Sr. Marilyn Kerber, SNDdeN
100 East Eighth Street
Cincinnati, Ohio 45202
(513) 421-3131 ext. 2865
Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur
Spotlight on: Sister Marie Smith, SNDdeN
By Meg Glendon
Sister Marie Smith stood outside her door checking the flowers, which had just been delivered to her office where she has served as the Director of the Spirituality Center in Cincinnati since 2015. Looking up with a characteristic warm smile, she welcomed me to the Center.
The flowers would decorate the tables of those attending a session on Forgiveness presented by Sister Linda Soucek, the first program of the new season. “ We like to have something of beauty at each of our sessions,” Sister Marie explains. “ It helps create the ambience for reflection and it is a vibrant reminder of the beauty of creation.” Her passion for her ministry is obvious as she shares a brochure, which captures a full range of offerings, which will be presented over the coming year.
A key component of the Spirituality Center is the Saturday morning program. Over the years, the Spirituality Center has built up a following in the Cincinnati area. Through advertising and word of mouth new people are added to the audience and many newcomers become regular participants.
Sister Marie grew up in Dayton and entered the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur after graduating from Julienne High School. She was an elementary school teacher before serving for many years as the principal at Corryville Catholic, an elementary school in downtown Cincinnati.
“I loved Corryville,” she said. “The students and faculty were wonderful. All of us worked hard to create a learning environment that reflected the values of our Catholic tradition and provided the academic and support systems the students needed to succeed. “
Corryville will always be dear to Sister Marie’s heart.
She visits the school for special events during the year. “I am overwhelmed by the warm welcome I receive from the students, faculty and principal when I return. I love seeing them all and I find it gratifying to know that the school is doing so well.”
In discussing the transition from principal in an urban school to director of a spirituality center at Mount Notre Dame, Sister Marie said “ I feel blessed to be involved in a learning process which helps others grow spiritually. It draws on the administrative skills I gained over the years and stretches me in new ways.
It gives me the opportunity to meet wonderful people — our Spirituality Center Board, our presenters and the people who participate in our programs.
I appreciate living with seven other sisters here at Mount Notre Dame in the Kateri Community. We all share a passion for mission and their support means a lot to me.
Sister Marie participates in Adopt a Sister, a popular program sponsored by Mount Notre Dame High School. “ A group of six students and I get together about once a month,” she said. “ We discuss anything from getting into college to upcoming events in their lives. I serve as an active listener, facilitator and supporter. Sometimes we have a more specific agenda. For example, this month we are reading a book about Sister Dorothy Stang, which we will discuss as a group. It is always an enjoyable and fulfilling experience to be with the students.”
For more information about the Notre Dame Spirituality Center, please check the following link: http://www.sndohio.org
A Ministy of Comfort and Joy
Sisters Diane Reed and Carol DeFiore
After a combined 70 years in the classroom and another 40 or so in pastoral work at a local parish, the two Sisters have moved on to another ministry. They call it “Glad Tidings,” because the work has only one goal: To bring comfort and joy to people.
It’s a deeply personal ministry that flows from a single image of life. “What if we were all kind to one another, the way Jesus went about life,” is how Sister Carol explained it. So the two Sisters deliberately head out every day with the same thought in mind. Being kind to the people around them.
They start by smiling. That leads to exchanging names and stories. Before you know it, the special intentions of these once complete strangers are folded into a “prayer pot” that the two Sisters visit every day.
There’s the woman at the checkout counter in Kroger, the lady in the drug store photo department and the man behind the counter at the hardware store. Pictures of their growing list of new friends are tacked on a bulletin board in the Sisters’ kitchen, which is something of a world headquarters for “Glad Tidings.”
It’s where Sister Diane works on her handcrafted greeting cards and Sister Carol bakes bread, muffins and her world-class chocolate chip cookies — all ingredients of individual care packages they make for their new friends.
“We learned about the husband of a woman who works at the shopping center.” Sister Carol said.
“He has cancer, and there is very little he is able to eat. But he loves chocolate chip cookies, so we make sure to take him a bag whenever we are near his wife’s store.” Sister Diane said their work is often carried out over the phone. “One friend has a brother who was just taken to a federal prison in Kentucky. She calls simply to talk. To sort things out. Another is feeling overwhelmed by having to unexpectedly care for two grandchildren. Talking helps.”
The lessons of this ministry are everywhere. Sisters Diane and Carol say the work is helping them to better understand who they are, who they are becoming and what their gifts are in these later years of life. It has also affirmed for them how hungry all people are for comfort and joy — and to hear that they are not alone.
Straight From the Heart
Sister Judi Clemens
Thinking about the connection between hearts and ministries brings Sister Judi Clemens to mind. After serving on the Ohio Province leadership team for five years, she might well have retired. Instead, she is working as an independent interpreter, returning to a ministry that once again brings her closer to the people so dear to her heart − the Brazilian community.
