The Conference of Presentation Sisters, or the Conference, represents hundreds of Presentation Sisters from seven congregations across North America. These congregations are located in Aberdeen, South Dakota; Dubuque, Iowa; New Windsor, New York; Staten Island, New York; San Francisco, California; and the United States Province of the Union, and the Newfounland and Labrador Province of the Union.
The Conference of Presentation Sisters exists to provide opportunities for collaboration of the members on matters of mutual interest, to promote unity, to strengthen the spirit of Nano Nagle, and to encourage the works of the sisters to fulfill the mission in the Church. In other words: greater collaboration, connection and communion.
Conference of Presentation Sisters website: http://www.sistersofthepresentation.com/
Reflections on the Histories and Ministries
San Francisco Presentation Sisters: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WbF6zuZtxjU
Dubuque Presentation Sisters: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Js7FyihsN_w
Aberdeen Presentation Sisters: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q7LZzFuMJwg
Examples of the Work of this Ministry
Conference PBVMs Take Public Stance
On Saturday, January 21, 2017 Presentation Sisters and Associates joined the Dubuque rally to speak out for the care of the most vulnerable in society. “We are responsible for them. Government is responsible for them, and that is the message we want heard” became the call.
On the same day in California, Presentation Sisters and Associates joined the Bay Area Women’s Marches.Sister Pam Chiesa, PBVM, Vice President, Sisters of the Presentation, says, “I was proud to stand with our Sisters and Associates behind a banner which proclaims our commitment to justice. More than ever, our voices and bodies are needed to join with others in witnessing to Jesus’ message of love and justice, the dignity of all people and the importance of caring for Earth. In this time of political unrest and hostility, it is important for religious women and men to find ways to witness and dialogue about meaningful issues in nonviolent ways.”
From coast to coast, many who are not pictured here joined these Presentation People in the streets to call for change, and justice.
Aberdeen: Peace in Activism: Work against Nuclear Disarmament
Peace in Activism: Work against Nuclear Disarmament
By Kay O’Neil PBVM
“There is an urgent need to work for a world free of nuclear weapons, in full application of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, in letter and spirit, with the goal of a complete prohibition of these weapons.”
Pope Francis inspired us at the United Nations, September 25, 2015
In 1984 our Presentation Sisters, Aberdeen, SD, made this corporate statement: “We are women who value life as a sacred gift of our Creator. Nuclear weapons threaten to destroy life. Moreover, available resources which could be used to free the poor from oppression are now being allocated for the building of nuclear weapons…(We) believe we are morally obligated to oppose the possession of nuclear weapons.
Our Social Justice Team continues to work toward the abolition of nuclear weapons. We engaged speakers for our annual SD Pax Christi conferences to address this issue including Ralph Hutchison and Sister Mary Dennis Lentsch, Oak Ridge Environmental Alliance. Archbishop Hunthausen’s Reflection on Faith and Disarmament was delivered in a dramatic portrayal. Greg Boertje-Obed, Michael Walli and Sister Megan Rice presented “Ongoing Resistance to Nuclear Weapons and War” and spoke of their imprisonment for infiltrating the Y-12 National Security Complex. (see Almighty by Dan Zak)
Sister Lentsch, Dubuque Presentation Sister, who has been actively resisting nuclear proliferation since the early 1980’s inspires us: “My heartfelt conviction is reinforced by this Bible passage: ‘I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life that you and future generations may live.’ (Dueteronomy 30:19) “I have experienced the hardship of jail and prison where I was sustained by the loving embrace of our good and gracious God. I was supported by love and care from my family, Presentation Sisters and many faithful friends.
“The United States plans to spend $1 trillion over the next 30 years to ‘modernize’ all aspects of its nuclear arsenal. This means investing four million dollars an hour for the next 30 years to build instruments of death and massive destruction. Instead of producing more nuclear weapons, we can still provide jobs to dismantle the old unusable bombs.”
We have visited Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action and worked with Leonard Eiger, Coordinator. For forty years the Center has resisted the Trident nuclear weapons system through the study and practice of nonviolence. Ground Zero is building a campaign, NO To NEW TRIDENT to stop the Navy’s plans to build a new fleet of twelve Trident submarines. New Trident will be a major driver of a new, rapidly developing arms race that threatens humanity with nuclear annihilation. NO To NEW TRIDENT!
