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Sisters reflect on their time in Rome

The Generalate for the School Sisters of Notre Dame (SSND), located in Rome, is home to the international community of sisters. Three sisters shared reflections on their time in Rome. Sisters Joan DiProspere and Connie Schmidt reflect on the many years they served in Rome. Sister Jean Greenwald recently started her ministry in Rome in October 2020. She shares how her first few months have been.


Reflection on Living at the Generalate and Returning to the States

By Sister Joan DiProspere

A photo of Sister Joan DiProspere lighting candles in Rome.

“What is it like?” This seems to be the most common question asked about living and ministering in Rome and I feel it may be the most difficult one to answer. In many ways, living as a School Sister of Notre Dame (SSND) in Rome is the same as living as a SSND in any country, but at the same time is very different.

A “normal” day for a sister living at the Generalate includes prayer, liturgy, meals, leisure time and, of course, the work that is part of the particular ministry that each of us was called to do. For me, what sets living in Rome apart from other ministries and communities I have experienced are the people, the country, the opportunities and the language. While the main culture in Rome is Italian, the combining of many other cultures at the Generalate contribute to the reality of intercultural living and is a rich experience of our international congregation.

A person living at the Generalate might experience liturgy and music in German, Kiswahili, Portuguese, Hungarian, Slovenian, Japanese, Spanish, Italian or English. Meal prayers and community prayer might also be in any of these languages. While English is the main language spoken, you readily hear other languages used, sometimes fluently and sometimes hesitantly with many gestures.

The country each of us calls “home” influences not only how feasts and holidays are celebrated, but also which ones are celebrated. Traditions, menus, and leisure activities like sightseeing, hobbies and games, influence living and sharing in community and engaging in our ministries.

Obviously, COVID-19 affected my last nine months at the Generalate and presented new challenges for all of us. Prior to the restrictions, we were engaged in preparing and hosting interprovincial meetings, attending meetings and gatherings, welcoming sisters from other congregations for semi-annual Days of Reflection and providing hospitality for many visiting sisters and friends. We were able to travel and benefit from the richness of the many churches, museums and historical locations that Rome has to offer.

The greatest gift of my ministry in Rome was the opportunity to welcome and meet sisters and novices from around the world. Although I doubt that I will ever travel to the many countries where SSND serve, I am grateful for the experience of seeing our charism and mission through the eyes of the sisters and novices I met.

As I return to the United States, I return to the culture that is most familiar to me. Although it is not always in my conscious awareness, I realize I have grown in my appreciation of these words from our Constitution, You Are Sent, “where we live and serve together internationally, we witness to the possibility of overcoming national and cultural barriers.” (YAS, GD 36)

Learn more about Sister Joan’s time in Rome and what led her to this incredible ministry.


Rome Reflection

By Sister Connie Schmidt

Sister Connie Schmidt is posing for a photo with a few historical buildings behind her in Rome.

I became a School Sister of Notre Dame because I felt a call to be like the sisters who had taught me. I was attracted to them because of their dedication to us as students, wanting always to make us better people prepared to meet the world.

I began my ministry as an elementary teacher and then an elementary school principal in several of our Catholic schools in Missouri. I was then asked by the provincial council to work in initial formation for the community and so began helping young women discern their call to religious life. It was during this time that I also did part-time work in prison ministry. When my time as Director of Initial Formation was over, I accepted an invitation by the province to help establish a stronger presence on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. I ministered to the Lakota people on the Pine Ridge by first teaching in the school and then doing pastoral work in the parishes. During these years, I was elected to the provincial council of the former St. Louis Province. Following serving that term of office, I returned to the Pine Ridge to complete a total of 21 years on the reservation. It was then that I was asked to serve the congregation at our Generalate in Rome. I was asked to be the Secretary to the General Superior for two-and-a-half years.

When the General Superior of the Congregation calls you herself to ask you to come and be her secretary, it is rather difficult not to seriously discern that call. I knew I had been given the greatest gift of my life to serve the Lakota people on the Pine Ridge Reservation for so many years and I felt God was asking me to let go. It was time to give back to the congregation by serving at our Generalate. After a lot of prayer, I gave my “YES!”

Being a secretary was very challenging considering I had never been a secretary before. The hardest part was letting go of the Lakota people who I knew and loved for 21 years on the reservation and entering into an office in a large institution in Rome. The General Superior was very patient with me as I learned the role. The community of sisters there were very kind in showing me how to live in the Generalate. I found the experience of living in a multicultural community (sisters from seven different countries) to be both stretching and energizing at the same time. It was a blessing to be living in the center of our international community and to be a part of so much of what was happening in many provinces throughout the congregation.

During my time, I was able to share my love of music by playing the guitar and the keyboard for liturgies in the Chapel. I loved coordinating some of the social outreach for the Generalate sisters to help with meals at Dono di Maria and Caritas International, which are community places to feed the homeless. I also had the opportunity to offer spiritual direction to sisters from many different religious communities and different parts of the world who happened to be studying in Rome during that time. These various activities were life-giving opportunities for me while serving at the Generalate. My fondest memory while serving in Rome was the celebration of my Golden Jubilee in May of 2020. I was one of three Jubilarians in the Generalate community and so we celebrated together. It was a delight to celebrate our interculturality as we celebrated our Jubilees together.

I think we try to remain open to the fact that we are an international community and so our call can really be to anywhere there is a need. The different cultures in which we serve are tremendous blessings to our congregation. This global reality in our congregation keeps us ever mindful of people and situations happening everywhere. I know my own prayer is enlarged because of the call to be mindful of our sisters serving in 30 different countries. Being open to the grace of God throughout my SSND years has kept me focused on where God wants me to serve in mission.


Reflections from Roma

By Sister Jean Greenwald

Sister Jean Greenwald posing in front of a Rome landmark with a mask during Christmas.

The Eternal City, Rome, conjures great imagination in the minds of many. I have no comparison to make regarding daily life with this being my first visit to Italy, during COVID-19. When I speak with others across the pond, they ask excitedly, “So how is it there in Rome? It must be beautiful!” Often, my response is the same. If it wasn’t for differences in the people, surroundings, language and driving habits…to name a few, I could still be in St. Louis or Chicago.

We are being responsible in our decisions to wear masks, even in the house, while keeping with social distancing protocols, staying off of public transportation, washing hands, etc. In an online Italian class, the teacher asked each of us what monument was our favorite. I replied that I did not really have a chance to visit any of them and he asked, “Perché (Why)?” I told him that, while I drive in Rome, I must keep my eyes on all the drama that unfolds around me while I am driving. I cannot afford to look at monuments and other points of interest – until I become an Italian driver! Of course, when I told the teacher that COVID was stealing many experiences of life from each of us, he understood. Someday, perhaps, I will travel freely to see the ancient history in this beautiful city/country.

Some of the differences that I experience here – relationships, prayer and ritual, language, customs, responsibilities and driving – are no different than when I moved from one mission to another sometimes within the same state. Through transition, I experience the good, the bad and the ugly, allowing the newness to change what is within me that wants to hold-on-to what I know and am used to. What a gift it is when I can let go and experience a world that has expanded me!

Being here at the Generalate has greatly expanded my world – thanks to the very experiences that are different. The internationality of SSND, in language, looks, prayer and customs to name a few, are wonderful gifts to me. I only hope I bring to others what they give to me. As for being in Rome during this time of COVID, I try to choose to allow this pandemic to change me: to become a better listener, more compassionate and courageous person who ponders the difficulties that impact the lives across our globe. We are being given a chance to take better care of one another.

Learn more about the Generalate and the internationality of School Sisters of Notre Dame.


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