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Mission: Giving Meaning to Work

A reflection on the gift of working in a CSJ mission-centered institution, Fontbonne University

Susan Lenihan teaching at SJID 1983

I was surprised when I recently read that only 14% of Americans believe they have a great job. What a blessing it has been for me to be a part of that small group who believes they have a great job. I am confident that one of the reasons I have had such a happy career is that for most of my career I worked at schools sponsored by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, first at St. Joseph Institute for the Deaf and later, for over 35 years, at Fontbonne University. Dorothy Day wrote that there is no greater blessing in life than to have worthwhile work. We spend many hours of our life at work and being in an environment that aligns with our personal mission and vision makes all the difference in how we feel about our career achievements.

As a teacher at St. Joseph Institute, early in my career, I found colleagues, including sisters, who shared my passion for empowering students to be successful learners. The connection to the original calling of the CSJs to educate children who were deaf gave our work a strong sense of the charism of the sisters. Community, prayer and sacraments were as central to our work as reading, writing and arithmetic. The experience of preparing children for First Communion and sharing with them the importance of the Eucharist in my life was a gift to my own faith development.

As a faculty member at Fontbonne University in the Communication Disorders and Deaf Education department, I continued to experience the blessings of a mission driven community striving to educate future leaders for a world in need. The tasks of teaching, program development and service to the larger community occur at most universities but the sponsorship of the CSJs enhances that work by connecting it to the mission of the sisters. Discussions, problem solving, initiatives and decisions in the classroom and in the university are guided by the principles of unifying love. Efforts are consistently made to recognize the dignity of each person in the community–faculty, staff and students. At Fontbonne, students are encouraged to “catch the fire” of the CSJs as they begin their studies and are “sent forth” with the blessings of the CSJs as they graduate.

I am deeply grateful for the richness and transformative aspects of working at two schools sponsored by the CSJs and for the experience of being an Associate of the CSJs. I am honored and humbled to serve as a member of the St. Joseph Educational Ministries which is dedicated “to encourage the promotion of Catholic education while serving the dear neighbor without distinction, in a spirit of unity and reconciliation, with an orientation toward excellence tempered by gentleness, peace and joy”. I look forward to seeing how God’s presence in our schools continues to animate the faculty, staff, and students to grow in faith, knowledge and respect for self and others.

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