In Good Faith

IGF051 In Good Faith with Sister Irene O’Neill, innovation to help vulnerable communities worldwide

Podcast Recorded: November 5, 2021
In Good Faith with Sister Irene O'Neill, founder of Sisters Rising Worldwide
Description

Founder and president of Sisters Rising Worldwide, Sister Irene talks about the innovative program that connects Catholic sisters serving in vulnerable communities around the globe, with resources and funding to address issues such as poverty, homelessness, and hunger. Sister Irene describes the origins of Sisters Rising and the life-changing differences the ministry is helping to make around the world.

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Show Notes

VOCATION JOURNEY AND EARLIER MINISTRIES

(2:00) Innovation and helping others: early influences in Sister Irene’s life.

(4:00) Vocation journey to the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, St. Paul, Minn.

(5:00) Dramatic nun encounter at the University of Minnesota—a turning point for Sister Irene.

(8:46) Attracted by the mission and spirit of the CSJ Sisters.    

(9:40) Learning about learning: education ministry in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

(12:00) Creating a model for fundraising to support ministries in the St. Paul area.

SISTERS RISING WORLDWIDE

(16:16) An unexpected offer to help sisters effect change globally.

(19:00) The creation of Sisters Rising Worldwide.

(24:15) How to bring together ideas and solutions to pressing global problems, with support through crowdfunding 

MAKING A DIFFERENCE AROUND THE WORLD

(29:41)  Vertical gardens in Nigeria, a project funded through Sisters Rising Worldwide

(33:17) Working with the Alight NGO at the U.S. – Mexico border: breaking bread and sharing community.

(36:00) Providing education and safety for young women in India.

JOY, SIMPLICITY AND OTHER HALLMARKS OF RELIGIOUS LIFE

(42:48) Does the vow of poverty as a Catholic sister bring a unique perspective to philanthropic ministry?

(46:00) Important info to know about Catholic sisters.

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About our Guest

Sister Irene O'Neill, CSJ, was born and raised in St. Paul, Minnesota, where she met and later joined the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet. Her initial ministries were in education, first as an elementary school teacher and then as Curriculum Coordinator for the 105 elementary schools in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. Her ministry shifted from formal education to philanthropy. She established and for 20 years led the CSJ Ministries Foundation, supporting the sisters' efforts to provide health care, housing, and other needs in the St. Paul-Minneapolis area. In 2016, she worked with a group of Catholic sisters to establish Sisters Rising Worldwide and currently serves as president. Sister Irene has a master's degree in elementary education and a doctorate in educational leadership.

Transcript (Click for More)+

Sister Maxine  
This is In Good Faith, a conversation about the experience of living faith in everyday life. I'm Sister Maxine, and my guest is Sister Irene O'Neill, founder and director of Sisters Rising Worldwide, which uses technology and innovative ways to support peace and justice work around the globe. Sisters Rising provides an online platform that enables people to directly support the work of Catholic sisters among the world's most vulnerable communities. Through a crowdfunding approach, people can learn about the work of sisters and local communities to address issues such as poverty, hunger, violence and homelessness. People can join with the sisters by donating to the specific programs that resonate with their personal interests and touch their hearts. Sisters Rising also provides a platform called the Peace Room where sisters themselves can connect to share information and collaborate on solutions, drawing on their experiences in all parts of the world. Prior to Sisters Rising Worldwide, Sister Irene established and, for 20 years, led a charitable foundation in support of the ministries of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet. Earlier, she served as Curriculum Coordinator for elementary schools in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. Sister Irene joins me today from St. Paul, Minnesota, where Sisters Rising Worldwide is based. Sister Irene, welcome to In Good Faith. Thank you for joining me.

Sister Irene  
I'm happy to be here.

Sister Maxine  
Sister Irene, you're the founder of a global organization that connects needs around the world with resources that can truly help. And your work has involved creating something new, something that brings together Catholic sisters, people from around the world and local communities, and then combine that with technology and funding. It's really a wonderful combination of innovation, compassion, and justice. And we'll talk more about Sisters Rising Worldwide in just a moment. But first, let's talk about the journey that brought you here to this point, to this ministry. I'd love to hear who or what were some of your earliest influences in your desire to help others and in your spirit of innovation?