Hearing the Hibakusha (survivors of the atomic bomb) share their heart-rending experiences at the 2010 NPT Review at the United Nations only deepened our commitment to speak out. Archbishop Joseph Mitsuaki Takami of Nagasaki said: “The message of Mary is to tell the people of the world of the absurdity and foolishness of our militarization and nuclear weapons.” Then he shared the atomic-bombed statue of the seared head of Mary from Nagasaki’s Cathedral.
John Dear spoke at our SD Pax Christi conference this year on the Mission of Gospel Nonviolence and reminds us “to speak out, organize and mobilize for a world without war…nuclear weapons..for the coming of God’s reign of peace and nonviolence on earth.” Scott Wright and Art Laffin (Pax Christi USA) inspired us with an Apology Petition to the people of Japan (August 6-9, 2015).
“We ask forgiveness for these atrocities… We offer repentance for threatening to use nuclear weapons…We renew our commitment to the biblical vison of peace, a world without weapons or war… ‘They will beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation shall not raise sword against nation; nor will they train for war anymore.’ (IS 2:4)”
Peace of our Nonviolent Jesus, bless everyone—no exceptions
Dubuque:The Poverty of Homelessness
USA: The Poverty of Homelessness
By Rita Cameron, PBVM
There is no county in the United States where the federal minimum wage is enough to afford a Fair Market Rent, one-bedroom apartment. Nearly 40% of all homeless persons are families with children. Homeless families are often hidden from our view—they live in shelters, cars, campgrounds, or doubled up in overcrowded apartments. Nearly 40% of all homeless persons are families with children. Only 25% of those eligible for federal housing assistance receive help, due to lack of funding.
In September of 2000, Maria House, a collaborative effort between women’s religious communities in the Dubuque, Iowa area, opened its doors to homeless and near-homeless women and their children. Maria House is a transitional housing initiative with a philosophy and programs that reflect the dignity of women and supports them in claiming their own power. Existing community resources are utilized in the areas of job training, education, employment, individual and family counseling plus access to safe, affordable, permanent housing. Maria House also offers life-skills training and other supportive services in such areas as budgeting, parenting skills, social skills, communications, housing advocacy and legal advocacy.
Participants in the program must be referred from human and social services agencies. All potential residents are prescreened in a phone interview. Each woman’s needs are assessed, goals are set and women admitted to the program are expected to stay at least three to six months, but no more than two years. Goals and strategies are reviewed regularly and staff works closely with the women to reinforce the commitment to the program.
Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Sinsinawa Dominicans, Sisters of Charity-BVM, Sisters of the Visitation, Dubuque Franciscans and Sisters of Mercy-Farmington Hills agreed this pressing need was a project worthy of their joint effort and committed seed money to the project. Today each woman is expected to pay for part of the cost of her stay at Maria House including her personal items, food, clothing, transportation and operating expenses for the program. Even though this amount is generally only a small percentage of the total cost of her stay, it helps her develop a greater sense of responsibility and derive satisfaction from being able to support herself, at least partially.
We think sometimes that poverty is only being hungry, naked and homeless. The poverty of being unwanted,
unloved and uncared for is the greatest poverty. We must start in our own homes to remedy this kind of poverty.” Mother Teresa
San Francisco: Congregation’s Commitments Decreed in Architecture
Conference: Congregation’s Commitments Decreed in Architecture
By Rosemary McKean, PBVM
Presentation Center, Los Gatos, California, is a sponsored ministry of the Sisters of the Presentation, San Francisco, CA. All guests are oriented to our “green practices” and invited to reflect on their need to revere and preserve Earth. The beautiful Welcoming Center and Dining Facility has served as an educational tool for sustainable building for all who come to the Center.
As noted in the Center’s Mission Statement, it “is a Catholic retreat, conference and event center, open to all faiths. Located in a natural site in the Santa Cruz Mountains, the Center strives to provide exemplary hospitality for: spiritual renewal, creative experiences, life celebrations, focused learning and team building.”
Groups of all faith traditions, including Buddhist and Zen, Catholic and other Christians, as well as non-sectarian groups, come for spiritual renewal and retreats. National and international conferences, most recently the “Sisters of Earth,” meet here. School groups come for retreats; faculty and staff meetings and “working retreats” are held here, as well as workshops and trainings, weddings and life events, memorial receptions, and family reunions.
