In 2013, Patty Johnson, CSJ, executive director of the U.S. Federation of the Sisters of St. Joseph, collaborated with Carol Coburn, Ph.D., director of Avila’s CSJ Center for Heritage, Spirituality franceplanningand Service to make Avila University the home of the U.S. Federation archives. A year later, Ken Parsons, Ph.D., director of the Center for Global Studies and Social Justice, met S. Patty at a gathering of sisters and non-governmental organization (NGO) representatives at the United Nations.

From these collaborations, it was clear that Avila wanted to become an academic partner with the U.S. Federation in a meaningful way. The opportunity came when the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation awarded the Federation an $830,000 grant to develop a curriculum in cultural diversity and conflict management. 

Coburn and Parsons were asked to collaborate as academic partners to develop and evaluate a cultural diversity and conflict management curriculum thatis culturally sensitive and easy to use by religious congregations and non-profit organizations across the globe.

The curriculum will be taught to 125 sisters in Le Puy, France, over the next three years. Using a “train the trainer” model, each sister will then journey back to their homes across five continents and teach additional sisters. In total, the goal is for more than 5,000 sisters across the globe to participate, which is about half of the total number of CSJs in the world.

“This has been an exciting opportunity for us,” said Coburn. “We traveled to Le Puy in October 2015 with the design team to develop the curriculum. This project is necessary because there are more women becoming sisters in Africa and Asia than in North America. When women enter religious life, they may end up living in community with other sisters from warring tribes.” As a result, the curriculum is being developed in five languages and emphasizes non-violent communication, critical engagement with difference, and empathetic understanding across diverse communities.

Coburn and Parsons are also part of the formal evaluation team to demonstrate the goals, evidence and results of the project. In addition to observing the courses in Le Puy, they plan to observe some of the trained sisters teach the course in their own communities. Their hope is that after the final evaluation, the curriculum can be further used across the world. “The mission behind this curriculum may extend far beyond the Sisters of St.Joseph,” said Parsons. “The hope is that the curriculum is deployable to other religious communities and NGOs.

Ultimately, we want to impact the relationship between religious communities and NGOs at the United Nations working together on the Sustainable Development Goals.” The significance of this global project is not lost on Coburn and Parsons. “For this project to be at the global level is experimental, unique and significant,”said Coburn. “We are honored to be a part of something so meaningful.” (Reprinted with permission - Avila University)