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This post is part of our Advent Reflection Series – a collection of original blog posts written by the Sisters of Notre Dame.

In today’s reading from the Gospel according to Luke, Mary rushes to visit with her cousin Elizabeth. The Angel Gabriel told Mary that Elizabeth was with child, and Mary herself was to bear the Son of God. Both women discovered in each other a mystery that they did not fully understand, and yet they were filled with the joy of eager anticipation.

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What struck me about this scripture passage was the faith and humility of Elizabeth. She is humbled to be visited by the future mother of her Lord. She will share in the joy of motherhood with Mary, her relative. How often do we have the grace to share such an intimate moment with a friend, relative or even a stranger, knowing that God is making known his presence in us?

I have a friend, Brittney, whom I consider to be my sister. We share many things in common, but what binds us is our faith in Jesus. We pray the rosary together whenever possible, and we have confidence that no matter the challenges that we face in our life journey, we share in the joy of God’s love and mystery. We feel God’s presence through one another.

As we draw closer to celebrating Christmas, we are called to remember and reflect on the blessings of the people who have touched us with their wisdom and witness of their lives of faith. How can we reflect the presence of God to others as we say, “Come, Lord Jesus!”?

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This post is part of our Advent Reflection Series – a collection of original blog posts written by the Sisters of Notre Dame.

The tradition of gift-giving at Christmas stems from the reality of God’s gift to us in the person of Jesus.  Although we tire of black Friday, pre-Christmas/post-Christmas advertising and all the commercialism that surrounds gift-giving, abundant reflection awaits us.

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With gift-giving comes the ever essential wish list. As children, after we sat on Santa’s lap, whoever accompanied us to see Santa would carefully ask us what we had requested of him. Now families who are adopted by various charities provide wish lists of their needs and desires. And anyone can create a wish list on Amazon.com.

In John 4:10 Jesus said to the Samaritan woman, “If only you knew the gifts God wants to give you.” We might flip this idea of a wish list. As the calendar year comes to a close, we might take stock of our recent spiritual and relational life. Then ask the Spirit, “What are the gifts you want to give me?” or “What is on your wish list for me?”

In Mary we find a model of great receptivity. Humbly I might ask her for the grace to be receptive to the gifts God wants to give me—this Advent, this Christmas and in the New Year. And a fitting New Year’s resolution might be the commitment and courage to ask this question in our daily examination of conscience: “O God, what are the gifts you want to give me?”

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This post is part of our Advent Reflection Series – a collection of original blog posts written by the Sisters of Notre Dame.

It seems hard to believe that we have already reached the second week of the Advent season, when we revisit the story of John the Baptist calling out to us in the words of Isaiah: “Make ready the way of the Lord! Clear him a straight path!”

We might choose to lament that “making ready” has come to mean decorating and shopping, planning, scheduling and traveling; but how sad it is if we don’t move beyond those thoughts to make our own preparation for the coming of the Lord. Imagine how Mary was preparing in those last weeks before her son’s birth. She had to be so focused on that life within her, what his birth would mean, how her life would change. She was clearly making ready and clearing the path for him.

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So, we may need to ask ourselves: What am I doing this Advent that is different than previous years to make ready the way of the Lord in my heart, in my life with others, in the larger world? What am I actively doing to clear Him a straight path?

We need to make within us place and space. This may mean that we need to focus on gratitude and joy, and weed out the negative and our tendency to judge others. It may mean that we are called to simplify our life in some way: reduce our commitments and our busy-ness; clear out our possessions to pass on to others; challenge our own decisions so we give time and attention to relationships that are healthy and helpful.

Maybe this year, clearing the path is about dealing with a thorny relationship, or something we are holding on to which blocks the path for the Lord’s presence. Perhaps it’s about reaching beyond ourselves and forming new relationships with persons who have something to offer from a background, culture, experience, or education that is different from our own.

