Nancy Becker on our 'responsibility' to preserve the legacy of Catholic sisters

Getting involved in the SisterStory oral-history project has felt like a full-circle experience for Nancy Becker.

“Dominican education was a defining experience for me,” said Nancy, a New Jersey native who was educated by Caldwell Sisters of St. Dominic in primary school and high school. Now her high-school English teacher is one of six Catholic sisters being interviewed for the oral-history project that Nancy is coordinating.

Nancy’s love of Caldwell University in Caldwell, N.J., where she serves as assistant to the president for special project, is palpable. She shared her thoughts on the university and its involvement in SisterStory.

What do you enjoy best about your job?

There is no singular answer to that question except to say I believe I belong at Caldwell. The university’s core values and mission resonate with my own commitment to social justice and engaged scholarship. In my job, I am able to work on both through a variety of special projects that have been assigned to me. I am privileged to work with caring people, many of whom are sharp intellects and quite witty, and all of whom bring gifts and talents to the campus community. I have the privilege of giving back to the university some of the gifts I have that were nurtured by the Sisters of St. Dominic. For me, it doesn’t get much better – I am living the dream here.

How is the SisterStory oral-history project going? 

Our SisterStory oral-history project is going very well, and we’re having a wonderful time working on it. We spent a substantial amount of time planning because we designed the project as an independent study course that fulfills the Catholic and Dominican tradition requirement of the Enriched Core. Two faculty members – Dr. Marie Mullaney and Professor Rachel Carey – are working with the six sisters and six students who are participating in the project. We began with a full-day kick-off session that was very successful, and the students are now connecting with the sisters.

Did you feel the St. Kate’s training prepared you well to manage this project?  

Yes. I was very impressed with the training program and left St. Kate’s confident that I was ready to coordinate our project. In particular, I found the hands-on activities invaluable and enjoyed working with participants from other colleges and universities. I also appreciated the opportunity to meet St. Kate’s students who had completed the project and learn about their experience firsthand. What an impressive group of young women!

Have you noticed some friendships beginning to develop between students and their sisters?

During our kick-off lunch after we paired sisters and students, the beginnings of those friendships began to emerge. At the start, there was an air of apprehension among the students, most of whom had never met a sister. The ice was quickly broken by a “speed dating” activity.

Once the pairings were complete, I overheard one sister speaking kindly and gently to a student who was preparing to travel across the country for major surgery. The sister assured her they would be able to complete the project and promised prayers. Later the student shared with me how meaningful she thought that conversation was. For her, it marked the beginning of a relationship she did not anticipate when the day began but that she was looking forward to developing during the project.

Why do you consider this project a worthy one?   

I believe Catholic sisters have made remarkable contributions, and the impact of these women’s lives on society could be easily overlooked unless there is a concerted effort to make certain that does not happen. I believe all of us whose lives have been touched by a sister have a responsibility to preserve their legacy as women of God, who through roles that some might dismiss as inconsequential, made the world a better place.

Well put! You’ve captured the essence of SisterStory and National Catholic Sisters Week. Now let’s switch gears. What makes Caldwell a special university? 

Quite simply, the people and our shared commitment to the university’s core values: Respect, integrity, community and excellence.

Can you share a little story that helps capture the spirit of the school? 

I think the Mass celebrating the opening of the 800th Jubilee of the Dominican Order reflected Caldwell’s spirit very well. It began with a moving procession, which you can view online here.

At the end of Mass, our president spoke of the Gospel message from Luke in which Jesus, after reading from the prophet Isaiah, says, “Today this Scripture passage has been fulfilled in your presence.” The verse resonated with her as she thought about how beautifully Caldwell University students are the fulfillment of St. Dominic’s vision.

How have you grown as a result of your time at Caldwell? 

I’d like to think I’ve become a better person through the relationships I’ve built and the opportunities I have been given. My time here has certainly deepened my commitment to Catholic higher education and the value of the liberal arts.

Anything else you'd like to share? 

There is something special about Caldwell that is difficult to fully convey in words. The Caldwell spirit permeates the campus and many who visit remark that they feel it, but they are not sure how to describe it. I don’t know how to describe it either except to say we are a diverse and compassionate community committed to living and studying in the tradition of St. Dominic. We are indeed blessed!

About Christina Capecchi

Christina Capecchi is an award-winning journalist from Inver Grove Heights, Minn. She is the author of the nationally syndicated column “Twenty Something,” which appears in more than 50 Catholic newspapers across the country. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, The Washington Post, America, The Chicago Tribune, The Star Tribune and The Pioneer Press. She also provides contracted editing and writing services. She holds a master’s degree from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism and a bachelor’s from Mount Mercy University.