to the congregational finance staff, charged with pursuing this issue, that there were more serious implications to this commitment. Especially in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Nigeria, lack of any infrastructure was a challenge for accessing power for electricity, water purification and technology for communications. Research highlighted the ministries and communities in places deprived of bare necessities for life sustenance. Providing an infrastructure for stable and reliable electricity became a major goal.

We found an electrical engineer, Louis Casey who was drawn to the mission and capable of creating systems that would meet the needs. With some funding and leadership approval, Louis tested the system of solar panels with storage batteries in a prototype of a system, built at Cuvilly Arts and Earth Center in Ipswich, MA and it worked successfully! This prototype resulted in the emergence of the APP as it exists today.

Current & New
Today the APP, also called the Power of the Sun Project, provides access to electricity, water purification systems and technology for communications in four sites in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and in five sites in Nigeria.

Nigeria Sites
In Nigeria, the Sisters have two full systems now, the first at Fugar (2006) at the Postulate house where new members enter the Congregation and the second system at Awkunanaw where there are two flourishing Notre Dame schools. Also, we have installed solar panels for power and lighting at the community houses in Abuja, Enugu, and Ilorin. The Sisters are grateful to the Congregation for providing life and light to their ministries and

Sr. Teresa Anyabuike
Sr. Teresa Anyabuike views the new installation of batteries in Oro, Nigeria.

communities in these places. They realize that the generosity of those supporting the APP is protecting the environment from the old generator’ carbon emissions, providing power for refrigeration and cooling and the use of technology for research, study, development and communications with the wider world. We are now expanding the project in Nigeria to add another site in Oro. The workmen are making progress in installing the solar panels with battery storage, in a project for new life for the Sisters serving in ministries in surrounding areas.

Congo Sites
In the Congo, the APP is already bringing power in full systems to schools, clinics, hospitals and communities at the first site in Ngidinga (2008) and added sites in Lemfu, Kitenda, Pelende (2010). Since our Congregation is supporting sustainable human development with the Photovoltaic System working well in the school, hospital and clinic

Sr. Esther Tomba and the children say “thank you” for life and light in Kitenda.

in Ngidinga, the Belgian Technical Corporation, a public service provider supporting developing countries as an agency of the Belgian Government, decided to fund the existing system at our first site. This Belgian firm has improved the hospital with new sanitation, a new kitchen and upgraded laboratories as part of an expansion of medical services
for the people. Our Congregation also is upgrading and doubling the Ngidinga system and replacing the water pumping system. We are using donations from our PUR Water Project to fund this water system.

The Power of the Sun, will soon be reaching new sites in the Congo. Currently, solar panels, battery packs for storage of energy and water purification systems are en route in shipping containers to the Congo for installations in upcoming months at three new sites in Kinsaku, Mpese and Nselo, as well as at Ngidinga. We expect the construction of these new systems to be completed by the end of 2016.

Success in Sustainability
The Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur know that, only with the support of so many people does the African Photovoltaic Project continue to be successful in providing life and light to multiple African communities. In these eleven years, Sr. Leonore Coan, Director of the Mission Support with the assistance of many SNDdeN provinces and many generous donors has received over $4,000,000 for this project. The Congregation has spent over $3,000,000 while reserving the remaining million dollars for the third upgrade, currently in process.

An idea which evolved from a mandate at the 2002 General Chapter for equal access to information and communication through technology grew into a major miracle for sustainable life for the Sisters, their ministries, communities and the people in two developing countries where the Sisters of Notre Dame live and serve. From the beginning, the Sisters have been involving the local communities in the installation and maintenance of the systems to insure the ongoing viability of the systems. Louis Casey who designed the system continues to consult the Sisters on their preferences for installation of the systems.

Gratitude for Support
Many readers of Good Works have shown tangible interest and support in sending donations to help fund this project. This article attempts to give a progress report on the current status of the project, to show how the support and contributions of so many donors have enabled the growth and development and to thank all contributors for success of the APP in bringing light and life to the people in two African countries. We, SNDdeN, offer gratitude in prayer for all who have made this project a success for many people.

Reprinted with permission of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, Life & Light in New Sites,” by Sister Lorraine Connell SNDdeN, Good Works, March 2016, pp. 4-7.

