By Sister Mary Donohue, SNDdeN
Sisters Academy of Baltimore is a success story in progress for girls in Middle School, Grades 5 through 8. In 2002, Sr. Suzanne Hall, SNDdeN and Sr. Delia Dowling, SSND, current School President, presented to four Religious Congregations the need for a middle school for girls from southwest Baltimore, Maryland (MD). From the outset, the Sisters of Bon Secours, Sisters of Mercy, School Sisters of Notre Dame, and the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur have given energy and a strong commitment to Sisters Academy. Each Congregation’s particular charism contributes richness in this collaboration for children. We unite as Women Religious to do together what we could not do alone. As educators in a major city in the United States, we are mirroring and making known God’s goodness to a new generation of young women.
In 2004, the school opened to offer an excellent education to talented and motivated girls, so that each would reach her full potential. Within this nurturing community, students learn study skills, set goals, and develop leadership skills. For the current academic year, Sisters Academy has enrolled 71 students: 51 African-Americans, 15 Hispanics, 1 Asian, 1 Native American and three students from mixed races. Students come from some of the poorest, most depressed neighborhoods in Baltimore City, from communities plagued with high unemployment, drug addiction, crime, and lack of opportunity. Women Religious govern and sponsor Sisters Academy, while generous individuals, foundations, corporations, and partners provide funding for families to ensure a tuition-free Catholic school in the heart of the city.
The vision for graduates of Sisters Academy is that they become well-educated, self-assured, spiritual, committed young women and leaders who make a positive difference in their community, in our nation and our world. Our strong Graduate Support Program follows every girl throughout high school and college years. Since the first graduating class in 2008, 100% have completed high school, 93% attend college, post-secondary school, or serve in the military. By May 2017, alumnae from the first two classes have graduated from college and are beginning their career path, a significant milestone for them and for Sisters Academy.
From the opening of the school, many Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur (SNDdeN) have served as teachers, secretaries, volunteers and as Members and Directors. Currently, Sr. Mary Donohue, SNDdeN serves on the Board of Members, and Sr. Rosemary Donohue, SNDdeN (they are not related!) serves on the Board of Directors. Annually, each Religious Congregation celebrates a day. Students remember St. Julie Billiart on April 8, the anniversary of her death in 1816. SNDdeN share stories of Julie and the Congregation with the girls on this day.
With St. Julie, I see that Sisters Academy does “teach the children what they need to know for life.” It is a joy to serve this school, through all its milestones: choosing a name for the school, purchasing the building, welcoming the first fifth-grade class, rejoicing with the first graduates, and successive classes, and seeing alumnae complete college to embark on successful careers. One-fifth grader expressed well the student perspective: “The first time I came here, I was frightened. Then everyone welcomed me as a family member.” SNDdeN give our commitment to this mission for young women; we value creating a lasting family of welcome and accomplishment in collaboration with Congregations sharing this Mission.