To meet the congregation’s commitments to a sustainable future and to preserve Earth for future generations, the Center follows a number of earth-friendly practices, including:
- Promoting green construction building practices, such as the LEED Gold Certified Welcoming Center and Dining Facility, built of straw-bale construction and recycled materials, having a “living roof” and solar panels. This beautiful facility was conceived and brought to fruition by the efforts of then Center Director, Sister Patricia Marie Mulpeters, PBVM, between 2000 and 2004;
- Organic gardening to grow seasonable produce for the dining room;
- Recycling programs for paper, glass, metals, and plastic;
- Composting kitchen waste;
- Using electric vehicles for on-property transportation and local travel;
- Minimum impact printers;
- Responsible e-cycling of outdated electronics and technology by-products, such as toner cartridges.
Although it is not currently in operation, in the past the Sisters provided an environmental education program for
elementary school children, offering them an experience of the plant and animal life of the Santa Cruz Mountain area. This program was due to the creative efforts of Sister Rosemary Campi, PBVM. It is hoped that the program may be revitalized in the future.
Also in keeping with the sisters’ justice commitment to serve those made poor, especially women and children, scholarship opportunities are available to groups and individuals, often poor marginalized women, for respite and spiritual renewal. Plans are underway for offering a program for women escaping human trafficking, a joint venture with the San Jose and Monterey Dioceses. This plan is spearheaded by Sister Gloria Loya, PBVM, and Sister Marilyn Wilson, BVM.
The many uses of Presentation Center have been serving the needs of groups and individuals in the San Francisco Bay Area and beyond since 1971, when the Center was restructured from being the Sisters’ novitiate. The Sisters and Associates invite you to come and share this beautiful, special, transformative place!
Dubuque: Public Prayer, Public Awareness Lead to Advocacy
Public Prayer, Public Awareness Lead to Advocacy
On June 20, World Refugee Day, ten congregations of Catholic Sisters created and held a prayer service at corners of busy streets in several cities in the Midwest of the USA. Political leaders and the public joined the Sisters in praying for refugees and for our political leaders. Sisters also urged communities to welcome refugees by placing billboards in prominent places in seven mid-west cities. Postcards were sent to federal, state and local government officials nationwide. The image of Matt. 25:35 appeared on one side and a signed statement on the other read, “As a person of faith, I am writing to ask you to speak out against fear-mongering and inflammatory rhetoric about refugees. I oppose any legislation that would block the resettlement of refugees of any nationality or religion in the United States of America.” Refugee Prayer Service
The sisters’ public prayer reflects the call of Pope Francis to expand our prayer to plead for the life of the world. On September 16, 2013, Pope Francis called us to become involved.
None of us can say, ‘I have nothing to do with this, they govern. . . .’ No, no, I am responsible for their governance, and I have to do the best so that they govern well, and I have to do my best by participating in politics according to my ability. Politics, according to the Social Doctrine of the Church, is one of the highest forms of charity, because it serves the common good. I cannot wash my hands, eh? We all have to give something! […] A good Catholic meddles in politics, offering the best of himself, so that those who govern can govern. But what is the best that we can offer to those who govern? Prayer! That’s what Paul says: “Pray for all people, and for the king and for all in authority.”
Staten Island: “Center for Faith and Learning
Education is our mission rooted in the charism of Nano Nagle: “We desire to make Christ known and loved through our ministries of education, healing, caring for the needy and preserving the Earth for future generations” (Mission Statement PBVM, SI)
The love of lifelong learning was first instilled in me in elementary school by Presentation Sisters who nurtured my vocational journey as a Presentation Sister and a teacher. Education is foundational for justice in our world. My philosophy of education is based on Paulo Freire who wrote, “The teacher is, of course, an artist but being an artist does not mean that he or she can make the profile, can shape the students. What the educator does in teaching is to make it possible for the students to become themselves.” Freire’s pedagogy involves both reading the word, and also the world. This involves a critical consciousness that allows people to question the nature of their historical and social situation—to read their world—with the goal of acting in the creation of a more just society. I strive to facilitate authentic dialogue between faculty and students, where all learn, question, reflect and participate together in meaning making. I believe with Friere that a neutral education process does not exist. Education can either strengthen the present system and foster conformity to it, or become the premier means for dealing critically with the real world in order to transform it.
