Experience Together

SSNDs open doors to Vietnam

The doors of Theresa Center at Sancta Maria in Ripa in St. Louis have been opened to several women religious from the Lovers of the Holy Cross and the Holy Queen of Mary from Hanoi, Vietnam, so they may live together in faith with the School Sisters of Notre Dame.

Two waves of Vietnamese sisters have come through these doors. The first wave arrived in 2014, with the four sisters studying for graduate degrees in education and nursing in St. Louis and Mankato, Minnesota, respectively. Four sisters with the Lovers of the Holy Cross from Vietnam came to the SSNDs to study English. The second group of sisters arrived to St. Louis in September of 2016, and will complete their English language studies at Our Lady of Good Counsel in Mankato.

The four sisters currently studying at Sancta Maria in Ripa in St. Louis are Sisters Tinh Le and Thanh Nguyen of the Lovers of the Holy Cross, and Sisters Doan Tran and Thu Pham of Holy Queen of Mary. They participate in a formal English language immersion program SSNDs have designed especially for them. This program requires them to speak English during the day when they attended class and during meals.

Sister Barbara Bitter, SSND, is the coordinator of the Vietnamese Program in St. Louis. She worked with the Immigrant and Refugee Women’s Program, a former SSND ministry, to acquire materials for the classes. Two SSNDs teach each Vietnamese sister, and vocabulary and phonics lessons are supplemented with movies, books and field trips.

Community life has also helped these sisters improve their speaking, reading and writing skills. Each is assigned a small community within Sancta Maria in Ripa, with SSNDs in their communities helping them practice in a more casual setting.

Two visiting Vietnamese sisters were happy to take a photo with their teachers in St. Louis.The Vietnamese sisters’ ultimate goal is to open a Catholic college in Vietnam, and hope that their lessons both in and out of the classroom here will help them do that. The political situation in Vietnam makes this desire difficult, though, but the sisters are optimistic they can one day teach the Catholic faith in freedom and peace.

The visiting sisters will move to Mankato mid-summer 2017 to continue their studies at the Good Counsel Learning Center. The sisters in St. Louis are confident that Sisters Tinh, Thanh, Doan and Thu have the skills they need to succeed in Minnesota, but will certainly miss them.

“Their gifts to us included their youthful enthusiasm, dedication, strong religious convictions and an innate sense of peace and happiness,” Sister Barbara said. “We are sad they are leaving … [and] they will always have a special place in our minds and hearts.”

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