Celebrating 25 Years of Sisterhood: Founders Day 2023
On April 13, our school community joined together to celebrate Founders Day and the legacy of the women whose lives inspire our school. This was a special year as we marked 25 years of sisterhood.
WSG was founded in 1997 as an after school program, which quickly evolved into a full academic program beginning in the 1998-99 school year. The founders hailed from three organizations: the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW), the Religious of Jesus and Mary (RJM), and the Society of the Holy Child Jesus (SHCJ). (Read more about our history here.) Each organization continues to support the mission of our school and each is represented on our Board of Trustees.
We celebrated Founders Day with an all-school prayer service that reflected on sisterhood, our values, and the amazing stories of the lives of our Founding Spirits: Mary McLeod Bethune, founder of the National Council of Negro Women, St. Claudine Thevenet, foundress of the Religious of Jesus and Mary, and Venerable Cornelia Connelly, foundress of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus. Students shared prayers, reflections, and a special liturgical dance performance.
Maranda C. Ward, Ed.D., MPH, serves as chair of the Founding Spirits Committee of the WSG Board of Trustees. In addition to emceeing the celebration, she reflected on Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune’s legacy as an educator and civil rights advocate. “She lived at a time when there were more nos than yesses – she is the epitome of perseverance,” Dr. Ward explained. Dr. McLeod Bethune was someone who forged a path forward throughout her life, founding what is now known as Bethune Cookman College and the National Council of Negro women in as well as serving in leadership roles in other civic organizations and the United States government. “She modeled for all of us how it is important to be confident in your abilities and persevere through challenging times,” Dr. Ward concluded.
Sr. Janet Stolba, RJM is a member of the WSG Board of Trustees and has been an active member of the Religious of Jesus and Mary’s leadership and educational ministry. Sr. Janet shared St. Claudine Thevenet’s life story, which was dramatically shaped by her experience living through the French Revolution: she witnessed the execution of her two brothers during the conflict. With a spirit of forgiveness and an understanding of God’s grace, St. Claudine did not dwell on her own loss. Sr. Janet explained, “all she could think about were the children and young people who had been abandoned to the streets, and did not know the merciful goodness of God.” She founded group homes where girls who had lost their families could learn skills that would make them self-sufficient, including weaving, reading, writing, and arithmetic, and also offered religious instruction.
Sr. Eileen McDevitt, SHCJ was part of the original group of women who founded WSG, which also included Sr. Mary Bourdon, RJM, and Jennifer Gibbs Phillips. She currently represents the Society of the Holy Child Jesus on WSG’s Board of Trustees and has been actively involved in Holy Child schools across the country. During the Founders Day prayer service, she reflected on how Venerable Cornelia Connelly’s journey to religious life was a unique one: she was married with children before her husbands decision to join the Catholic priesthood changed Cornelia’s life forever. This upheaval pointed her in a new direction, with prevailing traditions leading to the dissolution of her family as she had always known it. She founded the Society of the Holy Child Jesus and developed a unique educational philosophy that was rooted in the dignity of each student and trust in them. At the time, this was a revolutionary framework for educators. Sr. Eileen closed with a reminder from Cornelia: “Be yourself, but make that self what God wants it to be.”
In closing, Board Member and alumna grandparent Sharon Blackett reflected on how students might think about our Founding Spirits and apply lessons from their stories to their own lives:
“In the same way God worked through the foundingspirits and sisters, He will work through you too. Therefore, you will believe God is always with you; you will lean on Him for all your decisions, situations and understanding; you will love yourself and others with all your heart; you will be sensitive to those in need; you will use your special talents and skills to make a difference; you will be courageous and stand tall no matter what, but at the same time strive for peace and joy in that power. You are a ‘Fearless, Virtuous Sister’ destined to be present here, in this place, at this time to carry the next 25+ years of WSG’s legacy into the world, to make it a better place for a generation…and hopefully you will return to WSG with your story to lift another sister up for the next generation.”