This summer, Mary Forsyth will become president of the Associated Alumnae and Alumni of the Sacred Heart, following two years on the AASH executive committee. An alumna of the Convent of the Sacred Heart in El Cajon, she has taught in Sacred Heart schools, served on the National Development Board and otherwise made herself indispensable over the years. She recently agreed to answer a few questions from her friend Shirley Miller, RSCJ, about her commitment to the Society.
How did you come to know the Society?
After fifty-five years, I have learned that “knowing the Society” means expecting changes with the times. The members of the Society I initially met in high school were cloistered, in habit and couldn’t even share a cookie with me. The religious were my “mothers.” Imagine acquiring ten plus one mothers in an instant! As the decades passed and I changed and matured, the Society was changing also. Knowing the RSCJ as women who are educators, lawyers, nurses, psychiatrists, fundraisers and everything in between broadened my respect and appreciation for who they are and who they were.
In what ways have you worked with the Society?
Every student in a Sacred Heart school is working with the Society by responding to its call to mission. That’s where my collaboration began: at Convent of the Sacred Heart, El Cajon and at Lone Mountain. Joining the teaching community at Convent of the Sacred Heart, St. Francisco (Broadway) in 1968 took me in another direction. When the Society created the Goals and Criteria in the late 1970s, I was invited to serve on the task force that would create the mechanism known as the Network Commission on Goals (later called SHCOG). That led to my being a member of NCOG for nearly fifteen years. The purpose of the Commission is to hold Network schools accountable to the Goals and Criteria as the Society’s mandate for membership in the Network. I can’t think of a better demonstration of working with the Society than engaging school communities in the self-examination of what makes them Sacred Heart schools.
The In Mission for Life Campaign was another close collaboration with the religious. The Society acknowledged the need for its family and friends to support the financial future of the RSCJ. I served as chair of the San Diego/Southern California part of the campaign. The key approach to this campaign was sharing the mission of the Society with small groups in homes over coffee and conversation. This was a first in so many ways. The Society learned that it could ask for help and it would happen.
What has been your favorite role within the Society?
Without question, establishing relationships is the best and most important role I’ve experienced within the Society. Fortunately, over the years, I was invited to participate with the Society in many programs and activities. Inevitably, I met RSCJ from all over the country. Many became close friends and continue to be a source of happiness in my life. I find myself sharing cookies with RSCJ all the time.
Why are you so committed to the Society’s mission?
I mentioned earlier that I have been asked to work with the religious in many contexts. Commitment comes naturally when you feel that you are needed. During the In Mission for Life Campaign, Sister Shirley Miller consistently shared with her audiences that the Lord still had a mission and a ministry for the Society. Those simple words struck me profoundly. It was clear to me that the vitality of the Religious of the Sacred Heart was to be measured by the intent of its mission and not the numbers that constitute its membership.
Tell me about an experience or a person that stirred your commitment to the Society
Sr. Rina Ronconi; she’s the one. She cooked my breakfast, lunch and dinner when I was a boarder at El Cajon. She also was the guardian of the goûter wagon and was known to be generous with extra snacks. Later, she worked in the library while I was teaching at Broadway. She was one of two nuns in the high school at the time. She was gregarious, outgoing and just plain lovable. One afternoon, I overheard some students discussing the example of her spirituality. This was a locker room conversation, mind you – teenagers sharing perceptions of how she was the most spiritual person they had ever met! Dear Rina, she lived past one hundred years. Indeed, her spirituality was just one of her distinguishing qualities. It was a blessing to know her.
What do you see as pressing concerns for the Society? How can the people who care about the Society help?
During the past thirty-five years, the Society has taken three steps, which I believe define a path for the future. All three steps acknowledged present and potential realities.
- The articulation of the Goals and Criteria and the creation of independent school governance structures. In the 1970s, many religious congregations watched their numbers diminish in terms of staffing their schools, and many orders chose to close those schools. They did not believe that their charism and mission could be translated to a school system run by lay people. The Society took a giant “leap of faith” and moved to independent boards and lay leadership of the schools. At the same time, the Society created a vigorous and valid link between itself and the schools. The Goals have demonstrated that Sacred Heart schools are a living expression of what Sophie would applaud today.
- The creation of the Associates in the mid-90s confirmed the willingness of the Society to share its spirituality with women and men desiring a closer relationship with the RSCJ. When you go to the rscj.org site, there is a tab under “Who We Are” that goes directly to the Associates. Enough said. As far as the Society is concerned, the Associates are part of its identity.
- The In Mission for Life Campaign was a groundbreaking action on the part of the Society. Going to the bigger “family” was not just a well-articulated rationale to assure the future financial stability of the religious. For many of us, our previous understanding of the mission of the Society was simply the nuns=the mission. The campaign allowed the Society to involve its constituents more deeply in its mission and ministries.
In the face of pressing concerns, the Society has already created a model for solutions. The model requires very long-range thinking that informs decision-making about the future. The Goals and Criteria, the Associates and the campaign are the result of this model in action.
People who care about the Society are engaged in committees and boards that advise the Society. There is consensus between the Society and its advisors that education to mission must continue. The pool of people who care will grow. By the way, I’m not forgetting that caring is expressed in giving.