The Mission Widens in South Africa
By Sister Marie McLoughlin, SNDdeN
Now in our 102nd year, the growth and development in St. Peter Claver School in South Africa are quite extraordinary. The Mission of our Sisters widens with dedicated administrators, staff and teachers committed to holistic education and the unfailing conviction that God is good. The long-awaited dream of establishing a high school on the site of the former Notre Dame Convent in Kroonstad, which closed in 1972, became a reality. In January 2018, the new academic year started with 320 pupils enrolled in Grades 7–12, and with 32 teaching and support staff in this High School building. There are 150 pupils enrolled in the Intermediate Section, now housed also in the renovated building. This expansion of the school responds to the parents expectations for continuing the education of their children.
Little children love to read stories in special books at St. Peter Claver School in Maokeng township.
In Maokeng township, outside Kroonstad, there are 190 children in Grade R and Grades 1–3. Serving with our Co-workers, Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur (SNDdeN) are involved in the daily activities of the various sections of the school:Sr. Marie McLoughlin is Chaplain and Counsellor to the Senior classes; Sr. Gertrude Izuchukwu teaches Religious Education in the Intermediate Section and Sr. Chantal Kisimbila is the Financial Manager in the Foundation Phase of the School. Sr. Brigid Rose Tiernan sits on the Board of Governors, as Representative of the SNDdeN owners.
In 2016, two members of the Congregational Leadership Team, Sisters Teresita Weind and Patricia O’Brien, came from Rome, Italy to participate in blessing the newly renovated school. With the addition of new classrooms, Grade 7 students moved in early 2017 from the Primary School in Maokeng township to the High School campus, at the site of the old convent. As hoped, this move had positive consequences, and already is providing the learners with the strong foundation necessary to meet the demands of the Independent Matriculation Examination which they will write at the end of Grade 12. St. Peter Claver is the only school in Kroonstad, and one of four in the Free State Province whose students take the school-leaving examination.
Instead of preparing our school-leavers for the state-run school leaving certificate, we chose the Free State Province examination because the values on which it is based are more in keeping with our Notre Dame educational tradition. The examination by the Independent Examination Board (IEB) demands creative and independent thinking on the part of those who take the exam, and it is much more demanding on the teachers. The pupils write the examination through the medium of English, and also write their home language, Sesotho, at the same ‘home language’ level.
During 2017, we explored a further development and consulted the parents and guardians of learners in Grades 4 through 6 about a plan to move the learners of these 3 Grades also to the site of the old convent. Their response was overwhelmingly positive. In January 2018, the opening of the academic year saw nearly 500 learners, ranging in age from 9–17 years accommodated in the Intermediate Phase and High School of St. Peter Claver School in Kroonstad. Seven classes in the Foundation Phase, Grades R -3 remain in the buildings in Maokeng, with facilities specially adapted to their needs.
In the Intermediate Section, Sr. Gertrude Izuchukwu, SNDdeN gives a strong foundation in Religious Education to the students.
Growth and Development
To the credit of all involved in the growth happening at St. Peter Claver is the value underlying all decisions and actions: St. Julie Billiart’s mission and the congregational call to serve people trapped by impoverishment. Annual school fees range between $300 for the younger children and rise to $650 for the 3 top grades. The school receives support from the State in the form of an irregularly paid subsidy for operational costs. All other school development needs, such as equipment, textbooks and school outings depend on fund-raising efforts. Despite this challenge, 40 to 80 learners from needy families receive full or partial bursaries (scholarships). Support for such student assistance comes from a bursary fund that was established by past students.
Students experience everywhere the interest, guidance and humor of Sr. Marie McLoughlin, SNDdeN.
The generosity of friends and families of the Sisters who make regular monthly donations insure that children in need may have the opportunity for an education in St. Peter Claver School. St. Julie once said: “Teaching is the greatest work on earth.” The Sisters and Co-workers in our school believe strongly in the impact of this ministry! The coordination and expansion of St. Peter Claver School is a reality – a living, never-ending dream in education each day.
Notre Dame in Mission
Near the end of the Centenary Year of the Foundation of the School in 2016, a final celebration extended our Mission significantly to Co-workers. The Pilgrimage to the heritage places of our foundresses in Belgium and France became a special journey. The purpose of this pilgrimage was two-fold: to conclude together the Centenary Year and to render thanksgiving to God for these 100 years. The participants prepared carefully with monthly group meetings, focussed on the significance of pilgrimage, the story of our foundresses, the values and history of the SNDdeN Congregation.
Sixteen members of the St. Peter Claver School community: administrators, teachers, members of the Board of Governors and our Sisters became the Heritage Pilgrims.
Co-workers, Associates and Board members saw this pilgrimage as an opportunity to deepen their knowledge of the roots, spirit and ethos of Notre Dame and to strengthen their commitment for carrying the message of God’s goodness into the future. A particularly moving event during this pilgrimage took place in the convent chapel in Cuvilly, France when two administrators at St. Peter Claver School, Zunelle De Ru (Head of the School) and Veronica Phadi (Head of Foundation Phase for the School) made their first commitment as Associates of Notre Dame.
Sisters, Co-Workers and Partners, living the Mission at St. Peter Claver, belong to the Notre Dame family and exclaim constantly: “God is good.” And the journey continues…