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Catholic Colleges and Universities

SistersOnline: Connnecting nuns, students for social justice

NCR Staff

It took religious communities a while to realize the ministry potential of the Internet, said Dominican Sr. Elaine LaCanne. “With so many sisters of an age they are no longer teaching, the question was how do we keep in touch with the next generation and continue to teach.”

That question was answered two years ago when 12 congregations of women religious created www.SistersOnline.org. The idea is to network among college students and women religious to focus efforts on social justice issues that concern both.

That means, for example, this fall students at the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondolet’s College of St. Catherine in St. Paul, Minn., the Sinsinawa Dominicans’ Edgewood College in Madison, Wis., the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s Clarke College in Dubuque, Iowa, and the Benedictine Sisters’ College of St. Benedict in St. Joseph, Minn., “will be invited to work with us on social issues” that range from opposition to the U.S. Army’s School of the Americas to opposition to sweatshops. Each college will have its own Web page on the SistersOnline site.

LaCanne, SistersOnline project manager, and the 30-plus congregations (some 4,500 sisters) belong to Region 11 (Minnesota, North and South Dakota, and Wyoming) of the national Leadership Conference of Women Religious. SistersOnline is thinking nationally, not just locally.

“Students are interested in the sweatshop issue. It’s already big on public campuses,” said LaCanne, “and there are sisters all over the country working on it -- but most of us have no idea who they are or what they are doing.

“So, part of our effort,” she added, “is to say to sisters around the country: Why aren’t we more visible? The Internet gives us that capability.”

The parallel step, she said, is linking up sisters and Catholic students.

Personal appearances on campuses are one way. Featuring sisters and their ministries on the Web site is another. (Recently highlighted: Sister of St. Joseph of Carondolet Rose Tillemans, founder of “Peace House” in Minneapolis, a gathering place for communal meditation and lunch, open to all.)

Earlier this year, SistersOnline representatives were at St. Catherine’s College. “All St. Kate’s students,” explained LaCanne, “are required to have a ‘global search for justice’ class under their belts before they can graduate.” So LaCanne and colleagues were at St. Kate’s to persuade students to list their social justice topic findings on Sisters-Online, to help students everywhere with similar projects.

At the same time, the Web site is trying to make the connections for students between spirituality and justice, and to interest students in following up on topics to which the sisters are committed, such as women in prison.

“We also want students at different colleges to network with each other on our site, to introduce them to issues among students on other Catholic college campuses, have them know one another so, for example, they can connect in person when they go down to Fort Benning,” the Army installation in Georgia where the School of the Americas is located, said LaCanne.

Next up on SistersOnline: regular book reviews on key justice and spirituality topics. “We’re exploring,” said LaCanne. “We’re hoping we can have enough staff available in a couple of years to begin to reach out to high schools, too,” she said.

The starting point though, she said, “is we have so many sisters who do social justice work -- but nobody knows it because we’ve all been doing our own thing.” SistersOnlines hopes to help link them together.

Arthur Jones’ e-mail address is ajones@natcath.org

National Catholic Reporter, September 29, 2000