When St. Julie Billiart and Françoise Blin de Bourdon founded the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur more than 200 years ago, they were responding to the need at that time to provide education for girls and women. The years of the French Revolution brought poverty in many areas of life, including education for girls and women who were eager to learn. Julie and Françoise concentrated on a very practical education. Education was really about teaching students what they needed to know for life and giving them a strong formation in the Christian faith and values. Julie and Françoise emphasized the dignity of the human person in every aspect of education. They saw earthly life as a preparation for eternal life and encouraged the Sisters to give a central place in the curriculum to religious studies. Catechesis, therefore, has always had major importance in the ministries of the Sisters of Notre Dame.
The root of the word catechesis means “to echo.” It was Julie’s and Françoise’s mission that the faith would echo through the lives of all who were educated in schools directed by the Sisters. This work, described by Julie as the “greatest work on earth,” has been our major ministry throughout over 200 years. Education in the schools and through catechesis in parishes continues today to have prime importance for the Sisters of Notre Dame.
In adapting to the times, the way we do catechesis has changed over the years. In a common search for the truth, the methodologies in catechesis include more dialogue. Catechetical studies are no longer based on a theology of conclusions where people are given the answers first while wondering what the question might have been. The work of catechesis is about straining to listen and recognize the echo of God’s goodness in lives which are often hopeless according to the world’s standards. The work of catechesis is about remembering that the community which we call the Church does not have all the answers but should also be engaged in humble dialogue with and in the world.