October 26, 2023
School Sisters Celebrate 190 Years
The Holy Angels community celebrated the 190th anniversary of the establishment of the School Sisters of Notre Dame on Foundation Day (October 24, 2023). Angels in Grades 6-12, faculty, staff, and several School Sisters attended the morning prayer service that honored the origins and continuing ministries of AHA’s foundresses and sponsors.
SSNDs who attended this year’s event were S. Kathleen Dunham, an educator and administrator who retired from the AHA Religious Studies Department in 2020; S. Mary Foley, AHA’s retired social worker and current director of auditorium services; S. Josefina Morales, a psychotherapist; and S. Rebecca Tayag, who is marking her 50th Jubilee as an SSND. SSND Associate Kathleen Sylvester, who retired as director of Campus Ministry in June of 2023, was also present. Sylvester and the School Sisters renewed their vows and sang the SSND blessing for the school community.
Caroline Gerhardinger (later known as Blessed Mother Theresa of Jesus) and two other women took their vows in Neunburg vorm Wald, Bavaria, on October 24, 1833. At that time, many convent schools were being closed due to political and religious sentiments that resulted from the French Revolution and Enlightenment. Mother Theresa, who had attended a school that was closed, made it her mission to provide others with a proper education. When Mother Theresa 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 Director of Mission & Ministry Joan Connelly briefly discussed Mother Theresa’s work educating young women with a world vision. She also commented on Mother Caroline Friess, the “American foundress,” who took charge of the SSNDs in North America in 1850.
Rebecca Tayag read from the SSND Constitution, “You Are Sent.” The passage referred to working toward unity in a divided world, and finding unexpected ways to share what we have with others.
“It’s a pleasure to share with you 190 years of the School Sisters of Notre Dame,” S. Mary Foley said as she began her reflection. Her thoughtful presentation was an apt reminder that the School Sisters remain at work throughout the world.
S. Mary, who taught in West Africa, spoke about her visit to the SSNDs working in Chile; specifically, the island of Puluqui. While traveling southward, she mentioned taking two buses and waiting for a boat. As she sat, she realized she was in the presence of a penguin, and acknowledged just how far south she had traveled.
On Puluqui, S. Mary noted the lack of electricity, central heating, paved roads, and Catholic priests. The SSNDs took on the role of teaching the island’s many Catholic residents, and wisely taught local catechists how to instruct others.
S. Mary noted the faith of the people on the island. She described how an elder would ring a bell to summon people to the local chapel. The service consisted of people gathering to pray the rosary together.
Before she left Puluqui, S. Mary asked if the SSNDs at the Mother House in Wilton, Connecticut, could help the people on the island.
“Oh, yes. We need a horse,” came the reply.
When she returned to Connecticut, S. Mary shared the need for a horse, and the SSNDs funded a steed, feed, and a caretaker. The animal improved the local ministry by allowing the SSNDs to travel from village to village on horseback, rather than slogging through the mud on the unpaved roadways.
S. Mary also spoke about an SSND named Paulina who grew up in Micronesia and went to college in Guam. S. Mary described S. Paulina’s path from Palau to Saint Louis, ending with this woman’s current work as a grammar school teacher in Guam.
The SSNDs are active throughout the world, and provide education, tech and job skill training, environmental education, and citizenship classes everywhere from Demarest, Mankato, and Baltimore to Nigeria, Kenya, and beyond. From October 24 through November 17, the SSND General Chapter in Rome, Italy, will be discerning how the SSNDs are being called to help others throughout the next six years.
During the assembly, AHA Principal Jean Miller announced this year’s Sister Nonna Dunphy Scholarship finalists and semifinalists, and recognition for Angels who earned honors in the National Merit® Scholarship Competition, including Commended Students and those who were honored in the national recognition programs administered by The College Board®. Afterward, she noted that many people ask her about the “secret sauce” that makes AHA students so willing to step up and be the change the world needs.
“I think it’s the SSNDs,” Miller stated, noting that AHA alumnae also bring the SSND mission into the world, taking chances, making mistakes and learning from them, and developing their sense of responsibility for the whole world.
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 school serves young women from many backgrounds. 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.