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Holy Cross education discussed

Katlyn Smith | Monday, December 3, 2007

Sister Francis O’Connor spoke to the Center for Women’s Intercultural Leadership (CWIL) International Advisory Board Thursday about education in the tradition of the Sisters of the Holy Cross.

Sponsoring schools in South America, Africa and Bangladesh, the Sisters of the Holy Cross have produced visionary leaders and have empowered women in a multiplicity of cultures, O’Connor said.

In Brazil, a sister constructed a recycling plant. Her popularity prompted the local community to nominate her for town mayor, O’Connor said.

In the U.S., the sisters lobby for peace and justice issues and defend abused women, O’Connor said.

“Young women have joined us and carried on the dream of an intercultural, diversified congregation,” O’Connor said.

She also referred to her 20 years of missionary work in Bangladesh.

Under the Holy Cross leadership, the only Christian women’s college in the country was founded in 1950.

“The school has contributed to empowerment of Bangladesh women,” O’Connor said.

A student who attended the school from kindergarten through college now works with refugees in Darfur. Another recent alumna told O’Connor the school equipped her with the right value system to face the world and interact with different cultures with ease.

O’ Connor said government service, human rights and the World Bank are just a few areas one can find alumni from the Bangladesh school.

“The sisters have widened horizons and stood by a mutually respective, cross-cultural conscience,” she said.

Women not only in Bangladesh but also in other developing countries are not aware of their own rights, which leads to many societal problems, O’Connor said.

Through intercultural learning, women can become agents in society and family and stop the spread of AIDS, reduce child mortality and defend the environment, she said.

In addition, O’Connor discussed the Catholic Church’s past and present position on mission work.

Prior to the 1960s, the Catholic Church defined mission work as the conversion of pagans, she said. Now, O’Connor stressed, the Church accommodates the hunger for learning no matter the circumstance of families.

She called upon different religions to embrace a more spiritual understanding and tolerance. The model of the sisters reflects universal sympathy regardless of race or economic status.

As recipients of Holy Cross educations, two Saint Mary’s alumnae and a current student reflected on the intercultural opportunities at the College and the school’s preparation for careers in an intercultural world.

A member of the International Advisory Board, Paula Dawning, arrived at Saint Mary’s during a turbulent time when African Americans were faced segregation. The first in her family to attend college, Dawning enjoys being an “agent of change.”

Leaving her job as vice president of sales at AT&T, Dawning became the superintendent of the Benton Harbor school district.

According to Dawning, prior to her arrival, only 15 percent of the district’s middle school students read at their grade level. Now, that number has jumped to 45 percent.

Working in Geneva for Proctor and Gamble, Rocio Sandoval received an international scholarship to attend Saint Mary’s.

“Saint Mary’s allowed and prepared me to be a woman of today’s challenging world,” Sandoval said.

The social responsibility supported by the College is reflected in her career as she strives to improve low-income consumers’ lives as a market researcher.

Senior Adriana Lopez, who said CWIL promotes personal transformation and systematic change, hopes to give back to her Mexican heritage and use the values she learned at Saint Mary’s to make a difference in the world.

Looking to the future, O’Connor urged the college to strengthen diversification and fulfill the vision of the sisters. Dawning also suggested a global experience as a requirement for graduation, which would allow students to see the injustices present today around the world.

O’Connor is currently a Hesburgh Scholar at Notre Dame and teaches in the adult education program at Holy Cross College. She completed her graduate work in Indian History at the University of Chicago before working in Bangladesh.