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To Africa and Back: A Tale of Two Sisters

To Africa and Back: A Tale of Two Sisters

Sister Lisa (center) with a group of sisters from the African Sisters Education Collaborative.

A dedicated and adventurous group of Sisters of Saint Joseph at Chestnut Hill College are working in several countries across Africa to change lives. These devoted sisters live and work closely with their fellow sisters in Africa to empower them to educate others within their villages and beyond.

With the new skills they've been taught by the Sisters of Saint Joseph, these African sisters educate men, women and children in their ministries, congregations and communities. These enlightened communities in turn educate more men, women and children. Before long, a whole town witnesses its collective transformation ─ educationally, economically, environmentally and spiritually.

Sister Lisa M. Olivieri, Ph.D., and Sister Kathryn Miller, Ph.D., are two sisters from the College who are committed to bringing societal change to Africa.

Sister Lisa, an associate professor of computer science and technology and the chair of the department, and Sister Kathryn, the assistant to the president for administration as well as the secretary for the College’s Board of Directors, have been working in Africa as part of the African Sisters Education Collaborative (ASEC), of which Chestnut Hill College and the Sisters of Joseph are founding members.

Established in 1999, ASEC’s goal is to “facilitate access to education for women religious in Africa that leads to enhancement and expansion of the education, health, economic, social, environmental, and spiritual services they provide.”

Sister Lisa, a member of ASEC’s Sisters Leadership Development Initiative (ASEC-SLDI), returned in July from her ninth trip to Africa. She spent a month in Nigeria teaching a 3-credit course to 18 sisters as part of ASEC’s program Higher Education for Sisters in Africa (HESA). The purpose of the class is to teach the sisters the basic fundamentals of research as well as how to take the College’s online courses before transferring them to their local universities.

“The sisters are always excited to increase their knowledge of the world, and they can do that with this course,” Sister Lisa said.

HESA connects Catholic universities in the United States with Catholic universities in Africa. Together, the two work on delivering an education to the sisters that allows them to earn an undergraduate or a master’s degree and ultimately become teachers.

 “‘Educate the sisters to educate the children,’” Sister Lisa said. “That’s our goal.”

From there, the sisters continue their academic journeys or return to educate those in their communities and congregations. The program, launched in 2013, has so far seen 540 sisters receive a college degree or a two-year diploma, a number that is rising steadily.

No sooner had Sister Lisa returned from Nigeria than Sister Kathryn started preparing for her trip to Ghana at the end of August.

This is Sister Kathryn’s fourth trip to Africa, having visited seven of its countries so far. First on her agenda is attending a graduation ceremony in Ghana for the Sisters Leadership Development Initiative (SLDI), of which she is a board director. At the ceremony, she will deliver a speech and present graduates with their award certificates.

A sister from ASEC posing underneath a Chestnut Hill College pennant.

Later in her trip, Sister Kathryn will tour two prospective service learning sites for students in Ghana and Cape Coast. Then, before her trip ends, she will visit special needs children alongside one of SLDI’s alumni, Sister Juliette.

Created in 2007, SLDI, which is ASEC’s largest program and has served more than 2,500 sisters, centers it curriculum on the common themes of leadership and technology. In the program, at the beginning of which they receive a laptop, the sisters learn the skills needed for careers in administration, finance, strategic planning and project design. The sisters begin their education in workshops learning basic technology or web design before advancing to leadership training in either administration or finance.

A vital component of the SLDI curriculum involves grant-writing. The ability to write grants allows the sisters, following graduation, to establish various ministries and learning centers. This is part of a mandate the sisters receive at their graduation ceremony that asks them to continue educating and mentoring others so that they, too, can serve members of their community and society at-large.

To date, SLDI alumni and their mentees have raised more than $13.7 million in grants.

As can be seen, the work of Sister Lisa and Sister Kathryn has had a resounding impact on the sisters in Africa. Their combined resolve, both spiritually and geographically boundless, reflects the mission of the Sisters of Saint Joseph, which will continue illuminating the lives of all upon whom it shines, one person at a time, from now into the future.

- Kevin Dicciani

Posted In: Features