Facilitating learning is a sacred responsibility calling for a community where all recognize their vocation as active learners. As Director of the Center for Faith and Learning at Villanova University, my ministry directly offers me the opportunity to invite faculty and students to engage in authentic Christian dialogue between faith and reason with the issues and experiences that are surfaced by our world today. These dialogues, based on academic texts, invite the conscious reflection on and sharing of life-experience, in order to empower, challenge and support all in a critical understanding of issues in the light of the Gospel. Our University community is a pluralistic faith community, so it is critical for the Center to engage the various faith traditions, beliefs, and the rich intellectual traditions of both faculty and students to define vocation in the context of their faith and their academic disciplines.
The Center for Faith and Learning facilitates:
- “Faith and Reason Learning Community” for first year students: An academic course called the “Augustine and Culture Seminar” seeks to answer the question: Who Am I? The class meets for three hours a week and for a fourth hour to discuss the texts and the integration of faith and reason in the students’ lives.
- Regular “Faculty Dialogues” to explore the vocation of teaching and witnessing to Faith Traditions within Villanova University’s Catholic and Augustinian Mission. The faculty shares the story of their vocation and dialogue on the challenges and opportunities within higher education.
- The “Faith and Learning Scholar/Mentor Program” in which 67 Faculty Mentors and 101 Student Scholars meet 4 times a year to discuss an academic text on Faith and Reason and the challenges and opportunities that their academic disciplines surface (Business, Engineering, Nursing, Liberal Arts and Sciences). Faculty/Scholar relationships are three year commitments.
For more information see: Website: http://www1.villanova.edu/villanova/mission/faith_learning.html
 Paulo Freire, We Make the Road by Walking: Conversations on Education and Social Change . Brenda Bell, John Goventa, John Peters, Eds., Temple University Press: Philadelphia, 1990.
By Beth Hassel, PBVM
San Francisco: “Your Word is a Lantern for my Feet, a Light for my Path.” (Psalm 119:105)
Since I began this ministry in Stop Human Trafficking, I have been challenged beyond anything I could have imagined. So often I have asked myself, “How can this be taking place right here in our beautiful Central Coast of California and indeed, within the state, the nation and in our entire world?” My journey is led by the Word and by Nano’s Lantern.
Those who are now suffering the scourge and the painful reality of human trafficking continue to cry out for freedom and for justice and so we must respond for the sake of the Gospel and for the sake of humanity. In the midst of this darkness there exists a powerful, tangible, living hope because we have met survivors who have found healing and who have become leaders in our communities. Some years ago two Salvadoran Sisters, Jean and Sheila, were the first to prophetically raise this issue in California. They began with a profound “spark” when many, particularly in governmental offices, ignored their pleas. We are grateful to them for educating our religious communities about human trafficking.
We may feel that there are so many “issues” to deal with when it comes to justice. I have learned, along with my colleagues working together in this ministry, is that this is not a mere “issue.” We have a mission to stop this modern day slavery that is a burden and an evil placed upon the backs of our children, because human trafficking begins with the young who are most vulnerable to predators.
One of our stop human trafficking leaders who chair our Central Coast Coalition is a woman survivor of human trafficking. Her narrative flows from her personal development, her profound healing and transformation that have shaped her leadership.
“Not too long ago, two motorists noticed a young girl on a Monterey highway hanging out with a man – and
something about what they were seeing just seemed wrong. She had red hair, wore a tank top and jeans and looked like she could be a junior in high school. When the police came to talk to the girl, they found she was only 13 and the man was her trafficker.
I often think of this story as I drive through the roads in Monterey County. Our roads can be small rural roads or major truck driving routes. We have little motels by the side of the road and some of the world’s fanciest hotels. What often strikes me is how similar these are to the places where I was trafficked when I was a child. Starting in early elementary school and continuing through my teen years, I was taken to truck stops, roadside motels and high-end hotels where I was sold. I was so scared.” (Deborah Pembrook, Counsellor, Rape Crisis Center, Salinas)
We ask you to become aware and act! Phone your local police should you suspect something. Use the national hot line: 1-888-373-7888.
