Nun Buddies: SSNDs and Notre Dame High students forge special friendships through partnership

LISA JOHNSTON | lisajohnston@archstl.org
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The sweet treats at Christmas and the handmade blankets are just a few of the perks, but the lasting benefit of the Nun Buddies program at Notre Dame High School are the friendships between students and the School Sisters of Notre Dame.

The all-girls private Catholic high school initiated the program about seven years ago as a way of pairing students mainly with about 80 School Sisters of Notre Dame who live and/or work at the community's motherhouse in Lemay. The program is unusual in that the school and motherhouse are located on the same campus.

Campus minister Liz Miller said that while there have not yet been any religious vocations as a result of the pairings,

just as important are the relationships that are fostered between two groups of people on the same campus who might not otherwise have a chance to interact.

"Our goal is for our students to see the example of the selfless lives the sisters have led, and follow their example to be Christ's hands and feet in the world," she said.

Last week, as the school celebrated Foundation Day with a Mass at the sisters' motherhouse chapel, students met with their Nun Buddies for the first time. Notre Dame Principal Sister Michelle Emmerich met her buddies, sophomores Grazia Bertarelli and Maddie Law, at a cupcake reception after Mass.

"It's all about building relationships," she said. "We're prayer partners, so when the girls have a test we can pray for them. We do things together at the holidays. Last year, I stood side by side with a student, cooking a meal for the homeless." Some of the sisters still keep in touch with students after they have graduated from Notre Dame, sending them notes of encouragement as they continue their studies in college.

"It's a wonderful way to share the heritage of the sisters and our mission to serve women, children and the poor," said Sister Michelle, "and to plant the seed of how God is calling them."

Sister Janice Fennewald, who works at the motherhouse as the province transportation coordinator, said the communication between sisters and students "opens the door if they feel a need" to talk about anything.

"One girl I had needed extra tutoring in a subject -- she was frustrated (with her studies) and needed to air how she was feeling," she said. "I was able to build her up a little bit. We have gotten to know their families."

Sophomore Emma Garner, one of Sister Janice's buddies for the year, said through seeing the sisters' lives, "you get to know them and how they are connected to us through the school. We'll remember this and can pass it on to others. I've been telling my sister, who's in the fifth grade, about this."

"And she makes the best blankets," said Ally Dowling, one of Sister Janice's buddies.

SSND foundation

The congregation of the School Sisters of Notre Dame began on Oct. 24, 1833, when Caroline Gerhardinger, Barbara Weinzierl and Maria Blass began a common religious life in Neunburg vorm Wald, Bavaria. A political and social upheaval in Bavaria at the time led to widespread poverty. Young women were often single parents who had no means of support.

The new religious community decided that the education of girls was most important. Ten years after the congregation began, missionaries from America soon started to visit and ask if the School Sisters of Notre Dame would come to teach the children of German immigrants who were arriving in America at rapid pace.

They first settled in Pennsylvania in 1847. The School Sisters of Notre Dame arrived in St. Louis in 1858 and are credited locally with helping to establish the archdiocese's parochial school system. The Shrine of St. Joseph is the site of the sisters' first teaching mission in the archdiocese.

Source: School Sisters of Notre Dame website 

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