Sister Irene  
Well, that's a wonderful question. I'd have to say that our family life at home--our parents really taught us to be conscious of everybody, and particularly people in need, and to be kind to everybody. And there were a lot of us. So there were a lot of different ages. And so we kept including everybody. When we played games, we played with all the kids and always included them in. So I suppose I was always kind of looking out to see who needed to be included. We kind of had a mantra, "Do what Jesus would do."

Sister Maxine  
How many were in your family? You say there were a lot?

Sister Irene  
Well, it's funny, because you know, in St. Paul--we're an Irish Catholic family. And in St. Paul, people had families of 10 and 15. So I used to always say, "Oh, we only had eight." I was always apologizing: "We only had eight kids in our family." I'm the third oldest and first daughter, which is important in an Irish family sometimes.

Sister Maxine  
What did your parents do?

Sister Irene  
My mother was an occupational therapist. And my father was in real estate.

Sister Maxine  
At what point did you meet the congregation you would eventually join? When you met them, were you like, "Oh, yes, this is my future!"

Sister Irene  
Oh my gosh. Well, I didn't quite think that way. But I had them in high school. And I was really aware that the sisters knew who we were. And they were so fun, and they were so nice. And they challenged us to use whatever gifts that we didn't even know we had yet. And so they were very present in not just our learning in the classroom, but between classes and everything. I suppose they were really just trying to keep an eye on us.

Sister Maxine  
But in a good way.

Sister Irene  
Exactly. We really liked them a lot. Yeah.

Sister Maxine  
At what point then was it that the thought of religious life did occur to you in a really serious way?

Sister Irene  
I thought about it when I was younger, probably in elementary school. We had some great nuns there as well. But in high school, as I said, I loved the sisters. It was an all-girls school, which I loved. But of course, in high school, we got very interested in boys, who are awfully cute. And I remember not choosing a women's college that was nearby. So we went to the University of Minnesota. And believe it or not, at the University of Minnesota, I met a Sister of St. Joseph who was teaching a class there.

Sister Maxine  
It was inescapable, I suppose!

Sister Irene  
It really was. I thought, "How did God arrange that?" So I was kind of I didn't really know what I wanted to be. But I was kind of thinking a drama teacher would be a blast, to be a high school drama teacher. And this nun was teaching a drama class at the University of Minnesota.

Sister Maxine  
You can't make this stuff up.

Sister Irene  
I know, you really can't. And she was an Upper Midwest consultant, in a form of drama called Creative Dramatics. She was teaching teachers how to teach drama. And as the class went along, I realized that she was really teaching children how to love themselves for who they were. And it just, it just knocked me over. And I didn't realize it at the time, but Sister Peggy--that was her name--she saw that I understood this. And she began to talk to me more in class. And you know, again, I didn't make that connection, that she saw that I grabbed that. But at the end of the class, which was, I don't know, nine or 10 weeks or so--she came up to me and she said that she was scheduled to do two workshops, one in Iowa and one in North Dakota. And it turned out they were on the same weekend. So Sister Peggy said, "You're going to take the one in North Dakota, and I'll take the one in an Iowa." Well, I was just totally shocked. And she said, "Now, what you can do is come to my house for dinner, and I'll have a suitcase full of the materials that you need for the workshop." I mean, I hardly even knew the word workshop, you know. But I knew that I understood the technique. Anyway, it was at that dinner when I really first was just blown away by the sisters, because they were just talking about their day. You know, between passing the butter and the bread, they'd say, "Well, how were things at the hospital today? How did things go in the shelter?" And you know, what was happening at the college. And they were solving problems--you know, a family of eight came in from Texas, and they needed housing and clothing and food, and I found the nuns, and they helped them. And you know, the stories just went on and on. And I was just dumbfounded, thinking, "Who are these people?" Because I knew them as teachers, not as these social justice advocates. Anyway, my workshop went really well in North Dakota, and I got invited to do more workshops. And I kept meeting the sisters, when Peggy would say, "Come and pick up the suitcase with the materials." So again, it was great. So I kept finding myself in different gatherings of the sisters, and even in the midst of the party that they might be having, some nun would yell out, "I need 20 beds," and some other nun would say, "I have them for you." And then they'd all laugh, and they'd say, "You need a truck," and another sister would say, "I have people with trucks." And anyway, I just got absolutely pulled in.