By Gloria Loya, PBVM
Dubuque: Welcome in Many Languages
As the door to Presentation Lantern Center opens in Dubuque, IA, a friendly smile and word of welcome greet everyone who enters. In the thirteen years since that door first opened, almost 1,000 individuals from five continents and 59 countries have come to the center. Hospitality is the key to the experience that gives visitors the opportunity to learn and share as they work hard to get to know a new language and another culture.
“Not knowing English,” commented Lisbhet from Mexico who came to Presentation Lantern Center for a year. “Speaking English is difficult,” said Azar from Iran. “The first four months in Columbus, Ohio, after I arrived from Ethiopia were very challenging,” said Argaw. “After I moved to Dubuque it took from February to May to get a job. That, too, was difficult for me and my family.”It is stressful adjusting to a new country and culture. After coming from China to Chicago in 1997 and now living in Dubuque, Min Zhuang stated her biggest challenge with one word: “Language!”
Citizenship a Game-changer
Corine Murray, PBVM, Executive Director says, “Our students in the beginning stages of the citizenship
process feel the road to citizenship is impossible. They must meet the three to six-year residence requirement, study the 100 questions for the citizenship test, complete a 21-page application form and write a check for $680. Next, they make two trips to Des Moines, one for fingerprinting and the second for the actual test. For people from eastern Iowa, the swearing-in ceremony usually takes place in Des Moines, Cedar Rapids or Davenport. Citizenship is a game-changer. For some, the ability to sponsor other family members to come to the U.S. is very significant.
One former student won the lottery with the U.S. Immigration System. It was not about money. It dealt with the speed with which one can come to the United States and get a green card. During his first few years here, he returned home to marry. It was only after he fulfilled the six-year residence requirement and passed the citizenship test that he could sponsor his own wife. What a journey!
By Beth Kress, PBVM
Aberdeen: Care of Earth
In conjunction with other Presentation congregations in North America, the International Presentation Association and the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the Aberdeen Presentation Sisters are committed to working for social justice throughout the world.The Aberdeen congregation is focusing on the three main areas of: care of creation and earth sustainability, right relationships and peacemaking.
Care of Earth has been a concern for many years. In the summer of 2010, the Sisters placed 125 solar panels atop one of the convent buildings and installed an 80-foot wind turbine. Combined, these two items reduce the cost of electricity by about 10 percent each month. Our convent housekeeping staff has moved to utilizing natural cleaners and we are conscious of our use of water. In addition, we not only recycle, but also make an effort to buy and use recycled products in our daily and ministry lives.
Right relationships include respecting the dignity of human life from conception to natural death. Special focus for this year includes the abolition of the death penalty and human trafficking. Another part of our justice effort includes socially responsible investing. Our Sisters look for money managers who share their values regarding justice. For example, our investment managers have been directed not to put money into companies that are working with smoking, alcohol, and oil production that is depleting water supply in foreign countries, or cheap goods where employers aren’t paying their workers standard wages. When one of our managers is buying stock, they make sure they are not supporting something against one of our principles.
Peacemaking includes the education and advocacy of the avoidance of nuclear weapons. We also welcome refugees and do some hands-on work with those needing immediate assistance due to violent situations in their home countries. Our Sisters support a seamless approach to life issues partaking in local, state and national Pax Christi meetings and conferences, working to abolish abortion and the death penalty and actively opposing possession of nuclear weapons.
By Francine Evans, PBVM
San Francisco: International Network for Empowering Women
Capacitar for Human Rights Defender is an international network of empowerment and solidarity. The founder and director is Patricia Mathes Cane, PhD, an associate of the Sisters of the Presentation, San Francisco, CA. Capacitar teaches simple practices of healing, team building and self- development to awaken people to their own source of strength and wisdom so they can reach out to heal injustice, work for peace and transform themselves, their families and communities. Using a popular education approach, Capacitar has worked with grassroots people in over 42 countries.
For the last five years, Capacitar has received invitations to work with Human Rights Defenders in different countries in Africa, the Americas, Mexico, Asia and the Middle East. A significant value now being promoted by human rights organizations around the world is self-care for activists on the frontlines. There is greater consciousness of the trauma and burnout experienced by those working to bring peace and justice to places of war, violence and corruption.
