When Julio Sabetta answered the phone, more than likely he was not expecting to hear the voice of Pope Francis saying, “This is Father Bergoglio. I would like to speak with (your wife) Jacqueline Lisbona.” But, the Pope was doing something that is becoming familiar in the eyes of the world – living his faith outright in a deeply personal way and leading by example, with humility. A religious matter had been troubling Ms. Lisbona, she had reached out to Pope Francis, and he heard her and responded. This is the “Francis Factor.”
All of this got me thinking about what I have been calling the “Caroline Effect.” Mother Caroline, who established the first parochial schools and founded the School Sisters of Notre Dame (SSND) in North America, is Caroline Center’s namesake. She was just 26 years old when she came to the U.S. from Bavaria, but even at her young age she was a woman of perceptible faith, and her potential as an able leader had been duly noted by her mentor, SSND Foundress Blessed Theresa Gerhardinger. Blessed Theresa knew that Mother Caroline would do inspired work in America and that she would do it with courage, wisdom, and compassion.
Mother Caroline’s journey to America in 1850 was a dangerous one; and, the challenges she would encounter once she arrived in a new country were great – economic poverty, racial and gender inequality, and limited to non-existent educational opportunities for children. Even with her considerable leadership ability and interpersonal skills, her mission to train teachers and to establish schools for underserved children would not go unchallenged. It was a credit to her perseverance over 42 productive years that under her leadership more than 300 schools were created and more than 70,000 impoverished children received an education. Additionally, Mother Caroline was able to establish 200 convents and prepare more than 2,000 women for teaching and religious life. Mother Caroline clearly lived her faith outright. She was bold in reaching out to people – especially people whom society had not embraced – giving them the empowering gift of an education that would change their lives. Today, Mother Caroline’s vision is at the heart of Caroline Center’s mission. She guides us each day in the education and career skills training we provide to underserved women in Baltimore City.
These stories about Mother Caroline are among my favorites:
It is said that Mother Caroline’s “favorite prayer book” was actually a directory that contained the names of all the new school sisters in North America. Mother Caroline liked knowing each woman by name as well as by her good qualities. Blessed Theresa had seen great potential in her; and, Mother Caroline felt it was important to find that same potential in others.
When a devastating fire swept through the motherhouse in Milwaukee, it was Mother Caroline herself and members of her religious sisters’ bucket brigade who were able to bring the fire under control well before the firemen arrived. While it was unorthodox for women to be fighting fires, Mother Caroline was never afraid to do what was called for at the time and to do the right thing – even though it might bring whispers of criticism.
Today, every Caroline Center trainee and graduate carries with her a little of the spirit and wisdom of Mother Caroline as she boldly ventures forth into the professional working world. She steps into that world knowing that she has knowledge, skills, ability, and potential; and, she is not afraid of personal change and of doing something new, bold, and different.
One alumna summed it up this way – “When we leave Caroline Center, we need to leave proud and to do this place proud because we all carry a little of Mother Caroline inside of us.” Another alumna wisely observed, “You are not going to be the same person leaving Caroline Center as you were when you came in. If you leave the same way you came in, then you haven’t taken full advantage of this place.”
Positive change. Successful careers and lives. That’s the “Caroline Effect.”