Sister Maxine  
That networking piece would have been profound. I mean, I find that to be part of the tradition of religious life, that kind of networking, and figuring out who has what and how to make it all work together.

Sister Irene  
Yeah. Oh my gosh, that makes all the difference. Yeah. Because no one person has the answer. But boy, when you put them together. Wow, it was powerful.

Sister Maxine  
So then, as you grew closer and closer to the congregation, what was it about their mission that helped you finally say yes to that calling?

Sister Irene  
I saw almost the same thing that I had learned at home, which was, who's out there? You know, always looking for the people around you and seeing who's the neighbor, you know, and seeing everybody as neighbor. And the Sisters of St. Joseph say yes, our charism is the love of God and the dear neighbor without distinction. It was just like hand-in-glove. It was very familiar to my family's way of operating. It was reaching out, everybody counts, and everybody deserves to flourish. I just saw the sisters magnify this.

Sister Maxine  
And then when you ultimately joined the congregation and went through the steps of joining, and after that, you became a teacher.

Sister Irene  
Yes. I remember I was gonna be a drama teacher. And then I thought no, no, no, no. I needed to work with younger children, to help them learn to love themselves  starting really young. And so I went into elementary education and found working with the children just fantastic. Then I continued with my own education there, and went for a master's of education and realized that I had been living with sisters who were masters in education and teaching at the university and I had absorbed a lot of their knowledge and skills. And they were such great models. I went from being a teacher of children to a teacher of teachers. And then eventually, I was working at our archdiocese as a curriculum coordinator.

Sister Maxine  
And that was for quite a few elementary schools, wasn't it?

Sister Irene  
Yeah, at the time I was there, there were 105 elementary schools in the archdiocese. It was big. It was really exciting.

Sister Maxine  
As you talk about education being a way to help people learn to love themselves for who they are, that part of the educational process, was that also how you were approached curriculum in the in the diocese?

Sister Irene  
It was. What I knew is that people had answers inside themselves--that was the strongest answer from their own experience. You know, who are you? And what is the gift you're bringing to the world? And when I was the curriculum coordinator at the Archdiocese, we had many, many gatherings of teachers and principals, and I learned really early on that if somebody had a question, you would just ask the room who has the answer? And somebody in the room had the answer. And of course, that made so much sense, because, you know, again, it's that whole community model, and it's also that the teachers are on the ground, and they've had to deal with issues like that. So I would stand there. And I felt like I was just orchestrating question and then answer. That was an important lesson for me to really see in action: those closest to the ground know the answers.

Sister Maxine  
We sort of like crowdsourcing before those platforms existed.

Sister Irene  
Yeah, exactly.

Sister Maxine  
Ultimately, you got a doctorate in educational leadership, but you didn't go back to teaching or to administration. You went into the world of philanthropy. How did that happen?

Sister Irene  
[laughter] That's a really good question. Well, when I was finishing my doctoral degree, I said to the sisters, "If I could have just a short time of sabbatical and finish my degree, I will say yes to anything you ask me to do." That was really the last time I ever said that. I was really busy. Oh, my gosh. But one of the things that I was busy with, they asked me to serve on a committee to design a model of fundraising for our province's ministries, which are scattered about the metropolitan area here. So that was great. So we were on the ground floor designing this model. And wouldn't you know, by the time I finished my doctoral degree, they were saying, "I would really love you to run this thing." And I realized that it really was education. And what my job was going to be is helping people understand who the sisters are, and what the sisters do. And so it actually felt compatible.

Sister Maxine  
What kind of work does the CSJ Ministries Foundation support in your area, in St. Paul-Minneapolis area?

Sister Irene  
We have a whole network of free health clinics to people who are uninsured. And the doctors and nurses and everybody volunteer their time. And everything down to the medication is free to the patient. And it was a gift that our health care sisters kind of managed. It's a phenomenal ministry and gets supported even by the hospitals in town. We also have shelter for women who have been trafficked or traumatized in some way. We have a fabulous volunteer program called the St. Joseph Worker Program, which has now been, we call it franchised across the United States. We have a prayer community for homeless people and other shelters and things. There's so much going on here.

Sister Maxine  
A wide variety.

