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Posts Tagged ‘Charism’

The Congregation of the Sisters of Notre Dame came into being in Coesfeld, Germany in 1850. In 1849, two young teachers, Hilligonde Wolbring and Elisabeth Kühling, befriended orphaned and neglected children and took them into Hilligonde’s home where they educated and cared for them. Both young women had been educated in the spiritual and pedagogical tradition of Reverend Bernard Overberg.

Their spiritual director, Reverend Theodor Elting, invited them to consider religious life. Three Sisters of Notre Dame of Amersfoort, in the Netherlands, came to Coesfeld in 1850 to give these two women preparatory training for religious life. The Amersfoort congregation had received their spirit and rule from the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, founded in France by Julie Billiart in 1804.

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Hilligonde became Sister Maria Aloysia, and Elisabeth, Sister Maria Ignatia. October 1 is considered Foundation Day because it was the first day that the Sisters of Notre Dame were in Coesfeld, Germany. Today the Sisters of Notre Dame, a Marian family of women religious, serve the Church throughout the world in education and other ministries. Together with their lay collaborators, they continue to be bearers of hope and joy, witnessing to God’s goodness and provident care.

Schools across the county with roots to the Sisters of Notre Dame are encouraged to celebrate Foundation Day and the rich heritage of the sisters. One year, Notre Dame Academy in Toledo, Ohio, celebrated Foundation Day by inviting some of the Sisters of Notre Dame to have lunch with the students and teachers. “Sharing a sandwich” with one of the sisters was a wonderful way to build a connection between the student body and the heritage of the sisters in a casual setting.

Acting in the spirit of St. Julie Billiart who proclaimed, “You are not asked to do all the good in the world, just that bit which lies within your power,” Notre Dame Academy in West Los Angeles initiated Women Helping Women. Each graduating class has the honor of leaving behind a $1,000 student scholarship for an incoming freshman who needs financial assistance to attend NDA. Earning their own money by doing an extra family chores, each student is asked to bring in a modest donation to help another young girl realize her dream of attending NDA. Money is collected on Foundation Day.

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Inspiring Catholic school educators with the charism of the Sisters of Notre Dame is one of Sister Marie Paul Grech’s top priorities. Put simply, that charism (or what the sisters believe) is that God is good and provides for us. They strive to look at the world with hope; and what could be more important in a classroom than a positive attitude?

Sister Marie Paul loves this part of her ministry. Her love for teachers and her respect for the role they play in the lives of their students shows in her dedication to faculty and staff retreats.

“These men and women who give of themselves so generously to touch the hearts of the young are always an inspiration to me. It’s a real joy to continue spreading our Notre Dame charism and spirit,” Sister said.

She taught secondary school for more than 30 years in Ventura and LA counties, as well as in the sisters’ mission in Uganda, Africa. Armed with her faith and a lifetime of experience as a sister, Sister Marie Paul shows others how to infuse their classrooms with joy and compassion.

“Teachers continue our mission in our sponsored and affiliate schools where we are no longer physically present. God’s call to teachers in every Catholic school is vibrant and it is my joy to be part of their ongoing response to that call,” she said.

Sister recently led a retreat for 20 teachers from Saint Jude the Apostle School in Westlake, Calif. The retreat began with a morning Mass and breakfast, followed by small group discussions and a video presentation.DSC_0455

“Your job” Sister Marie Paul told the group “is to help children connect the dots- between science and religion, between what they learn on the playground and in the classroom. Your job is to teach them how to learn.”

Deana Herrera (pictured at right in the photo below) has taught at Saint Jude the Apostle School for seven years. She was motivated to apply Sister Marie Paul’s lessons in her fourth-grade classroom.

“Her positive spirit reminds us to see the good in our everyday lives,” Herrera said. “Sometimes when things don’t go as planned, one of my students will say something really funny. Those moments are God saying ‘Lighten up!’”DSC_0470

Sister Marie Paul is the coordinator of Kindred Hearts Ministries (KHM). KHM offers prayer programs, spiritual events, retreats and many other services for local parishioners provided by the Sisters of Notre Dame. To learn more about KHM, visit www.sndca.org/khm or email Sister Marie Paul at mgrech@sndca.org. Click here for the KHM calendar of events.

