Sister Ann Rene McConn, SNDdeN

Sister Ann Rene McConn, SNDdeN

July 18, 1938 – January 22, 2018

Yes, in joy you shall go forth, in peace you shall be brought home; mountains and hills shall break out in song before you, all trees of the field shall clap their hands. (Isaiah 55:12)

Mary Catherine McConn was born to a father of Irish descent and a mother of German descent, both with deep roots in Southwest Ohio, and both with strong work ethics. Mary was the second child and oldest daughter, and “home” was always important to her. She remembered the family moving twice and living in three different houses. She remembered learning to bake a pie by watching her mother working in the kitchen and then making it on her own. By age 10 Mary was baking all the birthday cakes for the family. She fondly remembered scrubbing baseboards on her hands and knees and helping to care for her youngest brother. Mary learned more than home-making skills from her parents, however. She said, “At home, our parents always encouraged us to do our best. That was the culture of the house. But it was more about making the effort than the results…. They taught me to think problems through, and that’s really a skill and an art.”

The third house her family moved to was in St. Agnes Parish in the Bond Hill neighborhood of Cincinnati. There Mary was a student of the Sisters of Notre Dame, based in Kentucky, who staffed both the parish school and St. Aloysius Orphanage, which Mary could see from her back yard. She liked the Sisters, and when it came time for high school they offered her a scholarship to attend Notre Dame Academy in Park Hills, Kentucky. Mary accepted the scholarship, finished her education with the Sisters and entered their community in 1956. She received the name Sister Mary Ann Rene when she entered the novitiate. After first vows, she spent 13 years teaching grade school (5th – 8th grade) and high school (English, History, American Government). Sister also designed curriculum units, served as debate coach, and finished her BA and MA degrees with a focus on European and American History.

By 1972 the Church and society had experienced radical changes. Sister saw a need for education beyond the classroom and felt called to try and meet that need. She was given permission to accept a position as Program Administrator for a community education program in Bond Hill. In that role she coordinated community education programs, trained volunteers, conducted community-based research, and raised funds for community-based activities. Sister loved the work and felt it was making a difference. Her superiors were not so sure it was a good fit for a member of their community. After a painful discernment process, Sister asked to transfer to the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur. They were “cousins” of the Sisters of Notre Dame, but by 1972 many of their Sisters were moving into diversified ministries. Sister entered the SNDdeN in September 1976 and made her final vows with them, as Sister Ann Rene, on November 4, 1978. In her letter asking to make final vows, Ann Rene wrote of transferring 

“…my religious commitment, my life, myself from one mode of living St Julie’s vision to another. I have found in the Namur tradition the values to which I aspire. With the loving support of Sisters these past two years, I have found the strength to follow what appeared to be a valid call. I feel now that I am coming home. …with new hope that I can continue to contribute something of Julie’s gift to God’s people.” 

Ann Rene would spend 14 years in community organization and development, in city administration, and teaching part time at various Cincinnati area colleges and universities. While in city administration, Ann Rene administered a one million dollar grant from the C.S. Mott Foundation that enabled forty-seven neighborhood community councils to further develop their organizational skills and operate more self-help programs. During this time she served as a member of the national Community Education Association, the State of Ohio Commission on Community Education, the Cincinnati Planning Council, the Initiatives Committee and as vice president of the Coalition of Neighborhoods. For five years she was president of Cincinnati Habitat for Humanity. Ann Rene also served as president of the Neighborhood Development Corporation Association. She set an excellent example of putting theory into practice for her students. One wrote, 

“Many of the students you taught at NKU are now working successfully in public management or the not for profit sector. I and many others owe you a large debt of gratitude, for you taught us the things usually not taught in college, concern and compassion in public management. You are living your teachings and are an example for us to follow.”

In 1985, while Ann Rene was working as a grant coordinator for the City of Cincinnati, she observed 2 pressing needs in the city: revitalization of older neighborhoods and affordable housing for low-income families, especially those headed by single-parent women. She thought, “Why don’t we just build some nice, modest three bedroom homes on vacant lots in these neighborhoods?” Everyone told her she couldn’t do it. Ann Rene replied, “Maybe, but let me see for myself.” It took a couple of years, but in 1987 she founded Cincinnati Housing Partners (CHP) with the support of her community. Ann Rene had to learn the construction and money-lending business quickly. As she said, “When I started, I didn’t know the difference between a construction loan and a mortgage. There was a steep learning curve.” She learned quickly. CHP bought and rehabbed their first home in 1987 and sold it three months later. By August of 2004 CHP had sold 150 houses to lower income families. 

Ann Rene had found a way to put her home-making skills to work helping those in need. The problem solving lessons she had learned from her parents were passed on to prospective home-buyers as she taught them how to save for a down payment, how to rehab their future home, how to budget to meet mortgage payments and how to do simple maintenance to care for their home. Families were able to establish stability and sink roots. Ann Rene celebrated with families who saw children graduate from high school and college for the first time. She compiled research that proved what she had always believed: a place to live is much more than shelter. If their parents own a home, children tend to stay in school and out of trouble. “Life is focused for them in a place. They have roots. They have to make a go of it. This gives the children a sense of purpose and identity.” In recognition of her contributions to the people of Cincinnati Ann Rene was named one of the Cincinnati Enquirer’s Women of the Year in 2004, honored by Notre Dame Academy at their 2011 Women Making a Difference Luncheon, and received an award from the City of Cincinnati in 2015. After reporting on her work, one the reporter commented: “Sisters are a beacon of light for families who strive to improve their lives through ministries that nurture and foster family values.” 

