Transforming the Lives of Families and Communities Across the Globe
Sr. Astridah Banda, OP, in the studio for her COVID-19 Awareness Program, where she shares vital COVID-19 information in local languages on Yatsani Community Radio in Lusaka, Zambia, on August 18, 2020. Sr. Astridah Banda is a graduate of the African Sisters Education Collaborative’s Sisters Leadership Development Initiative, sponsored by the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation.
Photo courtesy of Gates Archive/Jason Mulikita.
Challenge and Context: Resources and Opportunities in Transformative Work
The global Catholic sisterhood is a vibrant network of 700,000 vowed women religious rooted in their profound faith and belief in the dignity of the human person. Catholic sisters are committed leaders and advocates for the communities they serve to foster for peace, equity and justice. Their hands-on ministries and partnerships bring dignity and hope while dramatically improving the lives of youth, families and communities around the world, particularly those who are marginalized and suffering from structural injustice and disadvantage. Catholic sisters work to educate children, provide care to those in need, promote peace and advocate for justice, while standing alongside individuals experiencing oppression. With over 700,000 dedicated sisters worldwide, their work, services and partnerships with the Church span over 100 countries, 250,000 Catholic schools, 50,000 social service organizations, 20,000 healthcare facilities and 16,000 senior/elderly care facilities.
Examples of the sisters’ work abound across the world. In recent years, sisters have assisted within war-torn regions of Nigeria, providing education and health services to those who may not have otherwise received it from state-sponsored organizations. In South Sudan, Catholic sisters support individuals and communities trying to recover from displacement and long-term trauma caused by war, conflict and injustice. And within the last year, Catholic sisters remained at the forefront of the COVID-19 response, providing care and support to individuals on nearly every continent.
Despite their unique ability to advance humanitarian efforts, Catholic sisters face constraints to building strong leadership bases and transforming local communities. Sisters’ organizations and ministries are not typically well-funded, and sisters themselves are rarely compensated equivalent to their lay peers, given that most sisters provide essential services in under-resourced communities. From management to finance to technical skills, education and training opportunities are often limited, hindering organizational growth and sustainability. Gender equity movements have generally failed to benefit from the distinct and valuable voices and perspectives of Catholic sisters. Policy and funding-decision forums overlook sisters and their knowledge of complex development issues and deep understanding of marginalized and under-resourced groups. Systemic inequities have led to many congregations of aging sisters left without adequate support and care following a life of service.
Sr. Mayela Baez Briones is a Catholic sister, traveled missionary, master’s degree recipient, musician and teacher. Now this accomplished alumna of the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation/Catholic Extension’s U.S.-Latin American Sisters Exchange Program can add another role to her resume: Catholic school principal.
Photo courtesy of Catholic Extension.
What We Do: Expand the Global Work and Reach of the Catholic Sisters
Our founder, Conrad N. Hilton, maintained a deep respect and admiration for Catholic sisters. Our support of sisters builds upon this legacy by providing resources to strengthen the skills of individual sisters, reinforcing the leadership and sustainability of congregations while fostering collaborative networks among Catholic sisters worldwide.
Our Current Focus
- Provide access to resources, education and training
- Support the human development work of Catholic sisters
- Support partnerships and collaborative networks for innovation and scaling solutions
- Support building data management platforms, research and evaluation practices
We believe when Catholic sisters have access to opportunities to further their education and formation, sufficient financial resources, an equitable place and voice at decision-making tables, and support to grow their local, national and global networks, that people will continue to benefit and witness improved outcomes to some of the world’s most urgent and complex challenges. Our approach supports Catholic sisters’ vitality and their ability to advocate for meaningful change.
Based on community input and guidance, we:
- Develop sisters’ education, formation, care and well-being.
- Leverage sisters’ unique expertise in identifying the needs and challenges of communities and in crafting more effective solutions.
- Recognize, leverage and apply sisters’ exceptional skills within partnerships and cross-organizational collaborations that will scale their ability to address the spiritual, mental and other health needs of those suffering injustice.
- Include sisters at the decision-making table—primarily when it directly affects them—to bring their expertise and unique voices to the conversations about resource allocation and priorities.
- Invest in data to support and advocate for sisters’ priorities.
- Support models for sustainable care for the health and lives of elderly sisters.
Sr. Maria Isabel Donate Valdez is Superior General of the Missionary Social Workers of the Church in Mexico. Sister Isabel served migrant farmworkers in the Diocese of Yakima and received extensive pastoral leadership training through Catholic Extension’s U.S.-Latin American Sisters Exchange program.
Photo courtesy of Catholic Extension.
The Impact of the Work: An Empowered Sisterhood Network and a Global Movement
Our approach aims to ensure that the world benefits from the uniquely healing and deeply human-centered experiences and perspectives of Catholic sisters. Supporting sisters to have greater access to resources, opportunities for continuing education and formation, an equitable place and voice in decision making forums, and more robust networks worldwide—will allow the Catholic sisterhood to learn, share best practices and leverage collective impacts across networks. This will deepen and expand their centuries-long legacy of incredible humanitarian potential as they transform the lives of children, youth, and families to live with hope, dignity, and respect for all.
Sr. Gabriella Bottani, SMC, was honored as a Trafficking in Persons Hero by the U.S. State Department in 2019, recognizing her work as a world leader in sustainable human development. She introduced the First General Assembly of Talitha Kum at the International Union of Superior Generals in September of that year.
Photo by Stefano Del Pozzolo, courtesy of Talitha Kum.
Project Global Sisters Report
Global Sisters Report is an independent, non-profit source of news and information about Catholic sisters and the critical issues facing the people they serve. Our network of journalists report about their lives and works, and sisters write commentary from their perspective.
Partner African Sisters Education Collaborative
ASEC’s mission is to facilitate educational opportunities for women religious in Africa which will enable them to enhance and expand access to educational, healthcare, social and spiritual services for the people they serve.
Partner US Catholic Sisters Against Human Trafficking
U.S. Catholic Sisters Against Human Trafficking envision a world without slavery with a network of services and resources to inform the public, prevent the crime and assist survivors to achieve a fulfilling life.
Partner Conrad N. Hilton Fund for Sisters
The Conrad N. Hilton Fund for Sisters, established in 1986, supports the ministries of Sisters worldwide in the areas of education, the environment, health care, and social services with grants averaging $10,000. It is an independent organization from the Hilton Foundation.
Meet the Catholic Sisters Team
Sister Jane Wakahiu, LSOSF, Ph.D. Associate Vice President, Program Operations and Head of Catholic Sisters
Angelique “Cindy” Mutombo Senior Program Officer, Catholic Sisters, Africa
JC Walsh Senior Program Officer, Catholic Sisters, US/Latin America
Sabrina Wong Program Officer, Catholic Sisters, US/Latin America
Jodie Hanson-Nortey Program Associate, Catholic Sisters, Africa
Marco Lemus Program Associate, Catholic Sisters (U.S. & Latin America)