Participants in the U.S.-Latin American Sisters Exchange Program, hosted by BC's Woods College of Advancing Studies. (Gary Wayne Gilbert)
Data-driven marketing techniques, understanding of analytics, and solid project management skills are becoming requisite for workers across an ever-widening range of fields—including Hispanic ministry, as evidenced by a dozen Latin American women religious studying the subject at Boston College during the Spring 2018 semester.
They are part of a cohort of 38 women religious at BC this month, 32 of whom are returning to continue a comprehensive training program in leadership and organizational development begun last year at the University’s Woods College of Advancing Studies. Their visit is once again arranged by Catholic Extension through a grant from the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, in partnership with Boston College, as part of the U.S.-Latin American Sisters Exchange Program, through which the women religious serve poor Hispanic communities in U.S. dioceses.
They arrived at BC on March 14, the day after a nor’easter blanketed the Boston area—a sparkly reminder of their 2017 visit to campus, which for many of the Latin American women was their first encounter with snow.
A weeklong course on the evolution of marketing strategies was on the agenda for their time at BC, part of their overall curriculum of online and on ground courses in operational leadership and leadership specifically in Hispanic ministry, project management, managerial accounting, digital marketing, research methods and data analysis, global communication, human and organizational behavior, and strategic planning.
Twelve of the women are working toward an M.S. in Applied Leadership Studies, a custom degree program designed by the Woods College with Catholic Extension, said program director Elisabeth Hiles, funded by a Bridge grant that will enable the women to complete the program and attend degree conferral ceremonies with other Woods College students at the Boston College Commencement Exercises in 2019, prior to their return home.
Two additional cohorts of women religious will undertake the program in coming years. "With the momentum and success of the Bridge grant, we are working towards securing a five-year program that will begin in 2019 and allow a new cohort of Sisters at the undergraduate level to achieve a bachelor's degree in social science and future graduate-level Sisters to also achieve the M.S. in Applied Leadership Studies," said Hiles.
"These women religious will bring the knowledge and skills acquired in our program to enhance their already vibrant ministry," said Woods College Dean James Burns, I.V.D. "They minister in under-served areas, among the economically poor and in largely immigrant communities, where there are many Catholics but less formal presence of the Church. We are honored to be able to help them acquire the knowledge and skills that will enable them to become leaders for their congregations in the U.S. or at home.”
"Here, we are learning about leadership, intercultural skills, marketing, management, and how to request funding – loans – for the big projects. We feel much empowered. You can’t be a good pastor or religious leader without tools. And I have found these tools in these courses.”—Sister Margarita Morales of Chiapas, Mexico
Last year, BC’s Woods College worked with Catholic Extension to tailor a comprehensive program of coursework in areas including budget management, intercultural communication, fundraising, and grant writing for the women. The success of the pilot venture resulted in Catholic Extension announcing it would center all of the operational leadership and organizational development training for the U.S.-Latin American Sisters Exchange at the Woods College.
"Catholic Extension was so humbled by the time, thought, and resources the Woods College invested to create a world-class educational experience for these sisters," said Catholic Extension President Rev. Jack Wall.
Many women religious from Latin America do not have the chance to study at the university level, he said. "Coming to study at a premier Catholic university like Boston College is a dream come true for them," he said..
For Sister Margarita Morales of Chiapas, Mexico, from the Disciples of Jesus the Good Shepard, the opportunity to network and broaden her education at Boston College last year was “a gift from God," and that learning about learning about leadership, marketing, fundraising, and management was empowering, providing her with new confidence and skills to use in her community.
You can’t be a good pastor or religious leader without tools,” said Sister Morales. “And I have found these tools in these courses.”
"Coming to study at a premier Catholic university like Boston College is a dream come true for them...Catholic Extension was so humbled by the time, thought, and resources the Woods College invested to create a world-class educational experience."—Rev. Jack Wall, president of Catholic Extension
Sister Maria Teresa DeLoera of Catholic Teachers of Sacred Heart of Jesus in Aguas Calientes, Mexico, echoed Sister Morales’ assessment, saying last year’s also curriculum added a dimension beyond the practical and pragmatic, in helping her to “learn the American mentality to dream big, to have a vision.”
Catholic Extension has had previous partnerships with Boston College, such as with the University's School of Theology and Ministry, in support of the education of Church leaders from around the country working in “mission dioceses." Chicago archbishop Cardinal Blase Cupich, head of Catholic Extension's board of governors, brought the educational needs of the newly arrived women religious to the attention of BC President William P. Leahy, S.J., when the cardinal received an honorary degree at the University's Commencement in 2015.