February 1, 2013

Founders’ Day Address Celebrates the Mission of the SNDs

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On January 31st, Emmanuel celebrated Founders' Day, a significant event in the life of the College commemorating the founding of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur (SND) by St. Julie Billiart in 1804, and the founding of Emmanuel College by the SNDs in 1919. Sr. Lorraine Connell, SND, general treasurer of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, offered the keynote address at this year's celebration, the 21st annual, which also featured reflections by current students on how the missions of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur and the College remain a strong, constant presence in the Emmanuel community.

Emmanuel President Sr. Janet Eisner, SND, spoke about the College's longstanding tradition of educating students "in a dynamic learning community rooted in the liberal arts and sciences and shaped by strong ethical values, a commitment to social justice and service, the Catholic Intellectual Tradition and the global mission of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur." Sr. Janet credited the bold and visionary commitment of the first SNDs to bring education to women and to serve the poorest communities for the continued vibrant and thriving mission of Emmanuel as it nears its 100th anniversary.

"This mission of Emmanuel College belongs to all of us-to cherish, and most of all, to embrace and develop," Sr. Janet said.

Sr. Janet also introduced Sr. Lorraine, a 1974 graduate of Emmanuel, who returned to teach economics at the College for 12 years until 1996. Appointed the general treasurer of the SNDs in 2003, Sr. Lorraine explained that her responsibilities were not only to manage the Order's finances, but also to share its resources in the best and most meaningful ways.

In 2003, Sr. Lorraine traveled to the SNDs "southern units" in Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, to assess the needs of the local sisters. In the six weeks she was in Africa, Sr. Lorraine found that there wasn't a single day where the villages had running water or electricity for 24 consecutive hours. Residents made use of kerosene lamps for everything from homework and developing lesson plans to emergency surgery and delivering babies. For clean water, locals had to build fires to boil the water, run it through a filtration system, and transport it for miles over dangerous dirt roads.

Referencing the SND Chapter Acts of 2002, which stated, "We SNDs are called to address, as far as possible, issues of translation and equal access to technology and information," Sr. Lorraine was determined to find a way to aid their southern units. Enlisting the help of engineer Louie Casey, the African Photovoltaic Project was created to provide electricity, clean water and Internet access by harnessing the power of the sun.

The SNDs in Nigeria and the Congo were initially hesitant to accept the technology, Sr. Lorraine said, as efforts from outside organizations had previously resulted in complicated and expensive machinery that the Sisters were unable to repair when needed. However, during the installation of the solar panels and marine storage batteries, the Sisters and the locals worked side-by-side to learn how to build and maintain the new systems. In addition to the solar panels used to provide electricity, the countries also received UV systems to purify water and satellite systems to access the Internet.

Currently, there are six African Photovoltaic Projects-two in Nigeria and four in the Congo. Now, instead of using hot water bottles and blankets, hospitals can provide incubators for to keep newborns warm, and students who have never had access to technology can conduct research on the Internet. Sr. Lorraine noted that the SNDs are hoping to install seven more systems in Nigeria and three more in the Congo.

The Founders' Day tradition, which began as a one-day celebration at Emmanuel in 1993, expanded into a weeklong series of events in 2009. Sponsored by Emmanuel's Center for Mission Engagement, Founders' Week was held January 27th through February 2nd and included evening prayer services; discussions; opportunities to raise funds for SND ministries working in the Boston area; and the screening of the award-winning documentary, "They Killed Sister Dorothy," about the life and murder of Sister Dorothy Stang, SND and her work on behalf of the indigenous people of Brazil and the Amazon rainforest. The Class of 2013 also marked "100 Days: A Founders' Day Celebration," with the ringing of the Chapel bells 100 times in recognition of the number of days the seniors have left until graduation.

During the week, the Center for Mission Engagement commissioned new members of the 1804 Society, a student leadership organization named in honor of the founding year of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur. The organization encourages students to promote service to others and provides distinguished ambassadors of Emmanuel College to the campus and the Boston community. Members of the Society, Joseph Ouellet '16, Emma Ryder '15 and Maureen Desmond '14, offered remarks during the Founders' Day celebration.

Desmond spoke about her experiences carrying out the SND mission through academics and service, as a sociology major and member of the 1804 Society. Working with the Society, Desmond attended the July 2012 international Sisters of Notre Dame Education Conference held on Emmanuel's campus. There, Desmond said she had the opportunity to meet Sisters with "hearts and minds as wide as the world" and that she was called to remove complacency and stagnation in her life.

"It's my responsibility to make known God's goodness," Desmond said, noting that her passion for service and social justice was instilled in her by her family and her community in Concord, N.H., but that her and decision to major in sociology stemmed from learning about the work of the SNDs. She is currently looking forward to serving the residents of Wheeling, W.V., during Alternative Spring Break in March.

Through continued service and coursework at Emmanuel, Desmond hopes to further her "understanding of societies and cultures in order to recognize the good in people, but most importantly, to make positive change in our world," she said. Desmond challenged the College community, especially her fellow students, to "reflect on your passions, your goodness, your goals, your hardships and your blessings" and to further align their daily lives with the mission of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur.