“In the end, it’s the beginning that counts.”
These are the words that conclude the “Reflections from the Principal” in this year’s annual report of Sisters Academy of Baltimore. Sister Debbie Liesen’s comment captures and confirms the compelling truth that so brightly shines in this all girl middle school now celebrating its tenth year.
In 2003 in response to studies pointing to the critical need for such intervention four religious congregations in Baltimore committed themselves to sponsor an independent, Catholic middle school for girls grades 5 through 8 for families of limited economic means. Each of these religious congregations is dedicated to the empowerment of women. Their creation of and support for Sisters Academy manifest their fidelity to their own Constitutions, and their collaboration in this bold endeavor renders their apostolate even more effective. The Sisters of Bon Secours, the School Sisters of Notre Dame, the Sisters of Mercy, and the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur espouse and live the belief that the education of young women is liberating and transformative both for the students and, ultimately, for the world.
A member of the faith based Nativity Educational Centers Network, Inc., Sisters Academy (www.sistersacademy.org) is “designed to transform the life and aspirations of each student by means of strong motivation and parental support to realize her fullest human potential as a productive member of society and as a leader and role-model in her family and community”. According to its mission statement Sisters Academy of Baltimore is a Catholic community-centered middle school which educates girls of different races, ethnic groups, and religions from families of limited economic means, particularly in southwest Baltimore. It empowers students to become agents of transformation in their families, communities and society.
Here are some impressive and revealing statistics. By June 2014 100% of the students in the Academy’s first three graduating classes (2008, 2009 and 2010) had received their high school diplomas. 88% of these are now in a two or four year college or university.
One of these is Carla Lee, a student at the College of Wooster in Ohio and a published author of a collection of poems titled “Slaying with No Dents in My Afro”. Recently Miss Lee wrote Sister Delia Dowling, the President of Sisters Academy, the following: “I look at where I am in my life today, the opportunities I have and doors that are opening up for me, and I ask myself “why me?”. I find myself knowing things and exercising skills that some of my peers never learned. I owe a lot of credit to my mother and father. But when I really analyze just what was the pivotal factor in my life that set my success in stone, I know it was attending and graduating from Sisters Academy. It’s hard to believe that what you exposed me to when I was 12 could be instilled in me so thoroughly – how to shake a hand, how to make an impression on someone, how to dream, how to study. Your establishment changes lives. Don’t ever give up, we need you now more than ever.”
Where would the advance of the Kingdom be were it not for these dedicated women religious who, not only in Baltimore but around the world, understand that for so many girls the alternative to the liberating empowerment of education and self respect is the dehumanizing enslavement of ignorance and low esteem?
Dana Robinson is the chair of the board of trustees of the National Catholic Community Foundation.