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Sister WHO?

March 12, 2014

Senior Theology student Jamie Visser attended the National Catholic Sisters Week Conference March 7-9th. Here she offers her reflection on the experience and lifts up the lives and impact of the Sinsinawa Dominican Sisters on her own life.

Let’s play a game. A guessing game. Go ahead – close your eyes and NO peaking!

Imagine…A Dominican staff person who has filled our halls with laughter and love for years. Her smiles overwhelm the whole place. She often pulls students aside to ask them about their lives. Most often she calls each “beautiful” and compliments everyone in all the right ways…

Imagine…A woman who has lived all over the country: Illinois, New York, Alabama, Minnesota, Wisconsin. Not to mention time spent in South America and Europe. Who also has several higher education degrees under her belt. Someone who has been a teacher, counselor, adviser, associate dean, and director…

What if I told you the person in each scenario was the same? Would you be surprised? I hope not.

Sister Melissa Waters, OP is in many ways the “face” of Dominican University. She helps set the tone of hospitality and welcome, encourages each person to be her/his best self, and reminds each individual of her/his value to this place. If you already know all of that, you’re in good shape.

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Sr. Melissa and myself last Spring

But, did you know she grew up in Washington, D.C.? Was the Director of the Rosary College program in London? Or that she has traveled all across South America and Europe doing formation work for the Sinsinawa Dominicans? Maybe you didn’t. And that’s okay.

You’re probably thinking Let’s get to the point here. Okay. Okay.

This past weekend I had the privilege of attending the National Catholic Sisters Week Conference at St. Catherine’s University in St. Paul, MN. This was an inaugural event that was initiated by the Hilton Foundation in an effort to bring about more visibility to the presence of Catholic Sisters in the United States. I look at it this way: Sisters often take the humble road and downplay their achievements and contributions. (For example, I had to do some serious digging to learn this much about Sister Melissa.) I saw this conference as the time and place for Sisters to be celebrated for the impact they have in our lives and on our world. However, it doesn’t end there.

This national project is just beginning. It is a three year plan to not only come together and celebrate the Sisters at an event but to start a movement towards memorializing all that has been done and will continue to be done. The project is in its early phases and is still developing. One of the Co-Directors described it well. Mary Soher, OP said that the initiative is like an octopus. It has one head but many tentacles. The head is the vision of bringing more awareness to the presence of Catholic Sisters in the past and present. However, the tentacles will continue to take different forms. One example that I am particularly excited about is the oral history of women religious that is going to become a national project. It will be a partnership between Sisters of all different congregations and students at the universities and colleges they sponsor. Eventually, all of the video interviews will be housed in an archive online. You can learn more about some of our own Sinsinawa Dominicans here.

So what does this have to do with Sister Melissa? Everything.

Sister Melissa is the warm smile and good hug that we often need. But she also has the potential to be a role model for so many. I am so inspired by her openness to live and work wherever she is needed. And by her ability to be present to whoever is right in front of her. I have felt all of this because of my relationship with her. Our “special conversations” as she calls them, have allowed me to see her for more than just friendliness. I have been privileged to know her as a strong woman of faith and an amazing friend.

National Catholic Sisters Week is about just that – lifting up the women who have and are changing us for the better. This is not just an opportunity for the conference attendees, but the whole country. So, do you know a Sister who has loved you, shaped you, been a role model to you? This is your time to thank her. If you’re interested you can do so publicly on sisterstory.org.

While the Week will end on March 14th, I would keep your ears and eyes open for all that is yet to come from the many “tentacles” of this National Catholic Sisters Week initiative.

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All of the conference attendees!

Srs. Jeri Cashman and Janet Welsh and myself

Srs. Jeri Cashman and Janet Welsh and myself

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