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Sisters of Notre Dame discuss their experiences as nuns

| Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Several nuns living and working at Notre Dame gathered to share stories of their vocations and ministry experiences in a panel discussion Tuesday night. The panel, held in Coleman-Morse Hall and co-hosted by Campus Ministry and the Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism, was moderated by Cushwa Center director Kathleen Cummings.

Amongst the Sisters present were rectors, professors and associate deans at Notre Dame. The panel included Sister Ann Astell, professor of theology, Sister Kathleen Cannon, associate dean in the College of Science, Sister Mary Donnelly, rector of Flaherty Hall, Sister Mary Jane Hahner, rector of Pasquerilla West Hall, Sister Mary Catherine Hilkert, professor of theology, Sister Mary Lynch, rector of McGlinn Hall and Sister Susan Sisko, rector of Badin Hall.

Chris Collins | The Observer
Nuns who serve a variety of roles on campus speak at a panel discussion titled “Notre Dame’s Sisters and Their Stories.” The sisters discussed their callings and sought to educate attendees about life as a sister.

Before the sisters were introduced, Cummings explained why the Cushwa Center and Campus Ministry elected to form this panel event. Cummings said that not much is known about the lives of sisters, as a 2015 study conducted by the Conrad Hilton Foundation indicated.

“Catholic Sisters, while highly respected, remain a mystery to most Americans,” Cummings said, referring the study results.

The panel aimed to debunk the common stereotypes and media representation of sisters in having the nuns relate their life experiences.

The sisters began by introducing themselves and giving a brief history of their personal congregation. The women also shared the story of their vocation. Some sisters felt the calling to a life of ministry at a young age. Astell said she knew as young as 8–years–old, when she received her first communion, that she would live a holy life. Similarly, Cannon’s vocation was influenced by her school teachers, who were sisters.

“Somehow I knew that this wasn’t just teaching, it was somehow making the world a better place,” Astell said. “So I began to grow into this identity.”

Others, including Hahner and Donnelly, said they received their calling later in life. For instance, Hahner began her career working in a tax office, while Donnelly initially worked in a toy store. Despite their first jobs, the sisters realized they could no longer ignore their vocation.

“There’s this mosquito, and you’re like ‘Get off me,’ but it’s God,” Sisko said.

That one mosquito eventually becomes a swarm, she said.

“To get rid of this swarm, I realized I should do what this vocation director suggested and visit the congregation,” Sisko said.

Despite their different paths to the sisterhood, each panelist expressed their gratitude for their time at Notre Dame and their time working at the university.

“I knew of the rector position, I loved the school and I wanted to get to get back to campus ministry on a college campus,” Sisko said. “I decided I needed to come home to Notre Dame.”

Donnelly said she was thankful for her experience as rector of Flaherty Hall.

“There’s something special about college students,” she said. “There’s something in all of you that feeds my spirit.”

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