The last thing Headmistress Sister Patricia McCarron does each morning before she heads out the door for NDP is to make sure she’s wearing her School Sisters of Notre Dame (SSND) lapel pin. It is a tiny accessory, smaller than a postage stamp, yet it represents something quite significant. To those who wear it, the pin -engraved with the SSND emblem – signifies nothing less than charism and calling. Purpose and principle. Mission and mindset. It is an important outward sign of an inner orientation and a reminder to all of a steadfast commitment. As an SSND, Sr. Patricia is one in a long line of dedicated religious women whose mission it is to transform the world through education. Education, particularly the education of young women, is the very special and unique way the SSND’s have answered a Divine call to love and serve others, and spread the Gospel message.
The congregation traces its origins back to 1833 Bavarian Germany when three young women formed a new religious community together and offered their services as educators to the poor and illiterate in their midst. Since then, the SSND’s have taken their mission worldwide. And every year, the staff and student body of NDP, along with invited SSND’s from the area, gather together to celebrate Foundation Day, the anniversary of the founding of the School Sisters of Notre Dame who, in turn, founded Notre Dame Prep. The day begins with a Mass and that Mass ends with a mutual consecration during which both the students and Sisters bless each other. It is a lovely ceremony and humble reminder to the girls that they are there today because long ago three other young women answered a call.
The truth is, if you want to know what the human response to the Divine call looks like, you need look no further than the School Sisters of Notre Dame. God said, “Reveal my love” and they have done so, in a hundred different ways, year after year, generation after generation. And they continue that work of call and response to this day. They don’t wait for signs. They are simply attentive to the “still, soft whisper.” They respond to the obvious and not so obvious, but always that which is right in front of them. They respond without complaint. With apparent joy. With supreme faith and with an uncanny ability to adapt and evolve, yet remain true to their mission. Their foundation, if you will. We are lucky to have them among us still and to witness the many ways in which they continue to say, “yes” with all the generosity of spirit and love we’ve come to expect from them over the years. They say, “yes” in classrooms and boardrooms. In shelters and hospitals. In the suburbs and the city, the rain forest and the jungle. They do it quietly, routinely, without a lot of fanfare. And with no strings attached. They simply say “yes.” To the dauntingly monumental and the seemingly insignificant. To the challenging and the mundane. To the constant interruptions and the unnerving detours. They say yes. Because they know. While we’re sitting on the sidelines waiting for calls and asking for signs and pushing away the interruptions, they know…the interruptions are the call. And to respond to the person in front of you…is to respond to the Divine.
At Notre Dame, they are very good at teaching the girls the concept of call and response. Every day in every way. In and outside the classroom. And through dozens of life changing and spiritually enriching service projects. One such project the students of NDP are currently involved with harkens back to the original call and response concept of our founders, who served the needs of the most vulnerable in their midst. It is the Refugee Youth Project. The Refugee Youth Project (RYP) provides high-quality after-school and individual mentoring programs to Baltimore’s youngest refugees. Each week, NDP girls volunteer at Moravia Park Elementary School in east Baltimore, an area of the city densely populated with refugees and immigrants. The NDP girls serve as mentors and homework helpers for these most vulnerable youth. It is another way the concept of call and response is played out today and spread before us like so much Good News. And in no small way, we have the School Sisters of Notre Dame to thank for it.
They are, unequivocally, the real deal. Those SSND’s who went before us and gracefully led the way. And those still with us, who do the same. Their spirit fills these halls and our world. Today and certainly tomorrow. And when the last School Sister of Notre Dame is called home? When even names are forgotten and memory fades…what then? What will remain? The answer is: The love will. And it will be more than enough. At the end of the story, The Bridge at San Luis Rey, the author writes:
“All those impulses of love return to the love that made them. Even memory is not necessary for love. There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love…the only survival, the only meaning.”
The Sisters taught us a great deal about call and response in the name of Love. Perhaps they did so with the hope that, every once in a while, we might stop and ask ourselves, “How am I being called to love, today?… And how will I answer?”
Happy 180th Anniversary of your founding, Sisters! Here’s to another 180.