The Sisters of Notre Dame this month announced the unification of four provinces across the U.S. with the central province in Geauga County.
The provinces announced on July 5 include Chardon and Toledo in Ohio; Thousand Oaks, California; and Covington, Kentucky, forming the SND USA. Christ, the King Province in Chardon, will be the national province, with Sister Margaret Gorman serving as the provincial.
“I think it was in the back of our heads, always, that someday we would become one province again, as we had in the beginning,” Sister Gorman said.
In 1924, the Chardon province, having been established 50 years prior in 1874, divided into four to extend its ministry across the country, Sister Gorman explained. “Each one has grown very much since then.”
She said starting in the 1990s, the four began gathering to compare notes and to collaborate on projects. By the 2000s and 2010s, she said, they realized they were facing the same issues, and with 21st century technology, “it gradually seemed more and more sensible to work together.
“When it came time to do the regular cycle of doing a strategic plan, the team said, ‘Well, let’s do it together, because we know we’re going to be addressing the same things.’ And so that really was where the idea [to reunite] was born,” she said.
Sister Gorman said Chardon was selected as the national province because it had the right infrastructure to support the united sisters. She said there is less of a visible change with the reunification as the four branches continue to operate at their locations and the sisters are still ministering throughout the country.
Reunited, the congregation including more the 500 sisters, however, will combine their resources to focus on three broad ministry initiatives, including education and healthcare institutions founded by each of the four provinces, serving the needs of people in marginalized groups or communities and young adult vocation ministries.
She said the elder sisters, who she said average at about 70 years of age, look at housing, healthcare and retirement ministries for sisters at the same age. While this may remain the same within the ministry initiatives, she said, “the ministries of sisters are changing.”
Since sisters no longer need to run entire schools due to the help of lay people, they are beginning to shift focus on helping inner-city schools and tutoring for schools that need extra support services. She added that human trafficking has become an area of focus, noting that it is an issue that has recently come to the forefront.
“So, we were looking at a new model where more and more sisters were working in collaboration with other people and with other organizations,” Sister Gorman said. “And we wanted to devote our time and energy and resources to developing that so that our ministries would survive and flourish into the future.”
In reaching young adults, the SND USA “already had a team of sisters from each of the four provinces who were doing a lot of work on college campuses [and] retreats,” she said. “A lot of one-on-one contact, just talking with young people about meaning in life and searching out their life direction. And so we made a commitment to [continue] supporting that outreach as well.”
As for serving in her now expanded role alongside fellow provincials, she said, “Our sisters really share a common spirit across all of our locations, and in the course of building and preparing for this new national province, I got to know a good many of the sisters and our places of service. So, it’s kind of exciting to continue to serve people and this expanded role. And, of course, the sisters have been very, very supportive and accepting.”
The full SND USA Leadership Team includes Sister Gorman; Sister Mary Shauna Bankemper, assistant provincial, from Covington, Kentucky; Sister Regina Marie Fisher, council member, from Toledo; Sister Patricia Mary Garrahan, council member, from Chardon; and Sister Mary Rebekah Kennedy, council member, from Thousand Oaks, California.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity to bring our various histories and ideas and creativity together,” she continued. “One of the things that I’ve noticed as we’ve been working to prepare this [reunification] is that new relationships often spark new creativity, new energy, and people engaged in the same kind of ministries can get together and just come up with new ideas, new approaches.”