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October 27, 2018

AHA Celebrates 185th Anniversary of the School Sisters of Notre Dame

Foundation Day 2018 was particularly festive at the Academy of the Holy Angels, where the school community gathered to mark the 185th anniversary of the establishment of the School Sisters of Notre Dame.


The Academy is sponsored by the School Sisters, who trace their beginnings to October 24, 1833. Blessed Mother Theresa (formerly Caroline) Gerhardinger and two other women are credited with establishing the organization in Neunburg vorm Wald, Bavaria. At that time, many convent schools were being closed due to political and religious sentiments that resulted from the French Revolution and the Enlightenment. Gerhardinger, who had attended a school that was closed, made it her mission to provide others with a proper education. When Gerhardinger died in 1879, there were more than 2,500 SSNDs educating girls in elementary schools, day nurseries, and orphanages. The SSNDs also provided homes and night schools for girls working in factories.


AHA President Melinda Hanlon welcomed everyone to the Foundation Day celebration held at Holy Angels on October 19th. She noted that, during their milestone anniversary year, the SSNDs have been highlighting 185 stories from School Sisters.

“At AHA, we are proud to be one of their stories,” President Hanlon noted.


AHA Principal Jean Miller expressed her appreciation for the sisters who have followed in Mother Theresa’s footsteps, mirroring her faith, vision, and courage.


Sister Kathleen Dunham, SSND, a religious studies teacher at Holy Angels, presented a reading from “You Are Sent,” the SSND Constitution. The reading states that SSNDs educate with a vision that the world can be transformed through education.

Keynote speaker Sister Sharon Slear, SSND, then told the school community about a current example of this work: a five-year teacher education program the SSNDs are promoting in Haiti. S. Sharon, who is the provost at Notre Dame of Maryland University and chairperson of the AHA Board of Trustees, explained that all SSND-sponsored schools and organizations are urged to “adopt” teachers as the program continues through 2021. These “adoptions” will allow teachers working on Haiti’s Lagonav Island to travel to the capital of Port-au-Prince to train as reading and math specialists.


S. Sharon explained that the SSNDs have been collaborating with Beyond Borders, an organization that already had an established network within Haiti. The SSNDs are actively working to eliminate poverty, the root cause of injustice. They are also trying to end the trafficking of children and women.


“We were struck by the unbelievable poverty,” S. Sharon said of her group’s first trip to Lagonav. She added that they also appreciated the beautiful, rugged terrain, and the openness of the children.


While they are in Haiti, the SSNDs work with translator Brian Stevens from Beyond Borders. Stevens communicates concepts and nuances from English to Haitian Creole and vice versa.


S. Sharon described the Saint Lucie School on Lagonav Island, which does not have a proper roof. When it rains, school is canceled.


The SSNDs now work with teachers at the Matenwa School with the goal of training local teachers who will go on to edify other educators.


During the first trip to Lagonav, S. Sharon and her team discussed teaching techniques with those in the island’s schools. On their return trip, the group covered methods of addressing students’ stress, anxiety, attention deficit/hyperactivity, and other cognitive, social, and emotional issues.


The teachers were eager and appreciative, as they recognized certain behaviors in their students and took pleasure when they found that different techniques were successful, S. Sharon noted. She explained that the teachers learned new ways to teach and different ways to reach students who might not understand instructions.


AHA Director of Mission and Ministry Joan Connelly thanked S. Sharon for her informative presentation.


“Thank you for who you are and for your leadership,” Connelly said, addressing S. Sharon. “The spirit of Mother Theresa (Gerhardinger) lives in you.”


Those in attendance took time to recognize SSND Associates Marie Ciccone, Joan Dillman, and Kathleen Sylvester. Sylvester, who is also the director of AHA Campus Ministry, explained that associates are men and women who help further the SSND mission.

The 12 SSNDs who were present then renewed their vows. Participating School Sisters included S. Sharon, Theresa Lamy, Justine Nutz, Joanna Maura Muñoz, Valeria Belanger, Mary Kelly, Grace D’Amico, Miriam Therese Roncinske, Anne Moles, Kathleen Dunham, Ethel Howley, and AHA Social Worker S. Mary Foley.


AHA Spanish teacher S. Carole Tabano and S. Henrice Eckert, who retired after more than 70 in religious life, could not be present at this year’s celebration. When the students heard these two SSNDs were watching the livestream of the event on Facebook, the Angels spontaneously turned toward the video camera, waved, and smiled.


Founded by the School Sisters of Notre Dame in 1879, the Academy of the Holy Angels is the oldest private girls’ school in Bergen County. While AHA is steeped in Catholic tradition, this prestigious high school serves young women from a broad spectrum of cultural and religious backgrounds. Over time, thousands of women have passed through AHA’s portals. Many go on to study at some of the nation’s best universities, earning high-ranking positions in medicine, government, law, education, public service, business, arts, and athletics. The Academy’s current leaders continue to further the SSND mission to provide each student with the tools she needs to reach the fullness of her potential—spiritually, intellectually, socially, and physically, by offering a first-rate education in a nurturing environment where equal importance is placed on academic excellence, character development, moral integrity, and service to others.