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At the end of the school year, the Sisters of Notre Dame attended a Many Mansions award ceremony. They watched proudly as 20 students received academic scholarships, four of which were donated by the sisters. Sister Mary Joan Schlotfeldt was moved by ceremony.

“I felt proud to be a Sister of Notre Dame and be able to help those who are pursuing an education,” she said.

Many Mansions is a non-profit that builds and maintains affordable housing complexes for low-income families in Ventura County and the Conejo Valley. According to the Many Mansions website, the organization owns and manages over 500 units, housing about 1,000 adults and 300 children. They also provide on-site services including job training, case management, homework literacy, free summer camp for kids and a scholarship program called Vicky’s Fund.

Sister Mary Lisa Megaffin first became involved with Many Mansions as a board member in 1995. While serving on the board, Sister Mary Lisa met Marty and Eileen Garcia.

“When I first joined the board I had a lot to learn about affordable housing. Whenever we were deliberating a major topic, Marty would always ask ‘How does this relate to our mission?’ Our growing friendship and collaboration gave me opportunities to observe him, his faith and his concern for those in need,” said Sister Mary Lisa.

Sister Mary Lisa Megaffin at Notre Dame Center in May.

Sister Mary Lisa Megaffin at Notre Dame Center in May.

Several years later, the Garcias became Associates with the Sisters of Notre Dame.

“Growing up, my perception of nuns was completely different from the experience I’ve had with the Sisters of Notre Dame,” said Marty. “They’re out in the world, actually living their charism. Sister Lisa has made a huge impact on Many Mansions. She and I go way back, so we’re really able to see the growth that Many Mansions has had.”

The Garcias started Vicky’s Fund three years ago in memory of Marty’s mother, Victoria Garcia. A child of Spanish immigrants to the U.S., Victoria was only able to obtain a 4th grade education before she had to begin working to help her family. As an adult, she volunteered as a bilingual teacher’s aide until she was in her mid-eighties.

“After my mother’s funeral, people came up to me and told me what an impact she had on them. She had an innate ability to recognize that the children in her classes couldn’t focus on their studies because they came from unstable home environments. She set out to make the classroom a safe place and build up their God-given talents and self-esteem. I asked myself what I could do to extend her vision. It dawned on me to start a scholarship within Many Mansions,” said Marty.

In three years, 48 students have received a total of $23,000 in scholarships through Vicky’s Fund and Many Mansions. Scholarship recipients range in age and academic goals. Some are young students preparing for college, and others are adults earning their GED or taking vocational training classes. The main requirement for the scholarship is that the recipient is a resident at a Many Mansions property.

“We want to offer something that will help with their finances and build up their self-esteem,” said Marty. “Seeing their appreciation lets me know I’m doing the right thing. I started the scholarship in honor of my mother, but it’s given me so much more than I could have imagined.”

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Saint Julie Billiart is the spiritual mother of the Sisters of Notre Dame, since she was not living when the religious order began, but the order is based on her spirituality and teachings. She was born on July 12, 1751; died on April 8, 1816; and was canonized on June 22, 1969.

Marie Rose Julie Billiart (as she was baptized) was born in the French village of Cuvilly during the French Revolution.  Even as a young child, Julie’s love for the good God was apparent to all who knew her. She told bible stories and taught about Jesus to neighboring children.

As a young woman several things happened to her and her family which left them in poverty and traumatized her in such a way that she was paralyzed and had difficulty speaking. In spite of these physical handicaps, Julie served God by preparing children for their First Communion. She offered spiritual guidance to adults who came to her because of her wisdom, goodness and love of God, even in the midst of all her suffering.

