Global Dialogue NGO

Question Raises Global Consciousness

Sister Mary Beth Reissen, SSND
Sister Mary Beth Reissen, SSND

The Constitution of the School Sisters of Notre Dame, You Are Sent, #26, states: “As members of an international congregation, we recognize our obligation and opportunities to develop a word vision and a sense of global responsibility. Our internationality challenges us to witness to unity in a divided world; to discover unsuspected ways of sharing what we have, especially with the poor and marginalized; and to search for new channels of service in the universal church.”

One of the “unsuspected ways of sharing what we have” was the request to consider accreditation as a Non-Governmental Organization within the United Nations. By raising this question, Sister Mary Beth Riessen initiated a process of dialogue with international implications. She made this proposal in 1977.

Drawing on personal archives from Sister Mary Beth as well as those from the international community, the editor found this international conversation regarding NGO status an example of SSND corporate determination. It seems evident that the years of dialogue on this topic were sustained by faith and a deep desire to join others educating for peace and justice. Consider the nuances of this conversation. View the actual proposal being made at the General Chapter of 1992.

Sister Mary Beth began her ministry as a secondary science teacher. From 1975–1992, she ministered in the community of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) accredited to the United Nations.

A 1975–1976 intern with NETWORK Catholic social justice lobby, she accepted an invitation to become Associate Director of the Quaker-led Ocean Education Project in Washington, D.C. From 1976–1980 she served in that capacity and represented Pax Christi International Catholic Peace Movement (PCI) at the New York and Geneva sessions of the Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS III).

It was in 1977, as she became acquainted with the work of the UN, that Sister Mary Beth raised the question of seeking accreditation as a Non-Governmental Organization for the School Sisters of Notre Dame.

In 1981, Sister Mary Beth was appointed PCI Representative at UN Headquarters in New York. For ten years she voiced Pax Christi’s disarmament and human rights concerns to UN bodies, initiated its UN peace education program, and held key leadership positions on its behalf in the NGO community. In 1991, she became Education and Outreach Coordinator for the NGO Committee on Disarmament.

Desiring to strengthen the intellectual underpinnings of her ministry, she obtained fellowships and grants for graduate study at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University. She complemented her academic program with service as a lecturer, teaching assistant, and research assistant. A former U.S. Department of State Hubert Humphrey Doctoral Fellow, Sister Mary Beth received her Ph.D. in International Relations in 2003.

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