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Shining a light on Catholic Sisters

By Sister Rosemarie Nassif, SSND, Ph.D., August 28, 2013

The board of directors of the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation recently approved a new initiative—its Catholic Sisters strategy. This strategy seeks to strengthen congregations of Sisters. Strong and vital congregations will ensure that Sisters are able to serve their communities long into the future. This was particularly important to our founder, Conrad N. Hilton, who credited the Sisters with instilling in him the faith and values that guided his life.

There are over 700,000 Catholic Sisters around the globe, living among the most vulnerable people and ministering with them through works and prayers. Different congregations face different challenges: some are struggling with an aging membership and a lack of new vocations; others are finding it difficult to educate and support their growing membership.

There are many generous donors, both Catholic and non-Catholic, supporting the works of Sisters. The Foundation’s Strategy takes a different, but connected pathway. We focus on the congregations themselves and the systems and structures that advance their vitality. Our goal is to strengthen the vitality of congregations by helping them to attract, form and retain members; develop and exercise effective leadership; and cultivate and steward capital and financial resources.

Our Board recently awarded five grants directed toward the Foundation’s new Catholic Sisters strategy. Three of the grants have a common objective—heightening awareness of the contributions of Sisters—while engaging media in distinctive but complementary ways.

A grant totaling $3.3 million over three years was awarded to St. Catherine University to design, develop, and launch National Catholic Sisters Week in conjunction with Women’s History Month. The intent is to ignite a movement around the lives and the contributions of sisters in ways that inspire girls and women to picture themselves among the ranks of these women religious.

A $2.3 million grant over three years will enable the National Catholic Reporter Publishing Co. to build a network of journalists to write about Catholic Sisters around the world. The project also aims to offer Sisters the opportunity to develop journalism skills in order to become professional columnists and reporters themselves. These stories will be housed on a dedicated website.

A Nun’s Life is an Internet-based ministry, created by two Sisters, that offers a first-hand view of religious life through stories, interviews and conversations with a variety of Sisters on a variety of topics. A $525,000 grant was awarded to A Nun’s Life to build its capacity to connect young people to meaningful resources as they discern and move toward religious life.

The Foundation’s Board also approved two additional grants. The Leadership Conference of Women Religious was awarded $500,000 over three years for its Leadership Pathways program to assist elected leaders to address more effectively the most pressing challenges facing their congregations today. A total of $3.85 million over four years was granted to Marywood University, a founding member of the African Sisters Education Collaborative, to expand opportunities for Sisters in seven African countries to earn a post-secondary education credential.

These grants represent only the beginning of our efforts. Although initially we are focusing on Africa and the United States, our strategy intends to be global.

We realize that the challenges congregations face today are complex and require the wisdom and collaboration of many. We look forward to working with a variety of partners as we refine and implement our strategy in order to assure that the lives and contributions of Sisters continue to benefit generations to come.

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