Good Works Archive on sndden.org


Sisters Respond to Local Needs in Glasgow

by Sister Mary Ross, SNDdeN

Parents, etc. is a drop-in centre, free of charge, for parents and other concerned family members seeking advice about children and young people. Currently, three Sisters staff GWNov2015-8the Centre: Sisters Kate Mulligan and Mary Ross, SNDdeN, psychologists, retired from active practice and Sister Theresa McAllister, SNDdeN, former administrator and teacher, returned from serving twenty-two years in Nigeria. Mrs. Margaret Bland, Mrs. Moira Berrie, and Mrs. Pat Hay, retired psychologist, join the Sisters in this family counseling service  for parents. Over ten years ago, the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur (SNDdeN) leased this small shop in Glasgow by using a fund designated to develop new ministries for our Sisters in Scotland, with money provided from the sale of stained-glass windows from Dowanhill College. In this two-room Centre, parents and other relatives bring a wide variety of family concerns. Individuals find tea and coffee in a welcoming space and privacy in a room provided for dialogue and counseling.

Critical Issues
One mother whose husband deserted her when her children were  very young, is now struggling with her teenagers. Her son, a  school drop-out, has become very defiant, and possibly on drugs. She expresses relief “to be able to talk without being judged.” Another mother describes her experience when a friend told her to call the Centre. She recounts: “I was very cynical and didn’t think I needed help.  Parents etc. is one of the best doors that I have opened…Sister Theresa made me a cup of tea and then I met with Sister Mary in another room.  I said: ‘My husband left me but I’m fine’ and then I burst into tears. My self-esteem and confidence were very low. A listening ear helped me get out my anger, frustrations and disappointment.” With two sons and an ex-husband, this mother has always faced new problems. Parents etc. enabled her to realise what a good parent she is and has been. Not only the warm welcome, a cup of hot tea, tissues on the table and a willing ‘pair of ears’ but also a little understanding are remedies for reaching the minds and hearts of those in need.

GWNov2015-9aParents and grand-parents spread the word about this Centre, which provides a hands-on approach to what parents can do that is very helpful. Another mother said: “I just walked in off the street and I was welcomed warmly. My stressful problem was something outside of myself, without any control. In trying to resolve my child’s problem at school, I was knocking my head against a brick wall until I met with Sr. Kate.”

Grandmothers come to tell about daughters with drug and alcohol addictions. They seek advice and reassurance as they give full-time care to their grand-children. They experience significant changes in their daily lives and search for advice and counsel.

The Sisters and lay staff know that it is sometimes necessary to access other agencies. Volunteer staff at the Centre supplies necessary information and prepares parents to work with other professionals. These agencies often have long waiting lists. So the speedy support offered by our Centre is a temporary solution.

GWNov2015-9bEach year, a variety of fundraising activities helps to cover essential costs including the property lease, electricity, water, phones and necessary materials. Local people and many Sisters support this ministry in different ways. Some parents help with a Christmas Fair, and are happy to participate in this effort to fund this drop-in centre. Parents etc. offers a friendly, nonthreatening atmosphere and gives assurance of privacy and confidentiality. In providing a listening ear and a non-judgmental approach for people in this city community, the Sisters in Glasgow are strengthening family bonds by this ministry for those facing “critical issues of our time…and other local issues.” (2014 General Chapter Calls)

Reprinted with permission from the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, “Sisters Respond to Local Needs in Glasgow” by Sister Mary Ross, SNDdeN, Good Works, November 2015, pp. 8-9.

GW Nov 2015 Sisters Respond to Local Needs in Glasgow.pdf

Good Works Archives


Children in Nicaragua Find Hope

By Sister Rebecca Trujillo, SNDdeN

GWNov2015-cover-300-pxThe Mission of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur (SNDdeN) extends to Matagalpa, a small rural town in northern Nicaragua, in a diocesan ministry to families who have children with handicapped conditions. At Special Families of Saint Julie Billiart (Familias Especiales de  Santa Julia Billiart), opened in 1996, families discover that they are not alone in their struggles. Mothers and their children find hope in a different  process for healing. Horses help to heal children. This world-wide treatment is an exclusive rehabilitation therapy, receiving recognition across the globe. Special Families (FE) has advanced this method of healing, without cost, begun in 2002 in a program for more than 500 children from the most deprived neighborhoods. This special therapy gives children with any disability a greater opportunity for physical improvement and social integration.

The family of Don Alvares Reyes,  who owns a horse ranch, supports St. Julie’s Mission of reaching out to vulnerable little ones, “the poor in the most abandoned places.” (SNDdeN Constitutions, #5, and Rule of 1818) Each week, this family reserves for Special Families two GWNov2015-4-600-pxhorses and the use of their property. Gustavo Vallejos and Suhey Meza Vallejos, staff at FE, four days a week, bring mothers and their children with disabilities to this ranch where the children meet Jacaranda and Encantada, two horses which work wonders.