Sister Irene  
It's a wide variety. It is.

Sister Maxine  
So you were there for a number of years. And it sounds like it was highly successful in terms of supporting some much-needed ministries. As you reflect on that time, what was one of the key learnings maybe one or two of the key learnings and maybe challenges that you came away with?

Sister Irene  
Well, I learned just profoundly that people trust the sisters, and that they want to know about us, and they can't find us because we just blend in. And when they do, it just ignites support. I don't know why I was surprised by that. But every time you met a new person, the same reaction happened. That was really profound. So I realized that the sisters on whose shoulders I ride have done so much good, generations before I ever showed up. That was a big lesson. And I also learned that the generations behind me, who are coming through our schools, understand it as well. They define the sisters as social justice warriors, that's where I get that term. So I learned that it's alive and well, and there are people still coming up, and that will continue to support the sisters. Another piece that I learned was, there is so much money out there. There is so much money out there. And there are people behind that money who want to do good things with it. But they don't know where to put it.

Sister Maxine  
Oh, yes, to help make that connection between somebody who wants to do good and some people who desperately need good things to happen in their lives.

Sister Irene  
Yeah, and they have enough money, you know, to make a change, a global change. And I actually was approached by somebody who said, "Sister, I have so much money that there's no nonprofit big enough to take it. What are the nuns doing?" And then I thought, oh, my gosh--and what went before my eyes was not just the programs that we do in the St. Paul-Minneapolis area, but I thought globally, I could answer that question. Give me a country, I'll tell you what I think the sisters are doing. And so that was the voice that triggered me to switch. I left the Foundation to say, "There's a really big universe out here that I think I can reach into and help people with it." Because I knew this gentleman wasn't the only one who had those kinds of resources. But I wanted to check my instincts about the sisters. Did I really know what they were doing on the ground and what was happening?

Sister Maxine  
We're going to pause for just a brief break. This is In Good Faith, a program of A Nun's Life Ministry. We want to thank our sponsors and individual donors like you whose support makes the In Good Faith program possible. We love to hear from you, our listeners, and your input helps us create the podcasts that you enjoy. If you could please take a couple of minutes after this podcast to fill out a short survey, we'd be very grateful. And you can find the link to that survey in the Episode Notes of the podcast. We'll be right back.

Welcome back, this is Sister Maxine of A Nun’s Life Ministry, and my guest, Sister Irene O'Neil of Sisters Rising Worldwide. You can listen to this podcast again, as well as all the past episodes of In Good Faith on our website at anunslife.org, and on all the platforms where you get your podcasts. Irene, before the break, you talked about leaving your congregation's Ministries Foundation, after someone approached you with resources for a much larger project, and you began thinking about the work that Sisters of all communities do, many facing tremendous challenges. And they work around the world. What were some of the initial steps that you took, as you began to think about what that larger project could look like?

Sister Irene  
Well, the first thing I did in my in my work is I served on boards that took me around the United States, and I met sisters who I would really say are visionary. And they knew other people who are visionary. And it was that universe that I wanted to talk to. And so I gathered some--I call them my merry band. I mean, we had a ball when we were together. These were individuals who had done big projects as well. So I asked them, "You know, if somebody said to you, what are the nuns doing around the world? Would you be able to answer it? How would you answer it? And how do you know that?" What we know is they can name the root cause of the poverty, but we decided to check it out. And so we would do that in between meetings, we would check out--and every time any of us met a sister, we'd say, "What's the root cause of the poverty around you?" They would have an answer. And all the answers are different, depending on where the sisters are. What we decided to do after that was to see, was there any place where information on sisters was gathered, so that there's a record somewhere of what they're doing and what their needs are. And so we went to the UN, where there were 44 sisters who represented like 200 congregations around the world. And we visited with the sisters there and found that they had always wanted some kind of database, but they're really siloed. And then another board that I'm on took me to Rome a couple times a year, which was fabulous. And anyway, I met the UISG, and we talked same thing, and they were desiring some sort of database or something that would gather what are the sisters doing. And it just didn't exist. We needed something that was a secure platform for sisters. They would be onboarded into this platform where they could actually share best practices and we could introduce strategic relationships and funding and all that universe. So we had to build it. It didn't exist. And so we had to find a way to build it.

