AICSN Hosts Nigerian Sisters from St. Paul's Mission Grade School in Hays, Montana
By: Collin Gortner
Less than a year ago, five Catholic sisters from Nigeria arrived to teach at St. Paul’s Mission Grade School in Hays, Montana. The sisters—Sister Lilian Onovo, Sister Helen Onah, Sister Veronica Okachi, Sister Monica Iroakazi, and Sister Mary Charles (pictured left to right)—were born, raised, and educated in Nigeria, and the 2018-19 school year was their first time visiting and living in the United States.
Sister Mary Charles said, “I believe strongly that if Native language is introduced into the educational system, my students will embrace learning and school will become fun.”
St. Paul’s is an American Indian Catholic school that serves K-6 students. Hays is a town of less than 1,000 residents located on the Fork Belknap Indian Reservation in northern Montana, which is home to members of the A’aninin and Nakoda tribal nations.
The sisters recently came to Notre Dame for a week of professional development and retreat hosted by the American Indian Catholic Schools Network (AICSN). They attended numerous professional development sessions and lectures, covering topics such as cultivating culturally responsive schools, teaching methods, classroom culture, classroom management, and expressive reading.
Sister Lilian said, “Everything was well organized and exactly suited to what I needed at this particular time.”
Sister MaryCharles said, “I believe strongly that if Native language is introduced into the educational system, my students will embrace learning and school will become fun.”
Along with professional development, the sisters attended Mass at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, the Chapel of Christ the Teacher, the Loretto Chapel at Saint Mary’s, and the nightly Mass with ACE Teaching Fellows at Dillon Hall.
The sisters appreciated the opportunity to visit with the nuns at Saint Mary’s after Mass at the Loretto Chapel, and they enjoyed a tour of Notre Dame Stadium, a visit to the Snite Museum, meals at the dining hall, and a trip to Rocco’s.
The AICSN staff and the Nigerian sisters became fast friends over the course of the week. Zada Ballew, a senior intern at AICSN, said, “I loved seeing the joy on the sisters' faces. They were so excited to learn, and their enthusiasm was contagious.”
Mikaela Ramsey, another AICSN intern, said, “I loved learning about their background and culture. I learned some words in their native language, learned about their educational background, and had great conversations with them.”
Sister Helen, Sister Lilian, Sister MaryCharles, Sister Monica, and Sister Veronica traveled back to Montana and will utilize their newfound knowledge and skills in their classrooms when St. Paul’s fall semester commences.
This week of learning and retreat embodied AICSN’s mission of partnering with schools to strengthen educational opportunities for Native students. We are blessed to have the sisters as friends and allies in the pursuit of providing a high quality Catholic education to students across the country.