Scholars Highlight Limitations, Challenges in Studies Examining Catholic Sisters

Some members of the African Sisters Education Collaborative (ASEC).
Credit: African Sisters Education Collaborative (ASEC).

Researchers participating in the just-concluded ten-day virtual International Consultative Research (ICR) conference have highlighted gaps and challenges in conducting studies that seek to examine the apostolate of Catholic Sisters globally, including those ministering in Africa.

The limitations and challenges were highlighted by a panel of researchers who, on the last day of the conference on Wednesday, September 30, presented their reflections on “what we heard” during the virtual conference that started September 21 under the auspices of two US-based organizations, the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University and the African Sisters Education Collaborative (ASEC).

Sr. Lucy Dora Akello, a member of the Little Sisters of Mary Immaculate of Gulu (LSMIG) in Uganda noted that there is an investment gap when it comes to research on Catholic Sisters, which she attributed to either a lack of finances or skills. She proposed a way forward.

“To overcome this challenge, there is a need to mobilize resources and training personnel to carry (out) research,” Sr. Lucy who is a Senior Lecturer at Uganda Martyrs’ University said, adding that there is need for more “mentors and senior researchers to lead the research process.”

To bridge the skills gap, Sr. Lucy recommended training of researchers in writing fundable research proposals and training the potential researchers in both qualitative and quantitative research methods to enable them engage in complex research.

Another limitation that the holder of a Doctorate in Pedagogy highlighted in her September 30 presentation is what she termed as a “disconnect between charism and ministry.”

She explained, “The Sisters are doing great work but we are either just following emerging trends of: social work (counselling, drug abuse) or entrepreneurship or human trafficking without connecting them to the charism, yet it is the charism that points for us the way to follow.”

“We duplicate ministries or services within the same region without reference to our charism,” she said and added, “We see an orphanage succeeding and another one failing. Why? Have we understood our charisms? Are we connecting our ministries to the charism?”

To bridge this gap, the Ugandan-born nun said that there is a “need to engage in research that can help Sisters rediscover or state their charisms, reflect on it in order to have a sense of direction and strengthen our ministries.”

Another gap the founding member of the Ugandan Universities Quality Assurance Forum highlighted in her presentation is the lack of data on Catholic Sisters due to lack of or poor documentation.

“When asked how many Sisters are in the congregation, the response is about 500. Human beings are not about, they are whole numbers, exact,” Sr. Lucy, a current CARA-ASEC visiting scholar observed.

She recommended that research is conducted in view of helping Sisters document appropriately their demographic information.

The planned establishment of data centers in Kenya and Uganda to facilitate the collection, storage, processing, and allowing the sharing of information about Catholic Sisters seems a fulfilment of Sr. Lucy’s recommendation. The US-based Conrad N. Hilton Foundation is facilitating the setting up of data centers.

On her part, Dr. Ann Rita Njageh highlighted the training gaps that exist for researchers analyzing the apostolate of Catholic Sisters.

Training in basic research for beginners and advanced research methodologies were among Dr. Njageh’s recommendations.

Dr. Ann, who holds a Doctorate in Educational Research and Evaluation also highlighted the need for training in 21st century skills such as technology, entrepreneurship, and guidance and counselling.

Meanwhile, U.S-based Sr. Mary Johnson addressed the issue of subjectivity in conducting studies saying, “One challenge is to confront biases and stereotypical thinking, and false dichotomies that have formed us and that may obfuscate the truth and movement in the research of Religious Life.”

Some of the dichotomies include apostolic vs contemplative life, growth vs decline, community vs ministry, and prayer vs action among others, the Sister of Notre Dame de Namur (SND) said during her September 30 presentation.

Having a reflection on the highlighted challenges, Sr. Mary who is a Professor of Sociology and Religious Studies at Trinity Washington University in Washington, D.C. said, “will lead us to deeper meaning and more effective research design, data collection and analysis, and hopefully, the enhancement of religious life and its mission to the world.”

Time constraints facing Sisters and Congregational leaders as well as inadequate understanding and acceptance of social science research by the Religious Orders of Sisters are other challenges faced by those interested in examining the apostolate of Catholic Sisters, which the Executive Secretary of the Association of Sisterhoods of Kenya (AOSK), Sr. Pasilisa Namikoye highlighted.

The September 21-30 ICR virtual conference that brought together Lay and Religious researchers from six regions among them Africa aimed at creating a global network of researchers who will have the task of examining the apostolate of Catholic Sisters across the globe.

Initially set to be held in Kenya’s capital Nairobi towards the end of June 2020, the conference had to be rescheduled due to the COVID-19 restrictions, the Executive Director of CARA, Jesuit Fr. Thomas Gaunt told ACI Africa on the last day of the virtual conference September 30.

Asked about the date and venue of the next conference, the holder of Doctorate in City and Regional Planning told ACI Africa, “Nothing is definite at this time but it is our hope to have a follow up Conference in two years or so.”

“We have spoken about Nairobi as the location but it could be another major city in Africa.  That decision won't be made for another year yet,” Fr. Thomas who was also the moderator of the virtual conference added.


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ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.

Father Don Bosco Onyalla
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