Sister Maxine  
You mentioned UISG, and for our listeners, that's the International Union of Superiors General, which is the leadership of women's congregations across the world.

Sister Irene  
Yes, yes. What they have information on readily at their fingertips is like the heads of congregations. In the congregation, still, I want to say at this time are siloed. Each leader in the congregations can get down to their grassroots, but the information doesn't go across other congregations.

Sister Maxine  
I think some people find it surprising in regard to sisters, you know, that we're not like some big company or organization where employees are registered, like thousands of them are registered on a database for things like payroll or benefits or whatever. You know, for companies that are massive, of course, those things exist. But as sisters, we are not a business. And I think it's important for listeners to know this, because of that decentralization and because sisters are really more about the mission than anything else. This kind of data in the way you're describing it--yeah, you know, it simply would not have existed.

Sister Irene  
Exactly, yeah. And it's not for lack of trying. I mean, when I was at the UISG, we had this funny conversation. Ask the sisters on the ground, you know, like, maybe the sisters who are say, you know, running orphanages, and ask them, how many children did you have last year, so they could start collecting the numbers? Well, the problem is, is that they needed the sisters to answer those questions. But it's hard to answer those questions when every day you have new people coming, new children coming, and you can't feed them all, and you're trying to grow the food and you're trying to take care of the ones that are sick. And so they don't get answered. That's the problem. So it's because they're so busy. They don't have time. It's like, what is the point of that? You know, ask me if you can give me food today for the children. Okay, you know, I'll answer that question.

Sister Maxine  
So as you were taking an approach that really tried to go to that grassroots level, recognizing there is no overarching repository of information or any kind of platform that was making it easy for sisters to access and use--what were some of the factors, as you were thinking about designing a resource, that you considered, first where sisters could all share information and then second, find funding.

Sister Irene  
We wanted it to be in several languages, obviously. And so we figured Google Translate would have to be part of it, for sure. We also wanted it to be easy to sort. So like, you could click on the country of Nigeria, so the world map would be there. And if you click on the country, then up would pop the sisters from Nigeria, and you'd see their names and what they do, you could learn about what they're doing. Or you could click on any country so you can see who's there. And the reason why we thought that would be handy is like the people on the border between United States and Mexico. You know, we have a lot of migrants coming there and sometimes there's people, say, from the Congo and the sisters who are meeting them on the border of the US can click on the Congo and find the sisters to say, "What's happening in the Congo? Can we help? Or is there something we can do? Or do you need resources?" Anyway, it's to be able to connect with each other. We wanted that to be really simple. The nuns are busy. And so it has to be easy. We also had a sorting where, if you just were interested in finding out what's the anti-trafficking work, and they could click on anti-trafficking, and up would come the sisters who work in that universe, or education, or healthcare. So we wanted something that would sort quickly and simply. And we also wanted a place where we could gather best practices that sisters found along the way or heard from their people whose shoulders they ride on or whatever. And so we have a resource library where they can put in things like the US Catholic Sisters Against Human Trafficking, have a link inside there to find out what are some of the latest things that they've learned about trafficking. And, you know, would that help in other parts of the world? So that's another thing. So there's a lot of little points like that, that, that were important. And the ultimate thing is we knew that sisters would become involved if they knew that they could get help. And so when they write down what they're doing, and what their needs are, when they enter that into their profile on the platform, then we move that to our public website, and we start crowdsourcing money for that.

Sister Maxine  
So the website essentially has two main pieces, one of which is the password-protected area where sisters can share information and ideas and collaborate. And then the other piece, really, is to present opportunities where people can learn about the work of the sisters, and then get involved by funding specific programs that are based on their particular interests, and on their capacity to give.

Sister Irene  
Exactly. So there's two parts of Sisters Rising Worldwide, just to summarize. One is the platform, and we call it the Peace Room. And that's where the sisters interact. And the second one is a public website, so that laypeople--anybody outside the sisters, and the sisters, I guess--can look at the website and see what programs are there. We feature them and then they can participate by funding. Yeah.

Sister Maxine  
Tell me a little more about that part of the website. How many programs are featured at any particular time so that people can explore them?

