Sisters share their experiences

Although few in number, religious sisters form an integral part of the Notre Dame family. The Irish Rover sat down with three sisters to learn about their experiences at the university.

Sister Ann Astell, who has taught in the theology department for over fifteen years, explained to the Rover that for women’s consecrated life, there are three types of communities: orders, congregations, and secular institutes. Sr. Ann belongs to the Shoenstatt Sisters of Mary, which was one of the first secular institutes to exist in the Catholic Church. Sr. Ann described secular institutes as “a new form of life, aimed at Christian perfection, to be lived in the world. So it’s designed for a secularized time.” 

Though secular institutes, unlike religious orders, do not require members to wear habits, the Schoenstatt Sisters do have a common dress, and some members of the community regularly wear it: “Our founders thought it was very important for our spiritual formation, and that somehow that dress gave expression to our ideal to want to be like Mary,” she said. Sister Ann wears the common dress when she returns to her provincial house in Wisconsin for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and an annual retreat over the summer. 

In addition to teaching classes and studying medieval literature such as the writing of St. Bernard of Clairvaux, Sr. Ann complements her academic life with a life of prayer. Sr. Ann daily prays before the Eucharist and has a meditation and a spiritual reading for half an hour each; she attends Holy Mass (often the 8am in Stinson-Remick Hall). Moreover, she prays the morning and evening prayers that were written by the community’s founder, Fr. Joseph Kentenich, when he was in a concentration camp in Germany. She describes these as “prison prayers.” 

Sr. Ann sees a connection between the vision of Blessed Basil Moreau—the founder of the Congregation of the Holy Cross—and Fr. Kentenich. Both share an emphasis on the family: Holy Cross is comprised of priests, brothers, and priests who are united by “the education of heart and mind.” Meanwhile, the Schoenstatt movement is “a broad lay movement and also pilgrims” along with six institutes, including one for married couples, which “share the same spirituality, share the love for the Blessed Mother and a common spiritual home in our shrine, which has now been multiplied all over the world.” 

“Fr. Sorin also wanted to make Notre Dame a pilgrimage place … honoring our Lady of Lourdes,” noted Sr. Ann. She describes Mary as “the great educator … who makes choices in freedom when she says, ‘be it done unto me.’”

Like Sr. Ann, Sr. Mary Lynch, S.S.J., has been at Notre Dame for many years. She served as rector of McGlinn Hall for 17 years, and, as of this academic year, is a retired rector in residence in Pasquerilla West Hall. Sr. Lynch described her prayer routine on campus, stating: “I do my own private prayer, which is more of a contemplative style of prayer. And my best time for praying is in the morning.”

Sr. Lynch, who joined the Sisters of Saint Joseph after she graduated from high school, returns to her community’s mother house in Philadelphia in the summer and over Christmas break. She told the Rover that she began teaching elementary school full-time after her first two years with the community, and she earned her bachelors and masters degrees part-time over the summers. She acquired her masters degree in theology with a concentration in liturgical studies at Notre Dame. This experience, in addition to having relatives studying at Notre Dame, attracted her to come work at the university.  She needed special permission to come to Notre Dame and live separately from her community. 

She shared that “one of the major things in our congregation is a focus on relationships, and for me, your whole concept of Residential Life here at Notre Dame first that perfectly … And that’s really what drew me here—that sense that it was my role as a rector to help create community.” She also emphasized the support that she obtained from assistant rectors and residential assistants.

Sr. Annie Killian, O.P., is in her second and final year as Public Humanities Postdoctoral Fellow at the Medieval Institute at Notre Dame. She is currently a temporarily professed Dominican Sister of Peace. She resides in a house along with two sisters that her congregation sent to be with her. She explained, “we’re an intergenerational community…and a multicultural community as well.” Her sisters are present for parts of her spiritual life: together, they pray Morning and Evening Prayer from the Divine Office. Sr. Killian also goes to Mass on campus and prays alone in the morning and evening. 

Last semester, she served at Westville Prison as part of the Moreau College Initiative, where she tended the garden and taught a course entitled “Medieval Women’s Writing.” Sr. Killian described this work as “a kind of peacemaking … going to people who are marginalized and shut out from educational opportunity.” She currently teaches a course entitled “Why the Middle Ages Matter” at John Adams High School in South Bend. Sr. Killian told the Rover: “As Dominican Sisters of Peace, our mission is to preach the peace of Christ, to build peace and be peace … I think where that comes in for me is that teaching is about caring for my students as whole people.”

Kathryn Bowers is a sophomore from Dallas. She enjoyed learning about these sisters, and there were a lot of things that she did not have space to include in her article. If you want to learn more or just feel like chatting, contact her at

Photo Credit: Sister Mary Lynch, S.S.J., from “Be a Rector at Notre Dame”