In March, Capacitar Panama Coordinator Alibel Pizarro and Capacitar Founder Pat Cane co-facilitated training in Oaxaca for the Mesoamerican Women’s Consortium of Human Rights Defenders with 53 women from 12 states of Mexico, as well as from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. The women were lawyers, psychologists, social workers, teachers, healers, grassroots leaders and activists representing a broad cross section of organizations involved in working for human rights for women, children, indigenous, land or water rights and gender violence. Some of the women at the conference had suffered death threats or threats to their families. Others had been imprisoned or threatened by police or authorities. All came to the training with some level of secondary trauma, PTSD or health problems. After three days, they left Oaxaca strengthened with the Capacitar practices and empowered to continue their courageous work with renewed energy and vision. A second module will be offered to the Consortium in September, and then in October. Capacitar healing methods will be presented in Guatemala to JASS (Just Associates) with representatives from seven countries of Mesoamerica.
Capacitar has been named as a resource for self-care in different manuals for activists including, the Guidelines on Security of the Norwegian Human Rights Fund, Trocaire’s Manual for Partners at Risk and the Women’s Consortium. Capacitar is developing its own manual for persons working with human rights and with Families of the Disappeared, in collaboration with CEDEHM, the Chihuahua Office of Human Rights for Women. Capacitar hopes to make this manual available in different languages for defenders in many countries. A second manual will also be developed focused on self-care for those working with refugees in border communities, in legal aid, in crisis response, in detention centers and in places of risk.
By Patricia Mathes Cane, Associate
South Dakota: Compassion in Catholic Health Care
Six obstetricians, five nurses, three administrators and one Avera sponsor member recently sat around a table in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, reflecting on experiences of the messiness of health care. We had each read a theological reflection of potential implications that the statement, “I Want a Mess,” made by Pope Francis (2013 World Youth Day), could have for Catholic health care. Healing relationships require genuine vulnerability between patient and caregiver, individual and community. Participants shared images that communicated his/her experience of the give and take in health care relationships, and how entering into authentic healing relationships deepens one’s response of compassion. In all honesty, I did not expect the sharing to expose souls or the deep love for humanity and God. After all, this would be the first communal reflection for this community of individuals. Physicians shared images and the personal struggle of moving beyond duty to see Christ in the noncompliant, comorbid patient with poor hygiene. Nurses shared images of drug addicted mothers giving birth and then selflessly giving the newborns up for adoption. We shared how finding God in the moment sometimes means repeating the mantra, “It has been a privilege to care for you,” especially when absent the experience of joy or mutual benefit in the journey. As I listened to the stories, Avera’s value of compassion took on new life within me. I experienced deeper loving and a new interconnectedness between these partners and all inspired by Jesus Christ, the healer whose ministry we continue.
As the Charter for Compassion seeks a home in us, may we be strengthened by entering into the messiness of humanity eventually expressed as divinity.
New York: Fracking
Global Frackdown Day!! On Saturday, October 11 over 250 actions took place in 32 countries on six continents to protest “fracking” – the hydraulic fracturing procedure to extract oil and natural gas.
Presentation Sisters in New Windsor, NY invited sisters, associates, and the wider community to a viewing/discussionof the film “Gasland II” by Josh Fox. Participants signed a petition to Governor Cuomo to ban fracking and brought home lawn signs declaring “Don’t Frack With Our Water!” The Sisters held information sessions on “fracking” at several other locations during October.
Then on December 17, 2014 Governor Cuomo banned fracking in New York State. This was huge news, because it is a victory that belongs to the movement. Over the last four years, people have gotten into the streets, called and emailed Gov. Cuomo, lobbied legislators, and showed up at countless events. They defeated millions of dollars in lobbying and paid misinformation with grassroots energy and bold organizing. Then every bit of that work paid off.
This is exactly what happens when people work together for a just world.
By Virginia Wilkinson, PBVM
Dubuque: Education and Children - A Big Picture in Okolona, Mississippi
As we passed out the snacks to our children who came to the After School Program, a little second grader looked at one of the crackers. She came hurrying to me, wide-eyed and exclaiming, “It’s a hexagon!” It’s a hexagon!” Yes, we had been studying shapes recently! While math has been challenging for her, here was a sign of connections being make. Everyone in the room enjoyed her discovery! The little things are the ones that so unexpectedly astound you.