Sister Irene  
We're trying to feature about 12 programs at any one time. They're programs from all around the world, any place, any country. A funder could click in a country, click in the name of a country, and see do we have any programs in Guatemala, you know, because they like Guatemala or something. And they can find programs there. Funders can give directly to the program. They can click on that program and donate specifically to that program. And Sisters Rising, we get unrestricted funding, which other people give. Then we distribute that money through the programs so that we're moving programs off the site, so new ones can come on. And what we've been doing this year, which is our first real full year of funding, is saying every quarter, we will distribute $75,000.

Sister Maxine  
And that's from unrestricted funding, right? Funding that can be used for any of the programs, versus restricted funding, which is particular to the program that somebody donated it to. So it's restricted to that program.

Sister Irene  
Yep. So like if a program needs, say, $15,000, and $10,000 has been restricted from donors, then what we do is give it $5000 more to finish that program up from the unrestricted.

Sister Maxine  
That's wonderful.

Sister Irene  
It is fabulous. It really--it's working.

Sister Maxine  
What are some of the programs that have had funding so far? Can you give some examples?

Sister Irene  
Oh, my gosh, yeah. One program that is just really fun. I just heard again from the sister in Nigeria. They had a problem, a very severe problem of marauders going across the countryside and in this phase, they are killing farmers and taking their animals. And so the farmers, those that survived, flee, or the ones that don't, the women and children are running down to the main cities where the sisters are gathering them, to house them and feed them and take care of them until they could figure out what to do. Problem is that because the farmers have left their fields or have been killed, there's a food shortage. And the youth are wanting to go back to the farms, and they have this real surge of "I want to feed my people." And the sisters are saying, "Honey, you are going to get killed." So they're really trapped. And so I connected this sister with some people here who do vertical farming. And they had never heard of that. And I said, "Well, do you have walls? If you have walls, there's ways to construct like a ladder, if you picture like a step ladder against the wall, and on the steps, you put troughs for food." And they were just floored at that. And so, for $15,000 Sister Florence was able to have--she had to help the engineer figure out how to make them, because it's a new concept in Nigeria--how to make a contraption, that would be like a huge stepladder thing. She had to made for each of the youth under her care. And they raised food. And they showed pictures and you know, huge heads of lettuce and all different kinds of food growing in these troughs. And the people in Nigeria and around these towns started to hear about it and see it and they all want one, they want one now, and they figured they could even grow food during the dry season, they could figure out how to do that. And the children, the youth, are figuring out "Well, we could sell some of this food for a little bit." So it's just expanding! $15,000 is going to change the food distribution and ability to grow it in Nigeria.

Sister Maxine  
And to be such a source of hope at a time when it would be easy to become despondent about everything. And here, to be able to find some hope in the midst of a difficult situation otherwise. That really is wonderful.

Sister Irene  
Yeah, yeah, it really is. And I can tell you many stories. I would say that one of the ripple effects is that the sisters usually have their finger on the pulse of how to make it expand not through them, but through the people they're serving. They extend the wealth and the healing of the of the countryside or whatever it is it needs healing. Yeah.

Sister Maxine  
The people are rightfully the leaders of it.

Sister Irene  
Yes. Yep.

Sister Maxine  
Give me another example of a program that gets funding through Sisters Rising Worldwide.

Sister Irene  
Another really cool example is--again, I'm back on the border of Mexico and the United States. Sisters Rising works with this NGO called Alight, because they've learned that if they want to know what solutions are, they should ask the sisters. So Alight and Sisters Rising is down the border and met the Sister Lika in Nogales on the Mexican side. And we asked her, “What do you need? What would help you most right now in the situation?" Now picture, this is COVID, and we’re in a different presidential administration, so nobody's moving anywhere. And the Sister Lika said what would help most is a beehive oven, which they call an horno, and shade. And I thought, okay, you know, we totally trust her, and I remember Alight thinking, you know, maybe they want shoes or this or that. And I said "No, whatever the sisters say, just know that's the right answer." So we were able to get resources to her and they built a big--like a shelter, like a pavilion without sides on it, and they filled it with tables, like lunchroom tables, maybe 15 to 20 tables underneath the shelter. The people, the migrants themselves, helped to build this stuff, and they helped build that that beehive fire oven. And what Sister Lika's intention was, is that she knew that the regular people who live in Nogales year-round were getting angry that all these people were coming in. And it also brought traffickers and it brought drug lords, and Nogales on the Mexican side was getting very dangerous. And they were angry at the migrants. And Lika knew that if we didn't take care of that first, nothing else is going to happen. So she also knew that the migrants knew, no matter what country they were from, they knew how to make bread. And that was the point of the beehive oven. And so she had the migrants make bread. And then they invited the people of Nogales to come and sit in the shade. And the migrants served them bread.

