The Bond of Notre Dame Schools

The Bond of Notre Dame Schools

Students participating in an ice breaker activity at the Leadership Conference.

It started with a conversation among four SNDdeN educators. There were lead-ups to that conversation, certainly, and stretching back to the last century. But it was conversation, informal and casual, that started the whole thing.

And at root it was this: the charism and mission of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur are carried forward not only by the Sisters but by the schools they founded. Should not these elementary schools, high schools and colleges have opportunities, as do the Sisters, for collaboration, mutual support and spiritual growth?

A Sister asking this question, and involved in many of those early conversations, was Ohio Province Sister Rita Sturwold, SNDdeN.

To Sister Rita, it didn’t matter whether schools were still owned by the Sisters or had been turned over to independent boards of directors. What mattered is they were carrying on the work of Saint Julie.

Conversation turned to planning, and in 2006 Sister Rita, along with Notre Dame administrators Sister Catherine Phelps, Sister Barbara Barry and Sheryl McCormick, assisted by Sister Elizabeth Bowyer, initiated Networking for Mission I. The goal: to provide a unifying resource for school administrators of Notre Dame schools, one that could help with networking, best practices, curriculum and shared concerns. Networking  for Mission I, held in Cincinnati, became an international gathering when representatives of Notre Dame Schools in England, Scotland, Belgium and Japan, along with the entire Congregational Leadership Team, attended. Here The Hallmarks of a Notre Dame Learning Community, developed by Sisters and their lay colleagues in California, were introduced.

(The Hallmarks, across Notre Dame provinces, are to proclaim the goodness of God through word and deed, to honor the dignity and sacredness of each person, to educate for and act on behalf of justice and peace, to commit one’s self to community service, to embrace the gift of diversity, to create community and to educate for life.)

“Creating these gatherings,” says Sister Rita, “has raised awareness of who we are as Notre Dame schools around the world. We would not be sharing our inheritance. And that’s what this is. The schools are our living legacy.”

Sister Rita served on the Planning Committee for Networking for Mission II, also an international gathering, at Emmanuel College in Boston in 2012. (Networking for Mission III, in 2018, included administrators of U.S. Notre Dame Health Centers.)

In 2013, U.S. leadership of the Sisters invited Sister Rita to initiate a National Office of Mission Integration and to collaborate with regional directors in California, New England and Ohio to increase services and networking. In 2015, U.S. educational administrators met in Ipswich, Massachusetts, at which time Sister Maria Delaney, a former member of the Congregational Leadership Team, became Co-Director of the National Office. Sister Rita and Sister Maria, in collaboration with regional directors, later initiated annual Summer Leadership Conferences at Emmanuel College for Notre Dame high school students.

“We’re working with our lay partners in continuing the educational legacy of the Sisters of Notre Dame,” says Meg Sharp, who in 2016 became the Ohio Province Regional Director of Mission Integration. “Because Saint Julie’s work is not done. It’s continuing, and long into the future.”

Participants in Hallmarks Retreat at Jesuit Spirituality Center in Milford.

Meg works with the eight Ohio schools of the 20 nationwide either owned by, or affiliated with, the Sisters, and has worked beside Sister Rita since 2015. She regularly visits each of the Ohio schools helping to strengthen the bond with the Sisters, including with orientations of board members, teachers, and staff. She is also, in conjunction with the East-West Province of the Sisters, helping to organize the 2023 School Administrators Conference in California and the 2023 Student Leadership Conference in Massachusetts, the initiation of which, in 2015 and 2016 respectively, were both early successes of Sister Rita, Sister Maria Delaney and regional directors.

In 2018, Sister Rita stepped away, officially anyway, from the day-to-day work of binding the schools together. To some extent she had been at it for 12 years. Still, though, she visits and stays in touch with administrators and teachers, and especially with students. It’s not so much a labor of love anymore, as simply love.  

“This has been one of the great honors of my life,” she says. “I love students, I love our schools and their dedicated staffs. I feel so privileged to experience the vibrancy of our mission and charism from coast to coast and beyond.”

First published in the 2022 Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur Ohio Province Annual Report, November 2022.