Three faculty members at Chestnut Hill College, all Sisters of Saint Joseph, were profiled in the fall 2016 issue of One With, the magazine of the Sisters of Saint Joseph. We have condensed and combined their stories here.
For more than four years, Rita Michael Scully, SSJ, M.A., associate professor of English, has traveled the streets of center city Philadelphia, delivering socks to the homeless. Twice a month on Saturdays, she makes her way up and down Market Street always ending her journey at Old St. Joseph’s Church on Willings Alley for Mass.
Her goal and approach are both simple: provide homeless men and women with a new pair of quality crew socks. Sometimes she includes small toiletries in the bags and if it’s cold, she may hand out knit caps. She also gives out a few words of comfort and offers a prayer — always asking the person for his or her first name. She says she will ask God to bless them and she asks that they do the same for her in return.
Most of her encounters are one-time events and they don’t know she is a Sister. She isn’t there to proselytize, but rather to evangelize and to provide them with a few creature comforts. Sister Rita Michael did extensive research to learn about resources for Philadelphia’s homeless and had cards printed with this information, which she includes in each packet.
She also has traveled extensively and says, “What I have learned most from traveling to so many countries is that we are all more alike than different. It is the simple things that connect us.” Sister Rita Michael also believes that it is a human desire to communicate with other humans, even when they don’t speak the same language. “Giving socks to strangers who are homeless is a desire for communication that transcends language,” she says. “And it’s getting a gift, with no strings attached.”
Nearly 4,000 miles from Sister Rita Michael’s route among the homeless of Philadelphia, you can find the poor of Yauri, Peru,with whom Jean Faustman, SSJ, D.M.L., associate professor of French and Spanish, lived from 2006 to 2009.
Each summer, Sister Jean returns to visit with the people she loves, spending time at the children’s shelter and with families. Along with the mission and charism of the Sisters of Saint Joseph, she brings donations to buy food, clothing, wheelchairs, walkers and cribs. Musical instruments and crib mobiles also are popular items.
The cost of living in Yauri has increased because of the influx of miners and their families who have moved there with plenty of money for goods and services. The gulf between those who have and those who do not has grown because of the Swiss-owned copper mine.
About 25 families were beneficiaries of food and clothing this year. Sister Jean also hands out more than 100 pounds of rice and sugar, noodles, cans of milk and eggs to each family. Over the years, she has collected many stories and relationships. One woman, a mother of 12, was jailed at one point for theft and her children lived in jail with her. A child at the shelter, Jonas, is 10 years old but does not speak. “When I am there, they make certain he goes to school,” says Sister Jean. “I know they don’t send him regularly. He has no physical or intellectual challenges, but except for a few words, he won’t speak. There is no help for him or many special needs children living at the shelter.”
This year’s highlight involved a boy named Luis. When she first met Luis in 2012, he walked on his feet and hands. “I knew he could stand up because his mother dragged him upright to school each day,” says Sister Jean, who bought him a walker to help him get around. To her surprise, Luis was upright and walking this year. “He looked at me with pride,” she says. “He doesn’t speak, but his smile is huge.
“I love my time there and leave part of my heart there all the time,” adds Sister Jean.
Lisa Olivieri SSJ, Ph.D., associate professor of computer science and technology and chair of the Computer Science and Information Technology Department, has traveled to Africa seven times to teach in Kenya, Uganda, Ghana and Nigeria. Initially, she taught Sisters there basic computer technology. “Now, those Sisters are teaching others basic computer skills needed to be successful in their ministries,” she says.
Sister Lisa travels with The African Sisters Education Collaborative (ASEC), which provides education and training to help Catholic women religious, both African and American, serve the greatest needs throughout Africa.
The four-pronged approach includes Higher Education for Sisters in Africa (HESA); Sisters Leadership Development Institute (SLDI); Bigwa School; and service learning. These Sister-students take their newfound knowledge and professional management skills and mentor other Sisters. The African Sisters share best practices, conduct research and write successful grant proposals that result in wells, water filtration, new buildings and job training programs that are improving life for thousands of Africans.
For the last three years, Sister Lisa has prepared Sisters to take online courses at Chestnut Hill College, teaching them how to conduct internet research, use Microsoft Word, PowerPoint and other software programs, how to upload assignments and take online quizzes — work they have never done before. She says her favorite part is the enthusiasm the African Sisters show about learning.
“They truly appreciate the education they are receiving and they are extremely conscientious,” she says. “The goal is for each Sister to earn her degree and certifications that qualify her to do what she must for her congregation and the people of Africa.”
See photos from the trips taken by Sister Jean and Sister Lisa at https://www.flickr.com/photos/sistersofsaintjosephofphiladelphia/
— Brenda Lange