It may mean that we spend more time in silence and prayer to foster a greater openness within, a clearing out of our own heart, to make way for the message God has for us. As we celebrate this week of Advent, how will we respond to the question: Will I be ready to hear what he has to say to me this year?

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This post is part of our Advent Reflection Series- a collection of original blog posts written by the Sisters of Notre Dame.

Ah, Night! Bursting with new-born-stars
Strewing pathways of fire as they soar
In silent pilgrimage through endless space,
And I stand smallened by their hugeness.
And yet within me, deeply rooted, is a light
Already safe at home and never to be dimmed.
– (Rainer Maria Rilke translated by William J. O’Malley)

The stars are lighting up the skies even when we cannot see them clearly. Our God is present in our midst even when we are unconscious of the very real presence of the divine. The divine spark is within each of us even when we focus only on our failures and limitations.

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When I was a postulant, the bulletin board outside our dining room had the following Advent reminder:

“Many saw the star, but only a few had the courage and wisdom to follow the star that led to love!”

Advent is a time for renewing ourselves in seeking and finding and celebrating the light that is Jesus. It is a time to get back in touch with the star that calls us to believe, to follow, to discover the gift that is Jesus living within me. Do I have the courage?

It is a time for pulling away (for a few moments each day, for perhaps an hour or maybe for even a day) to put aside the hustle and bustle of the pre-Christmas season to concentrate on the star that is beckoning.

Advent is a time to reach into my own soul and find the God who dwells within; the Child who yearns to be born anew in me; the Child who has perhaps been forgotten in the busyness of everyday life; the Child who needs to be tended to, loved, cherished in my heart; the Child who is the Prince of Peace.

Advent is a time of preparation. It is a difficult time if we use it properly. It is not limited to buying gifts, but is discovering anew the gifts within ourselves. It is not limited to decorating trees, but is challenging us anew to prepare (yes, even decorate) our hearts for the rebirth of Jesus in our lives. It is not limited to cleaning our homes for guests, but is calling us to “clean up” and get rid of the clutter in our lives that is preventing us from being a truly Christ-welcoming home. Do I have the courage to follow the star of Advent, the star that leads to love?

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With sadness in our hearts and gratitude for her friendship and good example, the Sisters of Notre Dame announce the death of Sister Mary Donnamay Weigler on Saturday, October 24, just one month short of her 87th birthday.

Sister Mary Donnamay was an only child whose mother died unexpectedly when she was 11 months old. Although her father eventually remarried, Sister later wrote: “It was my grandmother who raised me and had the greatest influence on me during my early years.”
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A devoted educator and musician, Sister Mary Donnamay enjoyed reading the newspaper and working on jigsaw puzzles. Before she passed into eternity last Saturday, a number of residents and nurses at Mary Health of the Sick Nursing Home in Newbury Park commented that Sister never complained about anything. The SNDs who lived with her over the years can attest to her patience and good example.

During her life, Sister always felt especially close to the Blessed Virgin. As she explained: “Three special events in my life happened on a Saturday. I was born on a Saturday, entered religious life on a Saturday, and made Perpetual Vows on a Saturday.” Lastly, Sister Mary Donnamay quietly went home to God on Saturday, October 24.

We thank and praise God for the many graces that she shared with each of us. We can be confident that she will be our powerful intercessor until that day when we see her again. 

Those interested in celebrating the life of Sister Mary Donnamay can join the Sisters of Notre Dame on Saturday, October 31, from 9:00 to 10:00 a.m. at Notre Dame Center (1776 Hendrix Avenue, Thousand Oaks 91360) for a visitation. A service will follow at 10:00 a.m. officiated by the Revered Padriac Loftus, Pastor Emeritus at Saint Mel’s Church in Woodland Hills.

Click here to see Sister’s obituary on the Ventura County Star website. 

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Vision & Challenge is published tri-annually by the Office of Mission Advancement for the Sisters of Notre Dame in California. This issue highlights some exciting new ministries of the sisters, including Sister Jennifer Marie Zimmerman’s position at Christus Ministries. If you would like to be added to our mailing list, please send an email to cvieira@sndca.org.

