Sister Cathy Bonfield

Young people are the window through which the future enters the world.”POPE FRANCIS

Skype fosters new avenues for dialogue for sisters, students

Sister Cathy Bonfield, far left, with some of the sisters from the Hungarian Province. The connection she made with Sister Dominika Varga has continued.

The words Pope Francis spoke on his apostolic journey to Rio de Janeiro for World Youth Day shine through Sister Cathy Bonfield’s far-reaching 47 year teaching career.

In 2013, Sister Cathy spent a month in the School Sisters of Notre Dame’s Hungarian Province Summer Language Program, where she taught English to elementary and college students, as well as the sisters. When Sister Cathy returned to her sixth grade class at St. Martha’s Catholic School in Sarasota, Florida, she began a video dialogue with her new friends in Hungary via Skype.

Almost weekly, she conversed with Sister Dominika Varga, a physics teacher at Svent Istvan Iskola. They shared SSND happenings, world news and updates on their families, and they practiced English conversational skills. As their friendship has deepened, the sisters began brainstorming about other uses for Skype and how to involve their students.

International Conversations

Shortly thereafter, Sisters Cathy and Dominika initiated a cross-Atlantic connection with their fifth, sixth and seventh grade classes, which has blossomed over the past two years. Conversations have ranged from the Hungarian students sharing information garnered at an international conference on anti-bullying in Finland to the American students reporting on a trip to Walt Disney World’s Epcot Center in Florida.

Sister Cathy Bonfield and her sixth grade students Skype with peers at a school in Hungary.

Sharing Perspectives

They shared their perspectives on studying countries featured at the various pavilions at Epcot and strengthened their language skills and cross-cultural understanding. As they got to know each other, they discovered “we’re more alike than different,” as one sixth grader exclaimed. Despite the six-hour time difference, two more classes from these schools were able to arrange connections via Skype.

One student said how lucky she felt to connect with someone so far away and was amazed that it was even possible. Students continue to stay in touch individually via email and letter writing.

More plans are in the works to begin similar programs. A fourth grade class from Sarasota already has started to Skype with students from Saint Joseph’s National School in Dunderry, Ireland.

“I hope others are inspired to find new ways to connect,” Sister Cathy said. “However we can bring the world to students, we’ll trust and dare!”

By Sheila Welton