When Sister Liz Brown, CSJ, came to Okolona in 1985, she took the position of pastoral administrator of St. Theresa’s Catholic Church. The bishop wanted to see if this little parish, nestled in an area less than one percent Catholic, had any potential to grow. A year after Sister Liz’s arrival, Sister Nancy Schreck, OSF, joined this home mission work as a pastoral administrator in another Catholic Church in the county. Together Liz and Nancy settled into the area, involved in church and outreach, listening as people voiced their concerns for the needs of the town. Education always surfaced as the primary need. Working closely with townspeople, organizations and volunteers from near and far, the summer and after-school programs for children were started. Because a steady source of funding was needed, the One-of-a-Kind resale store was successfully created. The pattern established in those first years of listening to the needs of people and then responding creatively has fostered more resources than imagined.
I volunteered in the Summer EXCEL of 1993 and was drawn by the mission, people, precious children. In 1994, I came to serve on staff as a teacher in the After School program. Now I teach and direct the After School EXCEL and Summer EXCEL learning programs for children. The scope of these programs has broadened over the years to include more participants, greater age range of students, more variety of subjects and interests, and monthly parent meetings for input and discussion. Okolona’s population is about 60% African American and 40% white. The local school is about 95% black, and this statistic is reflected in our After School EXCEL.
What started as summer learning opportunities for children has now grown to EXCEL, Inc. serving 10,000 people a year! Our services include after school and summer learning programs, ABE/GED instruction, jobs preparation programs, senior citizen socialization and wellness programs, and computer lab access. In addition, EXCEL hosts Catch Kids (a wellness clinic for children), the Chickasaw County Mealsite Program and the Tenn-Tom Moving Youth Forward C.N.A. Program. We operate the resale store and coffee shop as fundraising efforts. We also collaborate with the Salvation Army, Mission Okolona Food Pantry and Narcotics Anonymous. EXCEL is often called upon for assistance with utility bills, food and furnishings after fires or disasters as well as crisis counseling. Our outreach is multifaceted and interwoven.
Approximately fifty-six percent of the adults in Okolona do not have a high school diploma. Forty-seven percent of people in our county are not literate. Unemployment has been at 12 percent this year. Mississippi is on the bottom of most rankings for the U.S. It is acknowledged that one of the biggest challenges is improving the quality of education in this area. In the midst of all these statistics, we find concerned parents and community members, families who want the best for their children and children who are bright, curious and readily drawn into creative learning experiences.
EXCEL’s mission is “to further education, promote community building, encourage community service and foster healthy lives.” We do this by “sponsoring programs that are educational, recreational, cultural and developmental.” “From its beginning EXCEL has been committed to racial balance at every level: planning, participation and implementation.” Everything we do is aimed at supporting the family and the community; educating the children is at the heart of this endeavor.
By Jean Meyer, PBVM
Bolvia: El Pueblo Guarani en Marcha
The Guarani people, the indigenous of southern Bolivia, were known for their resistance to the Spanish and Mestizo intruders, but were finally defeated by the superior firearms in the battle of Kuruyuki in 1892. The Guarani were then dispersed as peons to the patrones who took over their lands. Some had the index finger cut off so that they could not use a bow and arrow again. The Guarani of southern Bolivia had escaped to the distant areas unoccupied by the patrones. After the Chaco War with Paraguay in the l930s, Bolivians saw these lands as unoccupied and began to move there with cattle, destroying the crops and the Guarani way of life. Soon these Guarani also became peons of the new patrones, who in some cases obtained land titles right under the feet of the Guarani people. These large landowners denied Guarani rights to education, to own land, to work for just wages.
The Presentation Sisters along with a Bolivian schoolteacher, Swiss volunteers and other Bolivian professionals formed the Guarani Solidarity Team who worked in conjunction with the newly formed Guarani People’s Assembly, La Asamblea del Pueblo Guarani, to begin schools, community farms, family farms, health posts and eventually new homes with adobe walls and tiled roofs. La Asamblea del Pueblo Guarani, (A.P.G.) recently celebrated 25 years of the founding of their own organization. The Guarani Solidarity Team worked with international agencies to obtain land for Guarani farming. Presently Guarani nurses staff several of the new health centers within the Guarani communities.