These are no ordinary horses; they belong to an award-winning Spanish breed, treated like professional athletes. In the beginning, Asombrada was the first horse to be a part of the therapy sessions. When retired, she was quickly replaced by Jacaranda and Encantada (almost 30 years old).

Through this therapy,  children who are paralyzed:

  • Begin to develop their muscles 
  • Strengthen control of functioning muscles
  • Lift their heads Start to walk
  • Move arms and legs with less pain

GWNov2015-3b-300-pxDouglas is a paralyzed young boy, who experiences many involuntary body movements. Most of the time, his mother wheels her son, buckled in his chair around the ranch. He becomes a different individual when he is riding his friend, Encantada, a large white horse. But how can a person who is paralyzed ride a horse? Douglas shows such delight on horseback. Now he has some control of his involuntary movements, through this horse therapy because this scientific method uses the muscles of the horse  to develop the corresponding muscles in the human body.

Children begin horse therapy at two years of age. The therapist places the child, lying down on a blanket on the horse’s back. As the horse moves along, she stimulates the child’s outer muscles as well as massages the child’s inner organ muscles. As the muscles get strengthened through movement, the child becomes stronger and develops balance. In this relationship with the horse, children gain confidence knowing  that another living being, a friend, is able to reduce the pain and bring healing.

Autistic children capable of relating to the horses also receive this therapy. The staff at FE has witnessed miracles, when, after several sessions, autistic children hug their fathers for the first time. The horse motivates the child to improve, and being in a farm setting helps both the child and the mothers to relax, an opportunity not often available in their lives.

GWNov2015-3-300pxThis program is part of integrated therapy using a community rehabilitation model in which  groups of mothers with their children join together for sharing sessions. Each child has a specific plan for his/her therapy. FE works with the most vulnerable families who cannot afford to pay. Since having children with disabilities entails much responsibility, Special Families considers active participation and cooperation of the mothers as a form of payment for these families who have just minimal resources. The only titled horse-therapist in Nicaragua, Gustavo Vallejos, studied at Gimbernat University in Barcelona, Spain in an education program funded by Special Families. Then, he trained Suhey Meza Vallejos, another physical therapist. Each year, the University sends groups of  at least 12 graduates in physical therapy to work at FE, as interns learning and experiencing this healing through horse therapy.

Douglas’ mother thanks God each day for Jacaranda and Encantada because they have changed her son’s life by giving him better health and more opportunities for social integration. Mothers in this small rural town in Nicaragua experience the bonding relationship between their children and the two horses, and recognize that “Creatures exist only in dependence on each other, to complete each other and in service of each other.” (Pope Francis in his Encyclical, Laudato Sí, (#86), from the Catechism of the Catholic Church)

Link to video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MxW3Jm-9Hug

Reprinted with permission from the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, “Children in Nicaragua Find Hope,” Good Works, pp. 4-7, November 2015.

Familias Especiales (FE)

by Sister Rebecca Trujillo, SNDdeN and Therese Shuler

Familias Especiales de Santa Julia Billiart (FE) is a ministry that goes door-to-door, person-to-person – and crosses national boundaries.

In 1996, the Roman Catholic bishop of Matagalpa, Nicaragua, Leopoldo Brennes, invited the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur to support families who have children with disabilities.

The Bishop explained to Sister Rebecca Trujillo, “I have seen families where a special child is born and the family falls apart and others where the child brings the family closer together and what we want in our dioceses are families who are united through the needs of their children.”

sunflowerSister Rebecca and Marlene Hernandez, the mother of a special-needs child, started a neighborhood effort to find families like Marlene’s with special-needs children. Those first one-to-one relationships have expanded to a comprehensive network of services in Matagalpa and a network of support extending to individuals and organizations in over 12 countries. Through this people-intensive outreach, they identified more than 500 families with special-needs children. The foundation Familias Especiales de Santa Julia Billiart (FE) became a legal entity in Nicaragua in 2001.

The one-on-one visits connect mothers with each other. The majority are single mothers who are heads of households. For the first four years the organization did not have an office or vehicle, but took as its motto the phrase, “You are not alone.” Most mothers were like prisoners in their own homes before Familias Especiale and they did not have a way to express their needs. Through scripture and prayer these mothers began to understand that together they could make a difference.