Sister Maxine  
So it was also a way to bring communities together.

Sister Irene  
Exactly. Powerful.

Sister Maxine  
Incredible stories. I would ask you to give me one more.

Sister Irene  
Okay, one more. All right, I'm going to go to India for this one. So in India, the sisters are aware of the people who are the poorest of the poor, and some of them are migratory, you know, they move up and down the forest. And when they come out for food, or they come out for resources or needs, they're there to help them during that phase. Over time, the people started to trust the nuns more and most of the time it was youth. Picture teenagers, you know, or young women would just want to leave that world and come into a world where maybe they could get educated or a job or some help. And so the sisters in India, in northern India, had a place where they started a school, and most of them were young women. But the trafficking became such an issue. The women knew where the shelters were; they could get to the shelter, which also had a school there. And they would get educated. And the sisters also knew that what they needed was a job. And if that was really going to work, that they should set up internships so that these young women could not just get educated, but they help them actually get to the job and help them. And it turned out that they could do everything, but they didn't have the money to get the women to their internships. So they had to walk along a path and get to a bus to get to the internships. And that's where the traffickers moved. They moved to that part and would swipe the women on their way to their internships. And the nuns realized that if that if they just had a van, they could stop the trafficking in that part. And so a volunteer of Sisters Rising Worldwide said, "I will have a house party, and we will raise money for this van." And we also had it on our website, and we raised restricted money there. And then at this house party, she raised money, and for $23,000, we got them a van. And it stopped the women from being trafficked. Isn't that incredible? Oh my gosh, simple answers.

Sister Maxine  
And life-changing. Absolutely life-changing answers.

Sister Irene  
Yep. And this goes on around the world. Those stories, when you think about them, oh my gosh, if we could gather all those stories and find a way to announce to the world that there are 650,000 sisters, first of all, around the world right now. And growing, particularly in the southern hemisphere, but they're growing. And if that news could get out in aggregate, we could turn the world the other way. People would be seeing good before they saw bad, you know. They would feel hope.

Sister Maxine  
And it's so important to see something hopeful, something that a person can make a difference. And that's also very encouraging. We're going to pause for just a brief break. This is In Good Faith, a program of A Nun's Life Ministry. We want to thank our sponsors and individual donors like you whose support makes the In Good Faith program possible. We love to hear from you, our listeners, and your input helps us create the podcasts that you enjoy. If you could please take a couple of minutes after this podcast to fill out a short survey, we'd be very grateful. You can find the link to that survey in the Episode Notes of the podcast. We'll be right back.

Hi, welcome back. This is Sister Maxine of A Nun's Life Ministry, and my guest, Sister Irene O'Neill of Sisters Rising Worldwide. Sister Irene is a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet in St. Paul, Minnesota. Before the break, Irene, we talked about the capacity for a person to truly make a difference. And how that alone is just hopeful and encouraging, that one person really can make a difference by helping to fund the programs. That leads me to another question. You know, there's many crowdfunding platforms out there. What makes Sisters Rising, so different? Why would a potential donor be attracted to this platform versus, for example, Kickstarter, or one of a number of other ones? What about Sisters Rising do you think offers donors a unique opportunity?

Sister Irene  
Well, it goes back to what I learned back when I was running the foundation here for our sisters: people trust the nuns. And the stories touch them. We are a nation of immigrants, and who are here to meet those immigrants and educate them and heal them and be with them were the sisters. And so people have stories--and they're not all Catholic. Sisters serve everybody. And so they can go back and touch some story or some knowing personally. And it gives them hope. Really one of the big surges, the hope, is to know that there are still sisters here. You know, they don't recognize us anymore.

Sister Maxine  
And as you say, sisters go about their work often very quietly, not making a big deal of it, even though it is absolutely remarkable work.