Ann Rene retired from Cincinnati Housing Partners in 2006, but continued to be involved in working for justice. She was asked to consult with the Westwood Community Urban Redevelopment Corporation and that led to a volunteer ministry she loved: working with others housing and business presence in the neighborhood. Anne Rene continued working with CURC until health issues brought her to Mount Notre Dame Health Center in 2014. 

The Sisters of the Ohio Unit called Ann Rene to serve on the Ohio Unit Leadership Team from 1994 to 2000. She also served as a member of the Ohio Unit Assembly, on various committees and boards locally and nationally, and gave short-term volunteer service with Sisters of Notre Dame in both Nicaragua and Japan. Ann Rene was known for her organized thinking, creativity and tenacity. Community meetings, small and large, benefited from her contributions. She brought an energy to everything she did that could energize those around her. Ann Rene loved to travel and shared stories of adventures on journeys with Sisters, family and dear friends. She especially enjoyed camping and hiking. Ann Rene was an avid gardener and brought those skills with her to the Health Center. She also enjoyed genealogy. It brought together two of Ann Rene’s favorite things: history and her family. Her philosophy of life was summed up well in the application written about her for the Woman of the Year award:

Often when addressing groups, Sister will say, “Someplace in us, I think, there are all these seeds of energy and creativity and desire. If we keep focused outside ourselves, this stuff will bloom, because it is supposed to. If you sit around your whole life looking at ‘me’, it’s like standing on your own roots. You don’t let things bloom.” She will go on to say, “It’s not so much how smart you are, but how willing you are to learn. I think things that are worth doing are worth working hard at.”

Her Sisters, family, friends and coworkers take a moment to remember all of Ann Rene’s hard work as we gather to celebrate her life. We give thanks for the many ways she’s made known God’s goodness to us, and to so many people whose life she touched. We hear Saint Julie’s words to her, and to each of us:

Ah, what a treasure of love is my God, to have put up with me for so long, with so many imperfections! That must only increase my confidence in his goodness. Come, my dear friend, let us hold hands to help each other to advance towards our heavenly homeland, where we must already live in heart and mind by our holy desires.
(Letter 14, Saint Julie Billiart, Foundress, Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur)

Bio Data
Born July 18, 1938 in Cincinnati, Ohio
Parents: Patrick J. McConn (born in Fayetteville, Ohio) and Hilda Breving (born in Cincinnati, Ohio)
Siblings: Richard McConn, Elaine McConn Long, John McConn

Baptized August 7, 1938 at St. Agnes Church, Bond Hill, Cincinnati, Ohio
Confirmed October 2, 1946 at St. Mary, Hyde Park, Cincinnati, Ohio

Entered the Sisters of Notre Dame February 2, 1956 in Covington, Kentucky
First Profession: August 16, 1958
Final Profession: August 3, 1963
Transfer to Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur September 7, 1976 in Cincinnati, Ohio
Final Vows: November 4, 1978, Mt. Notre Dame, Reading, Ohio

Bachelor of Arts in Secondary Education/History from Thomas More College, Covington, Kentucky, 1962
Master of Arts in European & American History from the University of Kentucky, Lexington, Kentucky, 1968
Education Specialist Degree in Community Education Administration, Eastern Michigan University, Ypsilanti, Michigan 1972
Masters of Political Administration from the University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, Ohio, 1978
Doctorate of Political Science from the University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, Ohio, 1989

Assignments Included:
1959-1961 St. Augustine School, Covington, Kentucky
1962-1964 Notre Dame Academy, Covington, Kentucky
1964-1968 Queen of the Rosary School, Lexington, Kentucky
1968-1972 Notre Dame Academy, Covington, Kentucky
1972-1976 Program Administrator, Community Education Program, Cincinnati, Ohio
1976-1990 Adjunct Faculty, Mt. St. Joseph College, University of Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky University
1977-1982 Project Coordinator, Project SNAP, Cincinnati, Ohio
1977-1978 Student – University of Cincinnati
1982-1989 Neighborhood Development, Cincinnati, Ohio
1983-1989 part time Student, University of Cincinnati
1985-2006 President/General Manager, Cincinnati Housing Partners, Cincinnati, Ohio
1989-1991 Assistant Professor, University of Northern Kentucky, Covington, Kentucky
1994-2000 Province Leadership Team, Cincinnati, Ohio
2006-2007 Sabbatical, Cincinnati, Ohio
2007-2008 Transition, Cincinnati, Ohio
2008-2010 Assistant to Director of Marianist Social Justice Collaborative, Cincinnati, Ohio
2011-2014 President/CEO Westwood Community Urban Redevelopment Corporation, Cincinnati, Ohio
2015-2018 Community service, Ministry of Prayer & Presence, Mount Notre Dame Health Center, Reading, Ohio

Died: January 22, 2018 at Mount Notre Dame Health Center, Reading, Ohio

Sr. Kim Dalgarn SNDdeN
January 23, 2018