Former superior general of Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur dies at 94

Sr. Catherine Hughes, a former superior general of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, died March 17 at age 94 in Liverpool, England. She is pictured in an undated photo. (CNS / Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur)

Sr. Catherine Hughes, a Sister of Notre Dame de Namur for 69 years and a former superior general for her congregation, died March 22 in Liverpool, England, after a brief illness. She was 94.

Her funeral Mass will be celebrated March 30 at a Redemptorist parish church in Liverpool, Our Lady of the Annunciation-Bishop Eton. Hughes will be buried in the cemetery of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur in Parbold, England.

Sr. Teresita Weind, congregational leader, will attend the funeral, according to a statement issued by the Congregational Mission Office in Ipswich.

"Sister Catherine was a fearless and just woman who demonstrated remarkable leadership within her religious congregation and among other women religious," the statement said. "Her sisters (in the congregation), her family and friends worldwide mourn the loss of this woman of vision, courage and confidence."

Hughes served from 1984 to 1990 in Rome as the 16th superior general of the congregation. During her term, the revised constitutions and directory of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur received Vatican approval. Promoting the new document within the congregation became the responsibility of the newly elected general moderator with her general government group.

Hughes was able with her team to move forward the new constitutions. Numerous province, interprovince and cross-cultural meetings on five continents enabled her general leadership group "to animate province leadership, energizing the vision for mission to include those living and working in poverty, and expanding to an international commitment for the mutual sharing of resources within the congregation," the statement said.

Born in Gillingham, England, April 27, 1922, she was the second child of George and Ellen Hughes. She was the couple's only daughter; she had two brothers.

As a student, she met the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur at Notre Dame High School in London. As a young woman, she and her family experienced fear and tragedy because of the multiple bombardments of England during World War II. The experience left her with a realistic and common sense approach to life and death.

After completing a bachelor of arts degree with honors and finishing post-graduate work in education at King's College London, a member school of the University of London, she taught for three years before she entered the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur in 1947.

As a scholar, a teacher and leader in different Notre Dame schools in England, Sister Hughes' intellectual gifts became evident to sisters in leadership roles in Britain.

As principal of Mount Pleasant College of Education (1972-1978) in Liverpool, her leadership vision for the future resulted later in the successful merger of three colleges: Mount Pleasant College, Christ's College and St. Katharine's (Anglican) College.

Hughes then became the provincial superior of her congregation's British province in 1978 where she helped to shape the Conference of Major Superiors in England and Wales.

Elected as general moderator in 1984 at the general chapter in Namur, Belgium, she and her team over a six-year period faced many challenges in new forms of governance within the congregation and over the role of women in the Catholic Church.

To strengthen programs for newer members and for ongoing renewal in the congregation, the general leadership gave priority to Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur formation, by gatherings of formation personnel and by the initiation of the Julie Renewal and the Final Vow programs in Namur.

"Sister Hughes brought integrity, simplicity and a commitment to the sisters and their ministries internationally and also to people made vulnerable by poverty," the statement said.

On completing her service in general leadership, she chose a ministry in South Africa to reach many of the nation's impoverished people and advocated for them in the region.

"Throughout her life, and in the last 12 years in the community at Woolton Road in Liverpool, her vowed commitment to God, the church and her religious community impelled her to proclaim with integrity the Gospel message of love and justice," the statement said.

The Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur is an international congregation of women religious founded in France in 1804 by St. Julie Billiart. Sisters serve in Belgium, Brazil, the Republic of Congo, the Congo, Italy, Japan, Haiti, Kenya, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Peru, South Africa, South Sudan, the United Kingdom and Zimbabwe, and in 27 states throughout the United States.

Read the latest from our new monthly feature, "The Life." Get email alerts so you never miss it!