Immigration - Education
School Sisters of Notre Dame minister in a variety of ways with immigrants and migrants, including in the area of education. On this page, we share the stories and work of Sisters Connie Carrigan, Joan Moorhem, Elaine Polcari, Catherine Dundon, Mary Bryan Owens, Rosemary Schuneman, Jean Ellman, Mary Sue Berg and Marie Regine Redig.
Caroline House is an education center for low-income women and children in Bridgeport, Conn. Sister Connie Carrigan, SSND, teaches English there and provides a support system for immigrant women.
“From Mother Theresa's time until today, SSND has focused on ministry to women and children. To continue this legacy and actually see the changes it makes in the lives of the women and children we serve feels very right. The women show strength, hope and the ability to overcome odds. I teach them, they inspire me,” said Sister Connie.
Sister Joan Moorhem, SSND, is a volunteer teaching as part of the Immigrant and Refugee Women's Program in St. Louis. The program, founded by Sister Elise Silvestri, SSND, helps to break down the isolation of immigrant and refugee women who, for some reason, cannot attend ESL out in the community. The program helps tap into their own power and self-sufficiency through learning English and life skills. Volunteer teachers work with the women twice a week in their own homes. Sister Joan is currently working with a woman from Basra in southern Iraq.
Sister Elaine Polcari, SSND, teaches immigrants from many different countries who are the parents of the children in the Malden Public Schools in Malden, Mass. She works a five-week summer program, travels to three of the regional schools, and teaches 11 classes a week involving 150 students.
“The gift of our internationality sharpens our consciousness of universal needs and calls us to foster within ourselves and others a responsible concern for the people of the world, YAS GD#36.The excerpt from YAS becomes real right in our own country as I teach the immigrants English. Language is key to a sense of belonging and the dignity of the human person is allowed to emerge. My classroom becomes a sacred space where I am humbled and privileged to be involved in this ministry,” Sister Elaine said.
In 1983, Sister Mary Catherine Dundon, SSND, began Milwaukee Achiever Literacy Services, an adult literacy program, at the invitation of the presidents of Alverno College, Cardinal Stritch University and Mount Mary University. Sister Mary Catherine tutors three days a week helping serve immigrants by empowering them to achieve education and a career.
The International Institute in St. Louis, Mo., immerses refugees and immigrants in a variety of social and educational services designed to help them settle into their surroundings. Sister Mary Bryan Owens, SSND, is one of seven classroom teachers there. Entrance skills for her class include mastery of the alphabet and numbers.
“My students, courageous men and women uprooted (in most cases violently) and now transplanted among us "strangers," remind me vividly every day of our interdependence, our call to live simply, and our somehow indomitable spirit of hope. I observe every day how all the world really can be one: just sit with me, talk to me, learn my name, work with me-- It’s what we do,” said Sister Mary Bryan.
Since 1980, Sister Rosemary Schuneman, SSND, of St. Paul, Minn., has been involved in teaching English as a second language to adult refugees and immigrants from many countries. She also visits a former Sudanese student in prison and belongs to a local group that regularly visits ICE detainees in jail.
Sister Jean Ellman, SSND, is principal of Notre Dame Middle School in Milwaukee. Most of the students from the school and their families are immigrants, either first or second generation and many are undocumented.
MORE offers individuals of many races, cultures and backgrounds to live and work in peace. Sister Mary Sue Berg, SSND, teaches a small group of students at the school in St. Paul, Minn., where four speak Nepali and most speak little English. Sisters Stephanie Spandl and Denay Ulrich, both SSNDs, also teach there. MORE was founded by Sister Kathleen Spencer, SSND, about 25 years ago.
“I often think of the early significance of immigrants to Mothers Theresa and Caroline. I strive to develop a comfort level in my students with reading, writing, living in the American culture,” said Sister Mary Sue.
Corazón a Corazón, an SSND-sponsored ministry in Chicago, is a non-profit organization that serves the Latino community. Sister Marie Regine Redig, SSND, teaches English to Spanish-speaking persons who want to get jobs or communicate with the teachers of their children.
“Every time I go to Corazón a Corazón to teach ESL, I am aware of not only expanding the students' world and developing their potential, but also of growing my own potential with their help. Mother Theresa reminds me that I am walking in her footsteps with the immigrants and that makes me happy,” said Sister Marie Regine.