Sturdy Roots

Living Under Communism in Europe


The heritage of the School Sisters of Notre Dame is an organic reality whose “Sturdy Roots” have been planted in various cultures. This growth and flowering are well-documented in this project. Political crises, such as communism, have often resulted in “pruning” the congregation. Acceptance of pruning and death has been a challenge and a gift to the entire congregation, allowing energy to be shared even when there seems to be no flowering. Rosemary Howarth, SSND General Superior, explores this “pruning” in stories that show our sisters’ acceptance of the loss of ministries, convent homes, living in community and the possibility of new members.

The plight of SSNDs living under communism was shared with the congregation through each of our General Superiors beginning in 1969. They visited our sisters, often in secret, realizing the danger to them if political restrictions were unknowingly violated. Mother Georgianne Segner, General Superior from 1968 – 1977 shared her visits with the wider congregation via slide presentations. Become familiar with her account of our extended SSND family living under communism. Facilitator directions are available.

In one of her visits to Romania as a General Councilor, Mary Luke Baldwin, SSND, had the opportunity to witness the Final Vows of a Romanian School Sister of Notre Dame who had waited 22 years for this event. Relive this long-awaited moment.

The author had the opportunity to visit Berlin three times in 1970-71. Because she came without congregational authorization and appeared unexpectedly, she was taken into a small “parlor” and quizzed on the history of the congregation. She “passed” her test and the sisters welcomed her into their home, their community and their feelings of insecurity. Review the reason for their insecurity by reading the history of the Berlin province before and during the Cold War.

Relying on circulars written by Patricia Flynn, SSND, General Superior, (1987-1998) the author has tried to create a mosaic of experiences recorded in them. To recall those Cold War times listen to a National Public Radio account of the Church in Czechoslovakia aired in 1992.

When the Berlin Wall fell (November 9, 1989) it was possible to hold an SSND Extended General Council meeting in Debrecen , Hungary . Reading the agenda gives an idea of the joy and challenges that would be discussed. A Solidarity Fund was announced and the results were another sign of SSND unity. Reflect with Patricia Flynn, SSND, on this significant moment in world history.

As the political restrictions that once ruled their lives were removed, School Sisters of Notre Dame restructured to reflect their new reality. The treasure of our international unity is reflected in the dialogue and emerging reality of SSND reconfiguration.

The story of the School Sisters of Notre Dame who lived under Communism is both inspiring and heartbreaking. An archive is being created at Catholic Theological Union, Chicago, to record eye witness accounts of women religious who experienced communism. Srs. Margaret Nacke and Mary Savoie are Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia Kansas , who are gathering data for this archive known as Sister Survivors of European Communism. The School Sisters of Notre Dame are contributing to this endeavor through first person accounts of their experiences living under communism. Access to this archive is only available by visiting Bechtold Library in Chicago .

Extended Family
Final Vows

Czech Church NPR Audio

© Judith Best, SSND - 2010 - School Sisters of Notre Dame
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