“I don’t ever want a student to feel she or he is a failure. Ever!”
It could have been said by any Sister of Notre Dame de Namur.
In almost any decade since 1804.
In almost any town where the Sisters have taught, across continents.
Now, it’s said by 34-year-old Sister Sarah Cieplinski.
Her students—children with disabilities.
Their home—South Central Los Angeles.
“Julie would love them,” says Sister Sarah, with a pause of insider information. (Saint Julie was herself paralyzed for 22 years.)
“Julie’s spirit moves through my mouth and hands,” Sister Sarah says, “being with these children. It’s there on the days when we make progress, and on the days when no progress is made at all.”
Sister Sarah will make final vows in December at Mount Notre Dame in Cincinnati. She’s been on the journey since her junior year in high school.
“The idea came to me that God might be calling me to religious life,” she says, “and I began even then exploring the options, checking them out.”
This was in 2001.
She didn’t know it, but just as she was discerning a call, so were hundreds of other women across the world. And in 2008, when Sister Sarah first entered formal religious formation for the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, she joined 111 other women also in formation within the congregation—13 in the United States, 9 in Latin America, 2 in Asia and 88 in Africa.
All of these women, like the Sisters before them, wanted a life of service to Jesus, but a life of action as well. Boredom, inactivity, a willingness to let chance be their guide—these were not options.
As with Sister Sarah.
From Kindergarten on, she’s wanted to be a teacher. There were no diversions. She stuck with it, and when certain people came into her life, people with disabilities, her desire to teach took on an even richer meaning.
In that sense, she’s had three callings: a call to teach, a call to journey with people living with disability, and a call to religious life. In her decision to enter the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, she has answered yes to all three.
“God kept nudging me,” she says, “and St. Julie inspired me.”
Today, in 2018, over 100 young women are in various stages of becoming Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur de Namur. In the United States, our new national novitiate just opened in Cincinnati. One novice is there now, with more to come. They will pray, discern, learn; and very importantly, according to Sister Sarah, they will build community.
That, she says, is a common theme among young women exploring religious life—community.
“Community life is a real distinction. Choosing to live with other women, ministering to one another, sharing the struggles and joys, it’s different and I have felt called to it.”
“There is an awareness of myself and who God wants me to be,” she says.
In the United States, and all around the world, women want to teach and work among people who are poor—and to do so in Christ’s name as Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur. Whether they are in Nigeria, Japan, Brazil or working on the mean streets of South Central Los Angeles, we welcome them.
You can welcome them too by helping us support the cost of their formation.
One-hundred-seventy-eight years ago, eight Sisters crossed the Atlantic to our own country, and soon made possible all that was to come – all the schools, all the tens of thousands of girls and boys educated, all the work with the poor.
But they too, only a few years earlier, were novices—unsure of the future, finding their way in the faith, supported in their formation by the good people of Belgium and France.
They could not know, upon first hearing the call, the astonishing things that would come to pass.
We, today, cannot know the astonishing things yet to come.
But they will come.
“I saw I could be a presence of goodness to the children,” says Sister Sarah, “and that I could inspire goodness in them, and a love of God.”
My hunch is that any of those eight Sisters of Notre de Namur, all those 178 years ago, could have said those exact words.
Please help support our vocation, formation and ministry efforts, so that women who hear the call can be welcomed as Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, both here and around the world. DONATE ONLINE.