Gail DeGeorge is the editor of Global Sisters Report, a project of National Catholic Reporter. Given the publication’s commitment to Catholic social teaching and the close ties between higher education and Catholic sisters, ACCU hosted an interview with Gail DeGeorge on the connection between ACCU member institutions and Global Sisters Report.
ACCU: Tell us about Global Sisters Report. How did the project get started and what are the goals of the publication?
Gail DeGeorge: Global Sisters Report is a website publication of the National Catholic Reporter that reports on and gives voice to women religious who carry out the Catholic Church’s mission of mercy and social justice. Its network of journalists writes about sisters around the world who work against human trafficking, run workshops to help empower women, aid indigenous people against environmental threats posed by mining (including being witnesses at Standing Rock against the pipeline); run clinics in poor communities, and lobby in the halls of Congress and the United Nations for the rights of the marginalized and forgotten. Sisters also write columns for GSR about spirituality; religious life in the U.S., Africa, and Asia; and their missions and ministries. In addition to editors and reporters, GSR has two sisters on staff who work to encourage and develop columns by sisters, edit, and write commentary. NCR had written about the work of women religious since its founding in 1964 and wanted to expand on that coverage. In late 2008, it approached the Hilton Foundation for funding for a special three-year project entitled “Women Religious: Lives of Justice and Mercy.” NCR then received a planning grant in 2011 to research the formation of a dedicated website focused on women religious. The project was funded, developed and then launched in April 2014.
ACCU: Many Catholic college and universities were founded by sisters and continue to have sisters actively involved with campus leadership. In what ways do religious sisters impart the values of their order and of their colleges into the social justice work that they do?
GDG: For decades, America’s sisters, with foresight, determination, and creativity have been building a foundation that will sustain the charism of their order when they are no longer at the helm. These initiatives include developing mission chairs/officers, lay leadership and associate programs, retreats, book study groups that reinforce the values of the order, and even, at Neumann University in Aston, Pennsylvania, periodic afternoon teas, bringing staff and faculty together to assess how the Catholic Franciscan mission is being integrated into campus life. One example: Minnesota’s St. Catherine University has created three mission chairs to reinforce each element of the school values: Catholic, Women, and Liberal Arts. In initiating a new governance structure, they wrote a new covenant, developing an educational program for the Board of Trustees and creating a Sponsorship Council made up of four sisters and three lay trustees.
ACCU: What are some of the ways you have seen sisters engage the next generation, such as college students, in their social justice ministry?
GDG: When the mission of the order is woven into the institutional fabric, students notice and participate. At St. Catherine, sisters have volunteered to become prayer partners with students, who also have the opportunity to work on social justice issues like human trafficking and participate in Celeste’s Dream, a program that allows young adults to experience the mission and spirituality of the Sisters of St. Joseph. Chestnut Hill College has the 1650 Society (a mission-focused honor society). The school also offers service trips to Appalachia and Tanzania as well as the chance to work with the inner-city poor in Camden, New Jersey. At Immaculata University in Immaculata, Pennsylvania, home of the IHM Sisters, students tutor children in West Philadelphia, work at a local food bank and spend time with retired sisters next door at Camilla Hall, among other opportunities.
ACCU: How can faculty in Catholic higher education, especially those involved with peace and justice work, engage with Global Sisters Report?
GDG: Check out the Global Sisters Report website, encourage students to do so, and sign up for e-mail alerts! The website is clearly designed for various social justice themes – environment, trafficking, migration – and the search tool allows for more in-depth searches. Also, join in the discussions on Global Sisters Reports’ social media pages on Facebook, Twitter (@sistersreport), and Instagram. We also have a feature “Notes from the Field” in which young adult volunteers – usually through Catholic Volunteer Network but also those who intern or work with sister congregations – write blogs. These are excellent examples of young people living out the Church’s social justice and service mission.
ACCU: In what ways can the news and stories shared by Global Sisters Report inform the way that Catholic colleges and universities, including students, campus ministers, mission officers, and administrators, work to promote Catholic social teaching principles?
GDG: Sisters are on the front lines on a variety of social justice issues. They serve people who are affected by government policy decisions, funding cuts, and environmental crises. Their autonomy often allows them to be more outspoken than priests and other clergy in advocating for social change. Many, for instance, actively incorporate Pope Francis’s encyclical, Laudato Si, into their work. Sisters in Africa are seeking common ground between their missions with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Their voice is vital to include in discussions about — and efforts to carry out — Catholic social teaching principles.