When Molly Hazelton invited Immaculata University in Pennsylvania to participate in SisterStory’s oral-history project, it was a no-brainer, says Sister Cathy Nally, IHM, who coordinated the project last spring and serves as the executive director of mission and ministry of the university, a small Catholic college founded by IHMs in the Philadelphia archdiocese.
“We knew immediately that we wanted to participate,” she says. “Our IHM sisters would do anything for a student, and each one of our sisters has a wonderful life story to share. It was a win-win situation from the beginning for both the students and the sisters.”
Sister Cathy describes Immaculata University as a warm, inviting college. “What makes Immaculata University special is God’s welcoming love, which is reflected in all of the members of this community. When you walk on this campus, you know you are home.”
Six students – all sophomores – created oral histories for SisterStory last spring. Sister Cathy recently shared her thoughts on the project.
How did your students benefit from the oral-history project?
The meaningful relationships that our students have forged with the IHM sisters are by far the greatest benefit of the SisterStory project. Both the students and the sisters have become responsible for one another. Another very interesting benefit is the friendships that have formed among the students. They all knew each other when the project started, but now, some of them are roommates and they definitely look out for each other.
Tell me more about the bonds forged between your students and their sisters?
The words that come to mind are lasting and meaningful. Because of the storytelling that has taken place as the sisters described how they answered and live out the call to religious life, bonds have been formed between the sister and the student that reach beyond the time they spend together.
Can you tell me a story about one of those friendships?
A few examples come to mind. One of the students brought her family over to meet the sister when they were on campus, and her grandmother discovered in conversation with the sister that they had a common acquaintance. The student was fascinated with that possibility. Another student – after first meeting the sister – remarked how much the sister reminded her of her grandmother. She thought it was so uncanny. A third student studies chemistry and was struggling with it at the time. What are the chances that she was paired with a sister who had taught chemistry in high school? One of the young women is a nursing student and she was paired with a sister who shared her complex medical conditions.
What feedback did you get from the IHM sisters who participated?
Any time that I see the sisters who participated, they ask me how their student is doing or they share a snippet of a recent conversation they had with their student. Their faces light up when they speak of them.
Would you recommend this project to other Catholic colleges?
I would definitely recommend the experience to other Catholic colleges. Molly and her team are superb to work with. They are patient and kind and always ready to give us an encouraging word. I feel as if I did receive adequate guidance and support and continue to receive that support as we finish up the project.
Were you worried about the learning curve involved in managing the project or the time involved?
In the very beginning, I was not worried about the learning curve involved. It is always easy to create a timeline and think that it will play itself out flawlessly. But then life happens and one has to make adjustments and it is easier then to become anxious about finishing the project.
I think Kate’s post is refreshing. How many young people would call a Sister her BFF? In the post she writes with ease of the relationship she has with Sister Rose Marie. She tells the story in the post of her struggle with chemistry and what a relief it is to be able to talk to Sister Rose Marie about it. The friendship is making a difference in both of their lives.
And how about Jessica’s observation in her post, calling this the best short-term project she’s been part of?
Jessica’s observation is a good one. It’s easy to read between the lines how meaningful the project has been for her. Her choice of the words “excitement” and “joy” is describing that first evening when they met each other is spot on. It’s no wonder she calls it the best short-term project.
Anything else you’ like to add, Sister Cathy?
I haven’t used the word “fun” yet in answering these questions. There has been a lot of fun involved in doing this project. The meetings with the students have been focused on the tasks at hand, but we have had fun doing it. I have formed great relationships with the students. I’m grateful for their presence in my life.