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Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur complete merger

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Friday, November 27, 2009

By Eileen Connelly, OSU

ST. ANDREW DEANERY — Exactly 169 years after the first Sisters of Notre de Namur arrived in Archdiocese of Cincinnati, the community’s Ohio province officially welcomed Sisters from the Maryland province in an Oct. 31 merger.

“We are delighted to welcome the Maryland Sisters to our community,” said Sister Marilyn Kerber, Ohio province leader. “This change will expand the reach of our ministries and strengthen our community and mission.”

Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur gather as a White Oak tree is planted on the grounds of the Ohio province office in Cincinnati. The tree, which is native to Maryland, symbolizes new life and marks the merger of Ohio and Maryland Sisters. Ohio leadership team member Sister Claire Foley, left, is shown adding soil from Maryland to the site. Sister Mary Adele White, representing Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur from the Maryland community, looks on. (Courtesy photo)

The merger increases the number of Sisters from the new Ohio province by 100, to a total of 271, and expands the reach of the congregation’s ministries to 15 states and five countries.

According to Sister Marilyn, the decision was prompted by an examination of whether the congregation’s eight U.S. units could begin to merge as they look to the future. Conversations regarding the union began in 2005 and involved consultations with Sisters in each province. The proposal was brought before separate assemblies in June with members of both provinces voting almost unanimously in favor of the merger.

“The Maryland Sisters felt they could find new life by merging with the Ohio province. They are really courageous women,” Sister Marilyn said. “The whole process has brought all of us a lot of energy and excitement.”

To celebrate the merger, a special ritual was held simultaneously in both Cincinnati and Stevenson, Md. At both locations the Sisters prayed, “We take this step on the anniversary of the first Belgian Sisters arriving in Ohio to bring the mission of the Sisters of Notre Dame to this country. In their footsteps, we move forward with anticipation for renewed life and enthusiasm…as together we embark on something new.”

In addition, trees were planted in Ohio and Maryland as symbols of new life and growth, each bearing an engraved plaque with the words of the congregation’s foundress, St. Julie Billiart, “By this union, we can become more.”

Going forward, Cincinnati will serve as the administrative headquarters for the combined communities, which will initially be led by a transition team of six Sisters. Four members are from the former Maryland Province and two from Ohio. The leadership team for the newly merged province will be selected in June 2010.

Although there were initially no plans for the Maryland Sisters to relocate to Ohio, the closing of a wing at the Daughters of Charity’s St. Vincent Care Center in Emmitsburg, where 14 of the Sisters were living, necessitated a move. Six of the Sisters requiring skill cared are being welcomed at the Mount Note Dame Health Center in Cincinnati. The first two Sisters arrived on Nov. 16, with the others soon to follow.

“Our Sisters lined up at the entrance to the health center as the medical transport bus pulled in,” Sister Marilyn said. “They clapped as the Sisters from Maryland arrived. It was just such a warm welcome.”

In an effort to build relationships among the Sisters a number of Ohio-formed committees, including peace and justice, government, life development and finance, have been expanded to incorporate new voices and ideas from members on the East Coast. Shared summer retreat opportunities are also planned.

“I think we’re being trailblazers,” Sister Marilyn said of the merger. “We weren’t afraid to move in the direction we needed to. We have a lot more to do, of course, but I just find this really exciting. I feel so blessed to have been part of all the conversations and bringing this into being.”

“There is a feeling of coming home for us,” said Sister Marian Schaechtel, the former provincial of the Maryland province and member of the transition leadership team. “Doors and hearts have been flung open wide to us, and we look forward to carrying on the 205-year-old mission of this congregation as members of the Ohio community.”

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