February 9, 2018
The Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland is pleased to support National Catholic Sisters Week (NCSW), an annual celebration that takes place from March 8-14 created to honor Catholic sisters. We are devoted to sharing the important work taking place by Catholic sisters throughout the nation and are lifting up their voices by sharing Sister Stories as we approach NCSW. This week we are sharing a profile on Ursuline Sister of Youngstown, Sr. Norma Raupple and her work with young adults.
From an early age, Sister Norma Raupple, OSU, took every opportunity to listen and understand her relationship with God. Now, she uses that relationship to share the Gospel with service-oriented young adults in Youngstown through intergenerational activites and social ministries.
“I felt that my calling to the consecrated life was a way of sharing my love of Jesus and the Gospel,” she said. “And I always admired that sisters seemed happy and fulfilled through a life of service.”
Sr. Norma said that she was originally inspired to service by watching her father. “Dad was a doctor – a general practitioner – and in those days, that meant he was on call 24/7,” she said. “Whether a baby delivery, a house call, an emergency room visit, I always perceived him as offering unconditional service and pouring out his life for others.”
She joined the Ursuline Sisters at age 18 and spent several years in schools and parishes around Northeast Ohio, upholding the Ursuline focus on “lifelong learning.” In the late 1990s, she chose to pursue her interest in missionary work.
“We wanted to immerse ourselves in Hispanic culture and serve the poor in these communities that we knew were underserved,” she said. In 1997, Sr. Norma, along with four other Ursuline sisters from other congregations, traveled to Brownsville, Texas, where they had only a home – no beds or transportation.
“Our aim was to live like the poorest of the poor, so we could best serve those around us,” she said.
Brownsville sits at Texas’s southeastern border, just across from Matamoros, Mexico. Of the five sisters who traveled there, Sister Norma said she knew the least amount of Spanish.
“The ‘welcome the stranger’ mentality really resonated with me there,” she said. “Throughout my life I’d become a real people person, loving conversation and getting to know one another, so by not knowing the language, I felt like I was on the fringe, and was able to better understand the plight of many outsiders in our country.”
Together, the sisters taught English to mothers in Brownsville, and were eventually able to secure grants to open a learning center in town, as well as a health clinic just across the border. After a decade in Texas, Sr. Norma returned to Youngstown with her “welcome the stranger” mentality stronger than ever.
She began teaching English to immigrant mothers in Youngstown, and as she understood their needs outside of the classroom, worked to establish an after-school program for their children.
Because the children and many mothers needed tutoring, Sr. Norma said the window was just right to bring in local young adults to help out. Many college students at nearby Youngstown State, Kent State and Walsh University need service hours to complete their degree – especially those looking to start a career in education or social work.
When the students’ requirements are fulfilled, Sr. Norma said there are always a few who want to stay on to continue serving the groups. The Ursuline sisters have built a relationship with these students, most of whom are women, and in 2016 the sisters established Angela’s Villa to serve as a gathering space for this service-oriented group.
“The Sunday brunches really caught on,” said Sr. Norma. “We’d share brunch and then reflect on the Gospel. They’ve also done a Friendsgiving event, an Advent retreat, and they now feel comfortable coming to the house to just spend some quiet study time here.”
As part of her work with young adults, Sr. Norma is working to understand the best way to share the sisters’ ministries in enriching, engaging ways to establish deeper connections with young adults. She said the conversation is ongoing, and the sisters offer a great opportunity for young people to connect with their communities.
Sr. Norma said the Ursuline Sisters of Youngstown have also welcomed AmeriCorps or Teach for America participants to serve in their ministries, including Beatitude House, HIV/AIDS ministry and young adult outreach ministry. Additionally, the sisters offer “alternative spring breaks,” where they bring college students in for three days of ministry and service over their spring break.
“What we are seeking are people who feel that they’re called to a life of service for the long-term,” she said. “If there’s something they’re seeking such as spirituality and community, and they are service-oriented, we can all work well together.”
Learn more about Sr. Norma and the Ursuline Sisters of Youngstown at theursulines.org.