St.-Julie-Park-of-StarsThe person-to-person aspect of this ministry encompasses spiritual and psychological support, various kinds of therapies, and small-business and job training for these young people and their families, most often their mothers.

“Mother-leaders” have one-to-one contact with other mothers of special-needs children. The mothers, volunteers, and professionals are involved in setting direction for FE and overseeing its programs.

Supporting this extensive network of mothers is an international network including organizations and volunteers from 14 countries.

FE also has a special relationship with universities in Spain, the United States, Switzerland and Finland. These involve an exchange of students who learn from professionals in FE and also support programs economically.

“What we have always done in FE is invite as Jesus did,” says Sister Rebecca. “We say to the mothers ‘You are not alone’ and to volunteers ‘Come and learn with us new ways to be in solidarity and together all of us can make a difference.'”

Excerpted and reprinted with permission from the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, “Familias Especiales” Goes Door-to-Door – And Nation-to-Nation,” Good Works, pp. 4-7, December 2007.


Education in Haiti with Opportunity for Employment

By Sister Katherine Corr, SNDdeN, Executive Director of Notre Dame Mission Volunteers

Sr.-Katherine-Coor,-SNDdeN,-etcNotre Dame Mission Volunteers (NDMV) are partnering with Notre Dame Family Education Center in Haiti to facilitate expanded educational access and job readiness. The Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur (SNDdeN) have been serving since 2009 in La Savane, a deprived neighborhood, located in the city of Les Cayes. Serving a community that has no social safety-net nor any basic government services, the Sisters opened a Center which provides basic education, health services, and job training skills. Guided by St. Julie Billiart’s educational principles, the Mission Volunteers with the Sisters educate for life. They are involved in a multi-year effort in planning for the future. They are engaging the people of La Savane in a transformational process for more services to increase access to education, vocational training, and basic needs like clean water and food for their families.

Four full-time Mission Volunteers, recruited from the U.S. and the La Savane community, are now involved throughout the year as co-leadership in literacy classes at the Center. They assist with projects related to needs outlined by the community. Inspired by commitment and energy of the people in the neighborhood, these American and Haitian volunteers work alongside nearly 200 women, adolescents, and children.

VolunteersIn La Savane, these Mission Volunteers:

  • Give English classes to adolescents
  • Lead an after-school literacy class for children
  • Teach reading, writing, and math to children unable to afford school education
  • Oversee a computer literacy course for young adults
  • Help women in small craft industries already begun by teaching them math skills for these industries
  • Lead community cleanups with people in the neighborhood

At the Center, the volunteers are currently aiding in the construction of a potable well, leading an agricultural program for young adults, and directing a meals program for students and other individuals in certain projects. One volunteer shared, “The strength of this program comes from the many people in La Savane who are involved.”

On-going Challenges
Hatian-Mother-and-child Haiti is currently ranked as the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere with 80% living under the poverty level, in being deprived of food security, access to clean water, education and employment. NDMV has been successful in establishing a strong partnership with the community and expanding the capacity of the Center to meet neighborhood needs. Like the country, the neighborhood, has many challenges. Most families cannot afford to send their children to school.

In attempting to develop a holistic learning community in the neighborhood, the Sisters and lay volunteers witness firsthand the catastrophic effect of unemployment without possibilities for job opportunities, as well as the lack of educational and physical training for the children. Families ask for help in getting meaningful employment in La Savane. Parents search to rise above these seemingly insurmountable obstacles and plead for work in order to feed their families and support education for their children.

La Savane Builds a Bakery
BakersIn working closely with Sister Jeannette Pierre- Louis, SNDdeN, Director of the Center, the local Diocese, Catholic Relief Services, and with the local community, NDMV is addressing this need by establishing a small bakery enterprise. The bakery will offer the residents of La Savane a chance to learn a trade, become familiar with important business skills, and provide income for the people to pay for schooling their children. To have food for families and financial resources for educating the children is the primary goal. To build a bakery in collaboration with neighborhood leaders and the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, is a shared objective for creating jobs for twelve men and women. NDMV is currently engaged in a the Haiti Project to raise $150,000 as seed money to begin initial stages for opening a bakery in La Savane. This is an enormous business enterprise, and one way out of poverty for this Haitian community, while upholding the human dignity and God-given potential of those in need. The opening of a bakery is a tangible action for change of the Notre Dame Mission Volunteers and the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur.

 From Good Works, June 2015. Reprinted with permission.


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.


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

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