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SNDdeN in Ministry: Education and Multi-Cultures

The Vision Unfolds (1851-present)

by Sister Carol Shoup, SNDdeN

Located in the heart of Silicon Valley, Notre Dame High School, San Jose, CA is a part of another story which began over 170 years ago at the port of Antwerp in Belgium. Having waited for weeks for the winds to propel l'Infatigable, six Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur (SNDdeN) set sail for the faraway land of Oregon. In 1844, they opened a small mission in the Willamette Valley for children of the Chinook tribes and early settlers. The Oregon mission, however, met innumerable challenges and closed when the Sisters accepted an invitation to found a mission in California where needs were growing faster in the capital of San Jose.

In 1851, the Sisters established a college and a day school on Santa Clara Street with 180 Catholic and 75 non-Catholic students of Native American and European families. With donations from clergy and city leaders, the Notre Dame schools grew along this "avenue of willows." In 1927, the day school moved to the O'Connor Mansion and became the current Notre Dame High School, San Jose (NDSJ) and the college moved north to Belmont.

As the oldest all-girls' high school west of the Mississippi, NDSJ, rich in tradition, flourished through two centuries with the help of many individuals who supported the SNDdeN Mission. Yet the years were not without challenge and risk-taking. With the necessary removal of the O'Connor Mansion in 2002, the future of NDSJ required the same courage and determination found in our early Sisters. The faculty and staff imagined and planned for a multi-cultural learning community in an urban landscape. With vision and funding provided by friends and benefactors, Manley Hall, a new building, became a reality in October 2002 and gave impetus to a renewed vision for young women in the 21st century.

Notre Dame de Namur Hallmarks guide ND learning communities and empower them to integrate social justice, service, diversity, peace-making, inclusive community, and growing goodness into every aspect of the curriculum and school events. Each academic year at NDSJ, the ND Reads Program selects a book to explore with staff and students a significant social justice issue. The school integrates the books' themes into the curriculum and prayer times and invites authors to address the student body and parents at assemblies. Diversity matters and reflects NDSJ's urban location in Silicon Valley. As the early Sisters embraced students from varied backgrounds and social levels, our students enrich one another with their stories, customs and religious traditions. Campus Ministry provides DiversiTeas at which students share their cultural and religious traditions: Christian, Catholic, Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish, Muslim and other faiths.

Early in their first year at ND, students learn about St. Julie Billiart who is a model for their work on the Woman's Place Project. Each student researches a well-known woman of history, past or present, to learn of her impact for good. She memorializes this goodness in creating a table place setting. In an evening of reflection, poetry, and song, first year high students and their teachers celebrates this annual achievement with parents and friends. In the remaining three years of high school, NDSJ women come to realize that they also are "called to be women of justice and peace." At the conclusion of her last year, at the Young Women's Advocacy Summit, each Senior, now considering her own impact of goodness, presents to parents and the public her Service Learning Project, addressing a local or global social need.

Learning in an urban environment is exciting and enriching. Students and teachers take advantage of the many educational and cultural resources in the city of San Jose: arts and theatre district, museums, San Jose State University, and St Joseph Cathedral become important venues for community partnerships, shared space, field trips, and liturgy. Located in the heart of technology and science centers, NDSJ offers students, in this 164th year, innovative educational pathways for the future. The new Technology, Engineering, Design department supports also the development of Science, the Arts and Math education. Courses include a hands-on approach with side-by-side collaboration as students learn to value science and technology in addressing today's social issues.

Crossing cultures and borders becomes a part of the learning process. The Immersion Trip Program invites students to urban and rural communities to experience what it means to "stand with people made poor." One highlight of the service trip to Homeboys Industries in Los Angeles was a follow-up visit to the Sisters at St. Columbkille School to share what they learned and to reflect on their experience with the Sisters. Some students benefit from a summer experience with the people in the village of Yancolo, in El Salvador. Relationships with families continue as students share stories and photos of their sister village with classmates. After-school funding activities provide finances for educating each year one child in Yancolo. NDJS recently welcomed 12 Japanese students from our Sister school, ND Seishin Gakuen High School in Okayama as another cross-cultural sharing experience.

Enthusiasm of parents, commitment of administration, faculty, staff, loyal alumnae, and support of the Board of Directors sustain and energize NDSJCurrently, through a strategic plan the school is assessing needs and opportunities. With courage and foresight, NDSJ moves forward into the future with a "framework of four pillars:" Career Success, Lifelong Learning, Leaders for Tomorrow, and Catholics in the 21st century. The spirit and educational ideals of St. Julie Billiart influence the lives of 634 happy and motivated students. Christine, a senior, reflects: "Notre Dame has taught me that it is our duty as human beings to stand up to injustice by using our knowledge and resources to improve the quality of life of those who are struggling."