By Cathy Harasta
The Texas Catholic
In responding to humanity’s most critical needs, the School Sisters of Notre Dame reflect their foundress’ commitment to service, sharing the Good News and transforming the world through education.
“The School Sisters of Notre Dame have always been known for being with and among the people,” said Sister Theresa Khirallah, SSND, the Director of Ministries for the Diocese of Dallas. “We don’t isolate ourselves.
“We tell ourselves, ‘Always have your eyes open and your ears listening.’ ”
The 15 School Sisters of Notre Dame in the Diocese of Dallas serve in ministries including schools; parishes; hospitals, and Pastoral Center offices.
More than 2,500 School Sisters served in 34 countries in 2014.
Blessed Mary Theresa of Jesus Gerhardinger founded the international congregation of women religious in Bavaria in 1833. Blessed Theresa directed her gifts as an educator to meeting the needs of her time, particularly those of women, children and the poor. She came to North America to aid German settlers in 1847.
“Our foundress was a woman of great vision,” Sister Theresa said. “She was a woman who saw what was going on in her country and responded to it. Today, the mission is really education in the broadest sense—schools, social justice, literacy education and all forms of education.”
The Diocese of Dallas’ School Sisters of Notre Dame belong to the Central Pacific Province, led by Sister Mary Anne Owens, the former Executive Director of Catholic Charities of Dallas.
Sister Theresa said that the sisters in the Diocese of Dallas gather four or five times a year. They recently hosted a Women’s Leadership Luncheon at St. Monica Catholic Church’s Family Center.
The Dallas-area sisters live in six locations throughout the diocese, with two or three sisters sharing a residence.
Sister Theresa said that the sisters regard Pope Francis’ declaration of the Year of Consecrated Life, which runs until Feb. 2, 2016, as a blessing.
“It’s a chance to tell our story,” Sister Theresa said. “Some of the young women who come to our discernment retreats seek a life of service, education and outreach. They are seeking to express their spirituality through a religious community.”
Sister Gloria Cain, SSND, who is the Superintendent of Catholic Schools for the Diocese of Dallas, said that the School Sisters, who taught her father, inspired her when she was a young child.
“What drew me was that they took care of us,” Sister Gloria said. “They loved us. They demanded the very best of us.”
Sister Carol George, SSND, said that the School Sisters exuded joy that infused her childhood Catholic education in Tyler.
“They’d come outside and throw balls with us,” said Sister Carol, a former math teacher and now a math coach at Bishop Dunne Catholic School. “It was such a caring atmosphere.”
Sister Sandra Helton, SSND, said that belonging to her congregation rewards her in numerous ways.
“I had a call from God,” said Sister Sandra, who teaches middle-school reading, language arts and technology at Santa Clara of Assisi Catholic Academy. “I really wanted to work with women, children and the less fortunate. This is the perfect work for me.”
The School Sisters’ ministries continue to reflect the congregation’s pioneering spirit.
In 1963, the School Sisters founded the Notre Dame School of Dallas, which educates students with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
The late Sister Caroleen Hensgen, SSND, was the first woman religious to serve as a superintendent of a Catholic school system in the U.S. when she became the superintendent of Catholic schools in the Diocese of Dallas in 1967.
The School Sisters have endorsed the Cristo Rey Dallas College Prep that will open in August.
“There always was something about the School Sisters of Notre Dame that was special,” said Sister Mary Delbert Weisensel, SSND, who serves in the province’s mission advancement division. “There’s something about their joy and their spirit.”