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With her friend, Francoise Blin de Bourdon, Julie, then 53 years old, began a religious community of sisters: the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur.  These women wanted to follow Julie and Francoise in their dedication to God, their spreading of the message that God is good, and their work teaching poor children. Julie was still paralyzed when a priest asked her to pray for an unknown special intention. This special intention was Julie’s cure, so after 23 years of being paralyzed, Julie began to walk. She was able then to travel to all the places her sisters were in order to help them become sisters and teachers. She wrote many letters and made many journeys to her sisters until she died in 1816.

Two other religious communities of sisters were founded after Julie Billiart died that are also called Sisters of Notre Dame. Their way of living as sisters and relating to God comes from Saint Julie Billiart. One of these religious communities is the Sisters of Notre Dame of Coesfeld, Germany, and they eventually came to the United States and became the congregation we know today.

Prayer from the Mass of Saint Julie

Almighty and eternal God, you called Saint Julie Billiart to respond joyfully to the love of your crucified Son in dedicating herself to the education of the poor. Grant that her prayer and example may inspire us to respond with love to His Cross, in serving the needs of others with true goodness of heart. Amen.

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On this feast of Corpus Christi, we reflect on how grateful we are (or should be!) for the gift of Jesus in the Eucharist.  Jesus’ presence in our life does make a difference.  His promise to be with us always helps us deal with the many challenges that come our way….

A story to make us think….

A lecturer was giving a talk to his students on stress management.  He raised a glass of water and asked the audience, “How heavy do you think this glass of water is?”  The students’ answers ranged from 20g to 500g.

The teacher responded, “It does not matter on the absolute weight.  It depends on how long you hold it.

If I hold it for a minute, it is ok.

If I hold it for an hour, I will have an ache in my arm.

If I hold it for a day, you will have to call an ambulance.

It is exactly the same weight, but the longer I hold it, the heavier it becomes.

If we carry our burdens all the time, sooner or later, we will not be able to carry on, the burden becoming increasingly heavier.  What we have to do is put the glass down, rest for a while before hold it up again.  We have to put down the burden periodically, so that we can be refreshed and are able to carry on.”

Whatever burdens you are having now, let them down for a moment.  Ask Jesus to help you carry the load when you pick it up again.  It is not intended that we do it alone…Jesus has promised:  “I am with you always….”

– Sr. Marie Paul Grech, SND

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All people long to give their lives and hearts to something that really matters. For each Sister of Notre Dame, at some moment, that something became a Someone. The core of who we are as Sisters of Notre Dame lies in our deep relationship with God, who is both compassionate love and mystery. Our spiritual journey draws us into the unfolding and unfathomable mystery of God’s love. Our need to keep spiraling into God’s love is one with our desire for the transformation of the world. Called to participate in Jesus’ mission, we want to share with others what is deepest within our being: our experience of God’s goodness and provident care—the charism of the Sisters of Notre Dame. We strive to be a healing presence in the world: women of God who have come to know Jesus and the movement of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

One of the great joys of belonging to an international congregation is that our world is broken open as we learn the customs, ways of praying, insights and needs of our brothers and sisters throughout the world. One of the greatest joys and privileges I have had as a Superior was to visit our Sisters on many continents! Aside from many adventures and making lots of new friends, I learned that our ministries may differ and we may not all look alike, but the spirit of joyful simplicity and deep belief in the goodness and providence of God is the same in Africa, Brazil, Europe, the United States and everywhere in the Notre Dame world! As the mission of Jesus continues to give us new energy for the 21st century, we strive to be a healing presence in the world: women of God who have come to know God and the movement of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Take a virtual tour of Notre Dame international at www.snd1.org. Enjoy!

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Our Foundress and first Sisters were social mystics, women rooted in God and sent on a mission to help poor children. Time has not dimmed the witness of their lives…lives that testify that authentic prayer leads to care of the most vulnerable and action on behalf of justice. Today women responding to the call to religious life likewise desire to be rooted in God and sent on mission. We, too, with God’s help will be social mystics in our own day.

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