Feature Story

Students, Sisters, Friends

By Mount Mary University

Posted on November 29, 2022

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New group brings generations together 

The two had just met one another and already they were sitting shoulder-to-shoulder, locked in deep conversation.

Chantel Gates, a Mount Mary junior and Sylvia Hecht, SSND, connected with one another at the first meeting of “Sister to Sister,” a new group that brings together students and SSNDs for group activities and one-to-one friendship.

“We clicked,” Gates said of their first meeting. “I’m an enthusiastic person and she gave that same positive energy back to me. I really liked that.”

Forging relationships between the SSNDs, most of whom now live on campus at Trinity Woods, and students has been a longtime objective for Mount Mary’s Campus Ministry Director Theresa Utschig, who also works as liturgical coordinator at Trinity Woods.

When she shared this idea with students Ana Sofia Ocampo Hernandez and Sonia Fulgencio, the program blossomed to life. The young women organized fellow students and held planning meetings with two SSNDs who supported the idea, Karen Walther, SSND, and Susan Adrians, SSND.

At the first Sister to Sister meeting in late September, Ocampo Hernandez and Fulgencio drew names from baskets to match up the pairs. Instead of using a speed-friending model or selecting partners based on shared interests, the pairings were purposely chosen at random, allowing the partners to more easily strike up conversations and really get to know one another.

Once the pairs were set, the room was filled with conversation.

“I think this is going to go very deep very quickly,” Utschig said.

A total of 12 sisters signed up for the first day – and nine more showed up unannounced – so the organizers will now find additional students to join the group to make sure everyone has a partner. While partners are encouraged to meet occasionally on their own, the Sister to Sister group is planning monthly events, from pumpkin painting to a Christmas party. The students also have a game day planned, so they can teach their SSNDs the Mexican game of “loteria.”

Shortly after the SSNDs moved into Trinity Woods, Ocampo Hernandez organized a rosary-making event for the SSNDs and the students who lived on her floor in the residence hall. The experience made her wonder what came of two SSNDs who had been influential in her life, Martha Waligora, SSND, her ELA teacher in third and fourth grade, and her second-grade teacher, Walter Marie Ray, SSND, known as Sister Willie.

Even though we are at two different places in life, I’m so glad that we are able to communicate.

Chantel Gates, Art Therapy Junior

There was a joyful reunion when she discovered that both women now live at Trinity Woods.

“I cried a lot. They both made such an impact on my life,” Ocampo Hernandez said. Because neither of these SSNDs were native English speakers, they supported and comforted her as a child learning English. 

While Ocampo Hernandez enjoys many close relationships with older family members and wants to work with the elderly after she graduates in art therapy, Fulgencio has had few interactions with seniors or SSNDs. But she is open minded, curious and ready to deepen her understanding.

“I want to gain better understanding of these women and their wisdom,” Fulgencio said. 

These friendships are a two-way street, said Adrians, one of the SSND organizers. “We’re looking forward to sharing what’s happening in their world and ours. This is another wonderful facet of being back on campus, having wonderful young women who want to get to know us.

“It’s fun to be with young women who are so dedicated and alive,” she added. “It energizes the sisters.”

Gates and Hecht are already making plans for future get-togethers, maybe an afternoon of apple-pie baking or an outing to get frozen custard.

“Even though we are at two different places in life, I’m so glad that we are able to communicate,” Gates said. 

For this group, technology, distance and years aren’t standing in the way of friendship.

“It’s even better now that I found out that she can text,” said Gates.