Sister Judi receives invitations from religious communities around the world, asking her to serve as a Portuguese translator. In the first few months of her new ministry, she’s traveled to Boston, Tampa and Chicago to provide simultaneous and written translations. One assignment took her back to a Brazilian worship community she founded 25 years ago in Stoughton, Massachusetts, when she served with the Brazilian Pastoral Programs for the Archdiocese of Boston. Sister’s fluency is in Portuguese. It was formed through 23 years of ministry in Brazil, and another 15 years of pastoral work in Brazilian communities in this country. “I am DNA-wired to Brazilians, and that is a pure gift of God and the Sisters of Notre Dame.”
Education, but not in a Classroom
On the drive home from the official swearing-in ceremony admitting her to the Ohio Bar, Sister Rose Ann Fleming, SNDdeN, decided how to use her new authority to practice the law. She would represent those who couldn’t afford an attorney — especially women. “While I was in Law School I was drawn to the work of Legal Aid. I knew there was a need, and this just made sense to me,” Sister Rose Ann remembered. That was 20 years and hundreds of cases ago.
“This is an educational ministry,” Sister explained. “I teach my clients to expect justice, and work to help them receive it through the legal process. Quite often I have cases where a woman has been involved in an abusive relationship. When this happens, it’s catastrophic for the woman because she believed the marriage would last forever. I use every opportunity the law offers to make sure she is protected, her children are safe, and that she has food, clothing and a roof over her head.”
But that’s not where it ends for Sister Rose Ann.
“Once the law finishes, there is so much more to do. For example, many of the women I represent have no skills, no high school diploma or no income. Once this woman is free from the only relationship she’s ever known, how will she support her children? How will she survive? We try to find her a safe place to live and to connect her with someone who will help her take the next step. It might be to enroll in a GED program, or to get a job. No matter the case, we encourage her to keep moving forward” Sister said.
“It’s a tremendous opportunity to help others,” Sister continued. “I am thankful because it is unlikely that I would run into these women in my ordinary life. They have bad situations at home. Many have been put out on the street. They find themselves homeless, with nothing, after years of marriage. I would never find them if it weren’t for the law.”
As she teaches women and families what they need for life under such difficult circumstances, Sister Rose Ann remembers each in her prayers. “I pray that they find God and peace in their lives. And I ask God to give them the courage and self confidence to survive the storm, to make their way trusting in themselves and others. Then they can be a help to others.”
Hope in a Pizza Parlor
The educational mission of the Sisters of Notre Dame fits the needs of the time. That often means teaching good women and men in the most unusual classrooms. Sister Judy Tensing’s ministry is a perfect example.
Sister Judy cofounded Power Inspires Progress about 25 years ago. She had come to know the women in the area who were struggling to hold together their families. They needed jobs, but few knew where to start. Sister Judy understood that any meaningful employment started with strong job skills. So she set up a catering service and then a pizza parlor where disadvantaged adults could learn to be valuable employees.
The pizza parlor is called Venice on Vine. It’s located on the corner of 13th and Vine in Cincinnati’s struggling Over-the-Rhine neighborhood, and it looks like any other pizza place from the outside. But it’s really an inner-city classroom that provides positive, meaningful pre-employment training for adults who have been unable to get and keep a job.
Sister Judy and her group of volunteers teach trainees how to be a valuable employee in the service sector. They teach job skills like workplace ethics and personal responsibility. Trainees are required to attend four classes a week – to help them get a GED, a commercial driver’s license or a license to drive a car. Sister Judy does this because, these days, it is virtually impossible to get a job without a high school education, or a driver’s license. The odds get even worse if a trainee has a criminal record.
Over the course of a year, 20 people at a time work in the catering businesses of Power Inspires Progress and Venice on Vine. The trainees are paid minimum wage for working four hours a day, five days a week. They are also required to attend classes and receive tutoring, because a major key to employment success is being able to read, understand math and computers. The trainees are taught basic education, life skills, work ethics, and personal responsibility. Tutoring compliments the teamwork, problem solving, attendance, cooking, cleaning and cash management skills taught on the job.
Many of Sister Judy’s trainees are mothers and grandmothers who have not been able to get or keep a job. Others have been referred by Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous or agencies serving ex-convicts. “It’s very difficult to change your track in life when you want to do it,” says Sister Judy. “You’re going to AA, but you can’t get a job. You can’t get a job, so you can’t afford housing. You don’t have housing, so your kids get taken away. Here, people can get pieces of their life back together.”
Hundreds of Cincinnatians have found good jobs with benefits through Sister Judy’s ministry. They also gain the knowledge, experience and self-confidence to become successful in the workplace.
According to Sister Judy, “We don’t take just anyone here at Venice on Vine. Trainees have to want to work. To prove it, they have to come to three interviews, on time and dressed appropriately. Each also has to open a checking account, where we automatically deposit their pay. Once trainees are hired, they have to work hard – on the job and in our classes. Not everybody makes it. It’s a long climb up. But hundreds have succeeded. All over our city you will find women and men who have graduated from our program who now hold jobs. Good jobs that come with a salary, benefits – and hope.”
In recognition of Sister Judy’s work, she was named one of the Cincinnati Enquirer’s Women of the Year for 2013.