Last weekend, Sister Lisa Maurer, Katy Sullivan (a freshman from the College of St. Scholastica) and I attended the launch of the first annual National Catholic Sister Week at St. Catherine’s University in St. Paul, Minnesota. This new tradition is sparked by the funding obtained by St. Kate’s from the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation for a 3-year project called “Sister Story.” One of the goals of this project is to demystify religious life by collecting the personal stories of Sisters from various communities/congregations from all over the nation. To accomplish this, college women are being paired with Sisters with the goal of forming close relationships that will culminate in a videotaped interview which will be made accessible on a public website.
One of the neatest parts of the weekend was meeting so many Sisters and students from all over the country. There were 57 students from 51 colleges and universities, along with about 100 Sisters from representing 55 religious communities/congregations (not to mention other guests.) It was exciting to see familiar faces and to make new friends. We were delighted to realize that there was a nice Benedictine contingent!
The weekend was a high energy affair! We were welcomed at the opening communal prayer Friday night which took place in the atrium, with participants lining the railings on three levels! The prayer included lots of music, of course, and a reading, as you might expect. Yet for many, the highlight was probably the opportunity to view, read, and touch, yes, even turn the pages, of a copy of one of the several volumes of the St. John’s Bible, which were on display solely for our benefit! What a treat this was!
Saturday was a day of discovery. While Katy and I attended workshops on social media and oral history targeted to Sister-student pairs, Sister Lisa attended a workshop on storytelling targeted to vocation directors and communicators. These sessions provided us with more information on what will be expected of us in the months to come as the project gets under way, and some of the specifics on how we will proceed – although many more details are yet to come this summer!
The afternoon gave us a foretaste of what our end product might look like. We were treated to four Sister stories live on stage! The stories were recorded for The Moth Radio Hour, hosted by journalist Soledad O’Brien, former CNN anchor and co-founder of the Starfish Foundation. The stories were in turn heart-wrenching, funny, uplifting, and joyful. The courage, faith, and hope exhibited by these Sisters in their journeys with God and in their ministries reflected the lives of women religious everywhere. Their particular stories, as well as the stories which were shared informally at table and in the halls, helped debunk for the students some of the myths and misconceptions surrounding religious life. It gave the Sisters back their “human-ness.” At the same time, being in the presence of so many college students interested in knowing Sisters and understanding more about religious life brought hope for the future to the Sisters.
As we move forward here at St. Scholastica monastery and the College of St. Scholastica, our first priority is to celebrate National Catholic Sisters’ Week. The students are on Spring Break during this week, so we will celebrate when they get back from break. The activity this year will be “Who’s That Sister? Scavenger Hunt” which will take the students through a tour of the College (including the library), the first floor of the Monastery (including the Chapel), the Monastery website, and the Sister Story website (www.SisterStory.org) in order to learn more about the Benedictine Sisters whose heritage they enjoy (who they are and what their talents and achievements are), as well as the Sister Story project so that they can get a perspective of the history and contribution of Catholic Sisters throughout the nation.
Photos by Rebecca Zenefski, St. Catherine University
Sister Paule Pierre Barbeau
Sister Paule Pierre is a first-professed Sister at Saint Scholastica Monastery in Duluth, Minnesota. Originally from Quebec, Canada, she lived in the Southeastern United States for 16 years before coming to Duluth. She did research in the field of exercise physiology for over 15 years, and more recently completed a graduate degree in theology, while volunteering in parishes, and giving workshops and retreats. She now teaches at the College of St. Scholastica and works in the Monastery Liturgy Office.