Sister Irene  
Yeah, exactly. And the sisters don't do it for themselves. As you said earlier, you know, we're not a business. So we're not trying to grow a business. What we're really trying to do is work ourselves out of the problem. We want a solution, and then we can move on.

Sister Maxine  
I'll make sure, Irene, that I post the link to sisters rising worldwide in the Episode Notes of the podcast, so that people can click on it there and easily find their way over to the website.

Sister Irene  
Excellent. Yeah. And it's so easy. It's just srw.org. Sisters Rising Worldwide. So just picture that if the sisters were rising, and everybody could see the goodness, you know.

Sister Maxine  
Well, that's a perfect name for the project.

Sister Irene  
I know, it worked. It really worked.

Sister Maxine  
Yeah. Now, Irene, I have more of a personal question for you. As Catholic Sisters, we take a vow of poverty. And you've worked with people who have significant amounts of money and resources. Is there any kind of particular perspective that you bring that comes out of your vow of poverty?

Sister Irene  
Do you know this might sound kind of crazy, but when I'm in those circles, what I'm always left with is a sense of my own deep, profound joy. There's such joy in simplicity. And the people with a lot of resources, you think, "Oh, they have everything." Imagine trying to take care of everything. There's so much responsibility, and sometimes they don't even know who their friends are, when there's that kind of resources. And I have to say that people will say to me often, "You're always smiling." It's probably true. I mean, that joy is deep. And I attribute a lot of it to just simplicity. People crave joy.

Sister Maxine  
As we've been talking, I can hear the joy in your voice. Irene, as you look down the road, let's say, 10 or 15 years, what are your hopes for Sisters Rising Worldwide? What do you hope might be achieved?

Sister Irene  
I hope that it is so well known that people see it as a way to literally change the narrative of the world from despair to hope, and that they know that they can do that. You know, we started Sisters Rising by saying, "Well, you know, if everybody just gave $5 a month, you know, it's a cost of one latte a month. If everybody did that, there would be enough." And I remember thinking that the youth today are so--you know, they see things, you know, environment going out of control and, and the ramifications of that. How do you touch the whole planet when you're just one person? Well, you know what? You can through Sisters Rising Worldwide. You can not only touch the whole planet, but you can touch the places where problems are. So you can help heal the problems, and just bring your friends along. Even if we just donate a latte a month, you know, we're helping to change the narrative. And so my vision is that we transcend the generations, and that this gets owned as a problem solver for the world going forward. You know, we'll always have problems, but you want to have ways to touch them. And I think through the sisters and the sisters' networks that we could touch them through Sisters Rising Worldwide.

Sister Maxine  
A question sort of along the same line, how would you like to see the narrative about sisters change, as a result of people visiting the Sisters Rising Worldwide website and encountering the stories that are there, some of the stories that we talked about earlier?

Sister Irene  
I guess a couple things. One is, I always say that if you put your arms out to your side, you'd probably bump into a nun, and you don't know it. I want people to know that the sisters are close--whether they're within arm's reach or not. They're around. And they're a presence and they're not a presence for themselves, but they are a presence for others. And what I hope is that the way of being, the way that sisters are in the world, I see that it is contagious. And I hope it just becomes more contagious. Because the sisters are more like the yeast, they start it and get it going. But it really counts when the bread rises. It counts when the other people catch it, and that they respond in the same ways. So in a sense, you're magnifying that way of being on the planet. And so I would, personally, I would love to hear other people say, "I want to be like that!" Whether they're male or other religions or married, doesn't matter. But I want to be like that. Because it works. It's a way of being on the earth that works. The point is not that you have to be a nun to be this way. It's that you have to catch it. What is that way and live into it.

Sister Maxine  
Irene, thank you so much for your wonderful ministry.

Sister Irene  
Well, it's great. It's a great ride. Spread the word! Help us spread the word.

Sister Maxine  
We will do our best. Thanks again for joining me here on In Good Faith.

Sister Irene  
Thanks, Maxine.

Sister Maxine  
In Good Faith is a production of A Nun's Life Ministry, helping people discover and grow in their vocation by engaging questions about God, faith, and religious life. This program is made possible through the grace of God and the support of the sponsors of A Nun's Life Ministry, and you, our listeners. Visit us at anunslife.org. God bless!

This transcript has been lightly edited for readability.

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