Sister Barbara Jean Head grew up in the small town of New Haven, Ky., and she’s served her 54 years as an Ursuline Sister entirely in Kentucky. For the past three years, her worldview has grown, thanks to her service on the board of UNANIMA International.
“It’s been a very stretching experience,” Sister Barbara Jean said. “The directors have sisters in other countries. They share what’s happening in those countries.”
The Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph were one of the six founding religious communities of UNANIMA International in 2001. It is an international nongovernmental organization (NGO) that has grown to 21 religious communities that advocates on behalf of women and children (particularly those living in poverty), immigrants and refugees, and the environment. Its office is in New York City, just a few blocks from the United Nations, where it focuses its work.
The name was fashioned from anima, a feminine life principle of healing, caring and nurturing, and U.N., for the United Nations. The Ursuline Sisters have had a representative on the UNANIMA board since its inception. Sister Barbara Jean has served since 2016, following in the footsteps of Sisters Jacinta Powers, Mary Lois Speaks, Suzanne Sims, Mary Louise Knott, Larraine Lauter and Dianna Ortiz. Sister Barbara Jean’s term is up in March 2020.
The board meets in March and September each year, but committee work goes on year-round.
“Just being with these women, to see how energized they are for social justice issues to help women and children” has made the greatest impact on Sister Barbara Jean, she said. “It’s a huge expansion of the world that we Ursulines of Mount Saint Joseph live in.”
Aside from attending the board meetings, directors are asked to serve on committees and help promote the work of UNANIMA in their communities. The Ursuline Sisters will share UNANIMA updates with their supporters through this website and on social media.
Sister Barbara Jean is on the bylaws committee and the Catherine Ferguson Scholarship Committee, named after the first coalition coordinator who served 10 years. An internship program was begun upon her departure in 2011, and each year, UNANIMA accepts four Catherine Ferguson Scholars to spend a semester serving the coalition.
One of those interns in 2011 was Ursuline Sister Michele Morek, who then succeeded Catherine Ferguson as coalition coordinator, serving from 2011-2016. Sister Jean Quinn, from the Daughters of Wisdom community in Ireland, is the current leader.
Sister Larraine has spoken to the board about her ministry, Water With Blessings, which brings water filters to impoverished nations. Support for that ministry has grown among some of the religious communities of UNANIMA.
Stopping human trafficking was one of UNANIMA’s first goals. The Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph were the leaders in urging passage of Kentucky’s human trafficking law in 2007, and Sister Barbara Jean considers that the greatest impact UNANIMA has had with the sisters.
The role of UNANIMA has continued to evolve, and Sister Barbara Jean said the board is now trying to narrow its focus to have a greater impact. Getting just a few important words added or changed in a United Nations document is a great victory, and UNANIMA was successful recently with that in a homelessness project, Sister Barbara Jean said.
“It’s been a great experience,” she said.
Stay tuned for updates from the UNANIMA International board.