When you imagine a Catholic community of women you might picture a subdued nunnery nestled in a mountainside.
But if you met the Dominican Sisters of Hope, who are based out of Ossining, New York, you’d realize these modern-day ministers are anything but stereotypical.
“Unlike nuns who wear habits and live in a convent, Catholic Sisters have ministries identical to many jobs (teaching and nursing are two big examples for our congregation), they wear normal clothing, and they don’t live in a convent — although community is still a central tenet,” explains Gina Ciliberto, digital journalist for Dominican Sisters of Hope.
The women are dedicated to service, whether that means helping refugees, fighting fracking, or traveling to aid those affected by natural disasters.
And although they’re continually influencing lives on a personal level, they also reach out to those who are religiously online.
The sisters have a Twitter feed and a Facebook page to share their messages of hope in addition to a website, chock full of blog posts and inspiration. And their good works have gone on to attract good words beyond their official channels, including stories in the Huffington Post, in Sojourners, and on a recent Comedy Central segment.
These sisters are online and on a mission.
Posting stories about the sisters’ ministries online was a natural step, Ciliberto says, and it also provides opportunities to connect with others who have similar missions.
“In 1200 AD, Saint Dominic spread the gospel by walking around Southern France with his sandals in his hands, talking to whomever he approached,” Ciliberto says. “Nowadays, our sisters don’t walk the streets holding their sandals, but they do try to meet people where they’re at. In 2016, people are online.”
To the sisters, sharing hope and happiness is just as relevant today as it was in biblical times.
“Stories, like the parables in the Gospels, have the power to stay with people and transform the imagination,” says Sister of Hope Judy Brunell. “In a world so divided and plagued by violence, cultivating hope in the human spirit is more important than ever.”
With more than 160 sisters in the organization, Ciliberto has no problem generating material to share on its website, which includes profiles, tips on living mindfully, and stances on current issues.
“I’ve called it ‘throwing open the convent doors,’ which is to say the sisters are seen much more publicly than ever before,” Ciliberto says. “Our world needs to see women who deeply understand how much help and healing the world needs and who respond with tremendous action and hearts of hope.”
And the sisters aren’t hesitant to share their beliefs with even the unlikeliest inquisitors. Earlier this year, comedian Amy Schumer interviewed Sister of Hope Mary Alice Hannan for a segment on Schumer’s show.
“Sister Mary couldn’t stop talking about how cute Amy was,” Ciliberto says. “It was a really good opportunity to share what it means to be a sister and how vowed religious life can actually lead to freedom, which is a conversation not many people get to hear directly from a sister.”
Committed to Bluehost
Because their ministries keep them on their toes, the last thing the sisters need to worry about is a web host.
“Bluehost has been available for us around the clock,” Ciliberto says. “Our website has gone from a flat site to a vibrant newsroom site with more than 1,000 visitors daily — and growing — and we did this on Bluehost.”
At one point a marketing agency suggested the sisters use another web host. “We chose to stay with Bluehost because of the service we received,” Ciliberto says.
For the sisters, their website is an extension of the lives they live.
“It’s important to have a strong website to make ourselves known as witnesses to hope, love, peace, and advocates for the common good,” Brunell says.
Whether they are touching lives through a tweet, a comedian, or a helpful hand, their goal of spreading hope continues to gain momentum.
“Yes, there is a lot of badness in the world. Yes, we all have a lot of work to do. But we can all do something, in fact many things, to make the world better than it’s ever been,” Ciliberto says. “Our sisters believe in that reality so much that they’ve dedicated their lives to it and work every day for it. Both on the web and in our daily lives, we state our mission, share it, and invite others to join us in living out hope.”
Emily Edmonds was the editor of a business magazine for eight years and currently teaches a college news writing course.