Click here to read the online version.

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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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Next week we will host our annual donor appreciation brunch and open house at Notre Dame Center in Thousand Oaks, California. In the spirit of thanksgiving, Sister Mary Colette Theobald, who is currently serving in Uganda, wrote a letter of appreciation to our many spiritual and monetary supporters. Uganda 081

Dearest Benefactors,

I want to personally thank you for all the support you give to the Sisters of Notre Dame. I very personally see your spiritual and monetary contributions at work in the Uganda mission. The Sisters of Notre Dame have been in Uganda for 20 years.  The primary school began in 1998, formation for young sisters in 2002, the secondary school in 2003, nursery school in 2007 and a second community in 2009. Construction for a new nursery school for Buseesa has started. There are 12 Ugandan Sisters. Ten more are in the novitiate in Tanzania. Hundreds of young people have benefited from a strong Notre Dame education. Those who have completed their studies are beginning to return to their villages to uplift the standard of living of the people there. None of this would have been possible without you! Thank you, thank you! Webale muno! God bless you! Ruhanga asiimwe.

Thank you, too, for all the other ways you help and support the Sisters of Notre Dame: ministry projects, housing support and renovation, and support for our wonderful aged sisters who gave so much to serve God and His people. May God bless each and every one of you with all the graces and blessings you need at this time.

Please be assured of many prayers for yourself and your families from all of us in Uganda!

Lovingly and gratefully yours,

Sister Mary Colette, SND
Mpala, Uganda

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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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“We are always climbing the mountain, but Jubilee is a time to pause and enjoy the view,” said Sister Rose Marie Tulacz, who celebrated 40 years, as a Sister of Notre Dame on July 11, surrounded by her loved ones. On Jubilee day, Sister Rose Marie renewed her vows in the company of three other Sisters of Notre Dame. “The faith and courage the Jubilarians witness to in their call to religious life inspires me. Courage and faithful commitment is an undervalued trait in today’s society,”

At the age of 18 after high school graduation, Sister Rose Marie entered the convent in 1972. She gratefully recalls her former novice directress, Sister Mary Damien, who mentored and encouraged a life of prayer, service and fortitude. After pronouncing first vows in 1975 as a Sister of Notre Dame, Sister Rose Marie taught for 16 years at the primary, elementary, and junior high level.

Since 1993, Sister is a photographer specializing in spiritual and humanitarian outreach. The Notre Dame Creations ministry has taken her around the globe where she has passionately deepened her engagement with the mission of the Church, scripture, and the family of God. Sister combines her gifts of liturgical and fine art photography, as well as writing, speaking, retreats, spiritual direction, and parish missions. In 2004, Sister Rose Marie produced a fine art book of photography and inspirational writing entitled In the Between. Proceeds from the book enabled the Sisters of Notre Dame in Tanzania and Kenya to build the Zinduka Women’s Center, Notre Dame School for elementary and high school students, Aloysia Orphanage, and Notre Dame Primary School.

In April of this year, Sister Rose Marie traveled to Corpus Christi, Texas for an immersion experience at the border of Mexico. She joined several Sisters of Notre Dame, all from different American Provinces, to minister at the border. She described her experience there, “witnessing the desperation of migrants facing deportation” as life changing. “I am grateful for the grace to respond to the call to come to the border and be unsettled by truth. I am grateful that despite the often-painful topics and emotional encounters, I see Jesus in the volunteers, the sisters and the immigrants,” she said.

Sister recently completed graduate studies in Pastoral Theology and Ministry at Boston College. She will be exhibiting Notre Dame Creations at the Papal World Family Meeting in the Philadelphia Convention Center. September 21-25, 2015.

Left, Themi Slums, Njiro, Anisha, Tanzania, East Africa Sr. Roshmi on left, Sr. Rose Marie holding child

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