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Sister cares for a patient at Providence Hospital Seattle in 1930s

A Sister of Providence cares for a patient at Providence Seattle in the 1930s.

Some of America’s unsung heroines, Catholic sisters, were in the national spotlight March 8-14 to launch the first National Catholic Sisters Week.

A gathering of college-age women and women religious from various congregations was held at St. Catherine University in St. Paul, Minn., to recognize and honor the role of Catholic sisters in American history and to explore their lives, their mission and their works today. “It is intended to shine a national spotlight on the good works and good will of Catholic sisters,” the description on the university’s website says.

“It recognizes past and present sisters, from the movers and shakers pressing the front lines of social change to the faithful praying in cloistered chapels.” 

Sisters’ contributions have shaped society

Catholic sisters in the United States have pioneered and championed advances in education, health care, social services, criminal justice, social justice, theology, the arts, politics and more. Their contributions then and now shape the society of America and far beyond its borders.

Among them are women like Mother Joseph, foundress of the Sisters of Providence in the West, who arrived in the Washington Territory with four sister companions in 1856. Their arrival launched Catholic health care and education in the Northwest.

Under Mother Joseph’s leadership,more than 30 hospitals, schools and homes were opened for orphans, the elderly and the sick in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and southern British Columbia 

First project of three-year effort

Sister Lang Tran shares the sisters' commitment to the welfare of children.

Sister Lang Tran shares the sisters’ commitment to the welfare of children.

Participants in National Catholic Sisters Week at St. Catherine University engaged in conversations about religious life, discussed use of technology and social media to promote vocations, and shared stories about discernment. The university also sponsored a student-led initiative to produce interviews or short films about sisters to create an extensive oral history that will be part of a website that includes resources from religious communities across the country.

National Catholic Sisters Week was the first project of a three-year effort called Sister Story that is aimed at increasing vocations to religious life. The project is made possible by a $3.3 million grant from the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, which also has awarded a grant to the National Catholic Reporter (NCR) for a global reporting project about women religious.“

The Hilton Foundation’s vision is to create a movement that ignites national awareness around the lives and profound contributions of sisters, inspiring girls and women to be open to a potential call to religious life,” School Sister of Notre Dame Rosemarie Nassif, the foundation’s Catholic Sisters Initiative program director, said in a press release.

“Launching National Catholic Sisters Week in conjunction with Women’s History Month will leverage the respect of an already nationally recognized campaign to highlight a unique and spirited band of women,” she said.

For more about the NCR Global Catholic Sisters Project, check out these websites: