New ministry in Africa becomes home for Sister Ann Coleman

Sister Ann Coleman on the campus of Notre Dame Girls Senior High School in Sunyani, Ghana.

When many adults are thinking about retirement or slowing down their professional careers, Sister Ann Coleman was just getting started on the next big step in her decades in education. A native of San Antonio, Sister Ann began teaching in 1965 and spent more than 40 years instructing students from fourth grade to high school in Louisiana, Texas and Missouri. Eventually her teaching career took her to the West African country of Ghana in 2009, where she has been joyfully serving and living ever since.

Sister Ann first became interested in traveling to Africa after hearing stories from her friend who was in mission there. “Finally, I was talking to a spiritual director, and I guess I mentioned it again and she said, ‘If you’re going to go [to Africa], you better go now.’ Because by that time, I was 64,” Sister Ann remembers. “After that, I started getting in gear.”

Shortly thereafter, she began her service in Africa at Notre Dame Girls Senior High School in Sunyani, Ghana. Sister Ann taught English for about four years before moving into an administrator role in the school office. She also celebrated with sisters as School Sisters of Notre Dame (SSND) serving in Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, Sierra Leone and The Gambia came together to form the Province of Africa in 2011.

When she first arrived in Ghana, Sister Ann was asked how long she thought she would stay. “I said 10 years if my health is good. I’ll be 75 then. So, at age 75 I came back to San Antonio, and I realized right away that I had made a mistake.”

Ghana had come to feel like home for Sister Ann, and she was homesick. “It was an entirely new adventure being in Ghana, ministering in formal education at Notre Dame Girls Senior High School. The staff and students taught me so much and enriched my faith.”

Just a few short months later, Sister Ann followed a call back to Africa in November 2019, this time at the provincial house in Accra along the southern coastline of Ghana. During her time in Accra, where she continues to work to this day, her duties have included everything from communications and secretarial duties to database and archives work.

No matter where they are serving, sisters take a home visit every two years. In fall 2021, Sister Ann flew to San Antonio to spend time with her family. However, her community in Ghana was never far from her mind as she gathered up helpful items to take back. While preparing for the 10-plus hour flight to Ghana in February, Sister Ann packed SSND lapel pins, morning and evening prayer books, and copies of You Are Sent, the constitution of the School Sisters of Notre Dame. But there were also a few unconventional items taking up space in her luggage, too: a VHS player, a drill and plastic salt and pepper shakers.

“I got a VHS player because some of our profession ceremonies from the past are recorded on VHS tapes,” explained Sister Ann. “I will convert them to digital files, and then save them to an external hard drive.”

Sister Ann stands by a map of Ghana, where she currently lives and ministers.

As for the drill, all of the walls in her office building are brick. “So anytime you want to hang something, you have to call someone with a drill to come help,” said Sister Ann. While home, she expressed this frustration to her family, who took the opportunity to surprise her with her very own hammer drill.

The plastic salt and pepper shakers provide a practical solution for Ghana’s humidity. Traditional shakers with metal lids corrode in the heat and humidity and don’t seal in freshness. Plastic shakers do not corrode, and their lids mean the seasonings inside won’t clump together from moisture in the air.

Although Sister Ann really enjoyed her time with family, she looked forward to getting “home” to Ghana, where she lives and works with four other sisters. Previously, Sister Ann served as the communications coordinator for the Province of Africa, but beginning in 2022, her ministry will focus on maintaining the province’s database and archives.

“The greatest joy has been being part of a developing SSND district and province and getting to know the sisters ministering in Africa,” said Sister Ann. “The contacts and relationships with our sisters in the Province of Africa is what has captured my heart.”

About the Province of Africa
The Province of Africa was founded in 2011 and is one of 10 provinces in the international congregation of the School Sisters of Notre Dame. As of 2022, 85 sisters belong to the Province of Africa, and 17 additional African women are currently in different stages of formation. Either as indigenous religious or foreign missionaries, the sisters of the Province of Africa continue to fan into flame the congregation’s founding vision which, being rooted in the gratuitous love of God, holds education as the key to transforming the world. Because of this, School Sisters minister in schools and clinics providing social and pastoral work.

With the Generalate in Rome, Italy, the School Sisters of Notre Dame (SSND) is organized through 10 provinces. The website provides communications support to the collaborative ministries, initiatives and projects of three provinces: the Province of Africa, the Atlantic-Midwest Province and the Central Pacific Province. SSND is an international congregation of more than 2,000 women religious. Founded in 1833 by Blessed Theresa of Jesus Gerhardinger in Bavaria, SSND now live and minister in 30 countries spanning five continents and continue to “share in Christ’s mission to proclaim the good news of God’s reign.”