Africa, Asia, North America


The School Sisters of Notre Dame are active in a wide variety of ministries including education, health care, social outreach and pastoral ministry.


A Day in the Life of the SSND UN-NGO Representative

CSW includes workshops, networking, advocacy

For the director of the SSND United Nations-NGO office, an event like the Commission on the Status of Women means long days filled with workshops, networking, advocacy and meetings on issues as diverse as the plight of indigenous people, education for girls, effectively using storytelling to promote a cause and poverty eradication.

Sister Eileen Reilly began her work on the first day of this year’s CSW just after 7 a.m., boarding the subway train for the 45-minute ride, with one transfer, from her convent in Queens to Grand Central Station, just a few blocks from United Nations Headquarters. Usually the lone representative from SSND at the UN, this time Sister Eileen was accompanied by four other SSND delegates in town for the CSW.

"Exposing the Doctrine of Discovery"

The first stop on her schedule was a seminar on “Exposing the Doctrine of Discovery: A Call to Healing and Hope,” sponsored by the Episcopal Church. Panelists detailed the impact of this policy which gave Christian explorers the right to claim lands they "discovered" and assert dominance over indigenous people. The detailed the enduring issues as a result of this policy and its long-lasting effects.

Waiting for the program to begin, Sister Eileen made use of every minute, checking her Blackberry for updates to her schedule, sharing news about the energy from a girls’ orientation the day before, catching up with a colleague from another NGO and collecting extra resources for a friend who teaches a university course on the subject of the morning’s seminar.

"Communicating the Heart of a Woman"

After a brief dash to the corner stand pick up a coffee and a bagel, she was back in the UN Church Center for her second event of the morning, a training workshop on “Communicating the Heart of a Woman to Motivate Social Change,” sponsored by Media Impact. Panelists described the innovative and creative ways they have inspired inspire change through stories, using dramas like soap operas to address issues and model appropriate actions.

Across the street at the United Nations Headquarters, Sister Eileen passed through security and picked up a reserved ticket to attend a session on “Access to Education – Success in Employment?” sponsored by the UN Missions from Australia and New Zealand. Speakers addressed the access to education in the Pacific countries surrounding Australia and New Zealand, describing the historical lack of education and how traditional education doesn’t necessarily prepare people in that area with the skills they need to find employment.

"Empowering Women Politically"

As she headed back to the UN Church Center for an afternoon session, Sister Eileen ran into Father Tom Brennan, the NGO representative for the Salesian Priests, who wanted to discuss his efforts to help the Salesian Sisters become an NGO. That detour meant that when she arrived at the session on “Empowering Women Politically to Eradicate Poverty,” the room was already full, with people sitting on the floor, lining the walls and standing shoulder-to-shoulder in the back of the room.

The popular session, sponsored by the League of Women Voters and the Working Group on Girls, included panelists from UN Women, the Global Competitive Leadership Program of Georgetown University and the League of Women Voters. They discussed the obstacles women encounter in politics, the different talents that women and men bring to the table, engaging girls in politics and the strength in working together.

"The Role of Women in Poverty Eradication"

At the final session of the day, “Women’s Empowerment – The Role of Women in Poverty Eradication,” Sister Eileen ran into another colleague, Sister Joan Kirby, RSCJ, NGO representative for the Temple of Understanding. After comparing their experiences from their earlier workshops, they settled in to listen to from local governments, the United Nations Population Fund and Won Buddhism International discuss the importance of women in politics and the importance of education for reducing poverty.

“The day opened up the phrase, ‘empowered women,’ and I hope I continue to explore it the rest of the week,” Sister Eileen Reilly said, as she reviewed the notes from the sessions she attended and reflected on her experiences. “What I’m taking away is looking at the whole idea of empowering women more creatively. The media session, for instance, challenged me to think of new and creative ways. The session on education in the Pacific countries showed the need to empower girls in a more holistic way.”

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