An Interview with Global Sisters Report Editor Gail DeGeorge

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.

Neumann University Athletes Serve Together

At Neumann University in Aston, PA, student athletes are encouraged to include service to others in their team events.  Joining together in acts of service to the local community brings the team closer together in the spirit of the Catholic mission of their university.

Last fall, Neumann University’s field hockey team was in Scranton, PA for a game, where an alumna and former team captain serves as a Jesuit Volunteer at a local soup kitchen. The team decided this would be the perfect opportunity to join in her work and connect with each other and the community through service.

The men’s and women’s soccer teams soon after joined the initiative and hosted middle and high school students from the Caring People Alliance, a West Philadelphia organization committed to serving children and strengthening families. The soccer teams spent the day getting to know the visiting students, discussing college and career goals, and playing soccer.

These activities flow directly from Neumann University’s Catholic, Franciscan identity and university mission. Service truly is at the heart of the University and plays a unique role in the relationships among athletes and between athletes and the local community.

Lauren Sciocchetti, a student currently on the women’s soccer team, reflects: “The ability to share [in service] with your teammates and lean on each other… is so important.” As athletes, one important element of the success of the team is the bond among teammates. By encouraging the athletes to “share in service,” Neumann University adds a spiritual element to this bond, supporting the university mission of service to others.

Laudato Si Release: Act

Earlier today, Pope Francis released his long-awaited encyclical letter, Laudato Si.  We at ACCU are sharing resources and best practices to help our campuses pray for commitment to care for creation, learn about the encyclical and our call to stewardship, and act upon our beliefs to work for the common good.


ACCU member institutions have acted upon their call to care for creation through a number of sustainability and environmental justice initiatives.

  • The Catholic Climate Covenant, with support from the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities, the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities, the Association of Franciscan Colleges and Universities, and the Catholic Campus Ministry Association, have produced Sustainability and Catholic Higher Education: A Toolkit for Mission Integration (PDF; 3MB).  Through mission-based initiatives, the Toolkit offers practical suggestions to inspire individuals, families, schools, parishes, and dioceses to follow the Catholic Coalition on Climate Change’s St. Francis Pledge.
  • 29 Catholic colleges and universities have taken the St. Francis Pledge, sponsored by the Catholic Climate Covenant, committing to living out the value of care for creation through reflection, action, and advocacy.  These campuses include: Aquinas College (MI), Cabrini College, Chestnut Hill College, College of Saint Benedict, Creighton University, Gonzaga University, John Carroll University, Lewis University, Loyola University Chicago, Marquette University, Mercyhurst University, Mount St. Joseph University, Neumann University, Rosemont College, Saint Anselm College, Saint Francis University, Saint John’s University (MN), Saint Joseph’s College (IN), Saint Mary’s College of California, Saint Michael’s College, Salve Regina University, Seattle University, St. Thomas More College, Stonehill College, University of Notre Dame, University of Portland, Villanova University, Viterbo University, and Xavier University.
  • The Center for Environmental Justice and Sustainability at Seattle University lives out a core tenet of the university mission.  The Center has undertaken a number of initiatives, including supporting faculty and student research through fellowships.  Dr. Trileigh Tucker, Associate Professor of Environmental Studies at Seattle University, and one of CEJS’s first Faculty Fellows, developed a teaching resource on environmental justice, compiling syllabi, assessment methods, and foundational documents used frequently in courses on environmental justice.
  • Benedictine University in Illinois has received a $46,000 Food Scrap Composting Revitalization and Advancement Program (F-SCRAP) grant from the state to allow for the diversion of food scraps generated in the campus cafeteria and other buildings.
  • In spring 2015, Cabrini College held a conference, “Faith, Climate, and Health”, to examine how climate change affects the health of the most vulnerable citizens.
  • At the University of Portland, professors Dr. Russell Butkus and Dr. Steven Kolmes, teach a course entitled “Theology in Ecological Perspective”, exploring Catholic and Christian teaching and environmental science.

Read more ways ACCU member campuses have undertaken sustainability initiatives on the ACCU website.  Check back frequently as we will post new updates and ways that ACCU campuses react to the Laudato Si to the blog!

2015 Anscombe Forum on Human Dignity

Join Neumann University at their campus in Philadelphia on March 13-14, 2015 for their annual event exploring the work of G.E.M. Anscombe. Discussion will center around how her writings still affect Catholic intellectual tradition today. This year, the Forum will treat issues of human dignity.

Click here for more information, or visit their website.

Value Inquiry Investigates Sport

The 41st Conference on Value Inquiry at Neumann University will focus on “Sport and Values.” The Neumann University Institute for Sport, Spirituality and Character Development is working in conjunction with Neumann University Philosophy and Sport and Entertainment Management Faculty in order to host the event in Philadelphia on April 16-18, 2015. Proposals are due February 15, 2015.

Click here for more information, or visit their website.