Even though the Guarani people knew the creator God, Tumpa, and the spirits of the natural world, in 1998, community by community, they began asking to be baptized as Catholics and many joined the Catholic Church. Leo Gese, a friend of Sister Myra Remily, PBVM, of Aberdeen, provided funding for a beautiful round chapel overlooking the largest of the Guarani villages, and the first community to have their own high school.
The children in the Guarani communities now attend school. A growing number of Guarani youth are graduating from high school and continuing their studies in the university. La lucha, the struggle, continues for a greater voice in their future, for farmlands sufficient to feed and educate their children in the midst of drastic climate changes.
Currently, Suzanne Takes, PBVM, assists the Guarani to obtain their Bolivian identity cards, without which they have no access to social services, including health and pensions for the elderly.
The Guarani people are a long way from the battle of KURUYUKI in 1892, when hundreds were killed defending their culture and dignity. Perhaps they have not reached the proverbial land of milk and honey of which their ancestors spoke, but they are indeed en marcha, on the road to a better life.
San Francisco: Assisting New Americans
Sisters Rosaria Acton and Olivia Scully (Fargo) assist New Americans in acquiring skills and knowledge to attain United States citizenship. Isha Kromah from Liberia was the most recent student to complete the course of study the sisters designed. She passed her citizenship test with flying colors.
Pictured are Sr Rosaria, Isha, and Sr Olivia at a class session.
Aberdeen: Walking Together with Hispanic People
The Presentation Sisters of Aberdeen have a long history of responding to unmet needs and an equally long history of ministering to Hispanics, both in this country and as missionaries in foreign lands. As we experienced the Latino population growing in southeast South Dakota, we responded to these new immigrants by initiating a ministry with them called Caminando Juntos (Walking Together).
Currently Sisters Consuelo Covarrubias, Gabriella Crowley, Sheila Schnell, Janet Horstman and Helen Nemmers, along with Pilar Baron, a Colombian lay woman, serve hundreds of Hispanics weekly by:
- Providing English classes for Hispanic adults and children
- Accompanying Latinos as they access social services available to them (medical, dental, legal, transportation, housing, employment)
- Offering support groups to Hispanics in domestic abuse situations
- Providing immigration legal services to Latinos, many of whom have become United States citizens
- Visiting Hispanics in hospitals, jails and state prison
- Offering diversity training and advocacy assistance.
Carrying on Nano's Education Focus
For 26 years Sister Lou Cota (of Dubuque Congregation) has carried on Nano Nagle’s education focus by teaching those who have few educational choices at St Dorothy’s, an inner city school in Chicago. As technology teacher, Sister Lou has worked to acquire grant money to install state-of-the-art computers and learning software. Her enthusiastic students love to learn with “JiJi.”
Saving the Cumberland Mountains
Giant corporations are clearcutting the forests of East Tennessee to feed the increasing number of chip mills being located in the area. (Chip mills grind the potential saw timber into tiny one-inch chips for use in the paper mill industry.) Through Save Our Cumberland Mountains (SOCM), local residents are working to stop the destruction of their mountains. In the picture, Anne Hablas of the Fargo Congregation, a SOCM member, looks over a devastated area near her home in Campbell County. With other members of SOCM Anne is working to get state regulation of corporate clearcutting. Currently Tennessee has no laws that regulate the practice.
Addressing Increasing Taxes on Food
Presentation Sisters from Aberdeen SD attended “BREAD DAYS” sponsored by Bread for the World of South Dakota. The issue addressed was the impact the increased tax on food will have on the poor. Pictured is Presentation Sister Pegge Boehm (second from right) and friends.
Committed to Protesting Nuclear Weapons
Mary Denis Lentsch of the Dubuque Congregation, Iowa, is a member of the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance. For many years she has been protesting against the production of Nuclear Weapons, originally by writing letters, but later found herself wanting to take stronger actions. In February 2002 she was arrested for trespassing at the Y-12 Nuclear Weapons Plant in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. She was found guilty and spent two months imprisoned in Lexington, Ky. This photo was taken on the way to prison to complete her sentence. She is accompanied by friends who supported her.