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The power of nun

The power of nun

Mary McCarty April 09, 2024

During a family camping trip several years ago, Kelly Mallon Young ’91 was asked a provocative question by her nieces and nephews: “If you could do anything in the world, what would you do?”

Young surprised herself with the answer: “I would run the most successful nonprofit.”

“Of course you would, Aunt Kelly,” they all chimed in.

Kelly Mallon Young in her home, sitting and resting her arm on a bookcase.Her family could already sense what Young did not yet fully realize — that in retirement she would parlay her prodigious sales and marketing skills into a force for good. She has become a global ambassador for “The Power of Nun” — the title of her 2023 TEDx talk about her work with Sisters Rising Worldwide, a nonprofit that empowers religious orders in more than 40 countries to eradicate the root causes of poverty and injustice.

“Sisters are the largest movement of women for good the world has ever known,” she told her TEDx audience in North Carolina, where she lives with her husband, Donald. “And they are feisty. They are willing to have difficult conversations with corporations or the cartel, if needed. They are powerful women doing powerful work, and I wanted to be a part of it.”

That conviction has propelled her from a short-term commitment to developing the charity’s online platform to her current role as chief operating officer. It started in 2017 when her cousin, Sister Patty Johnson, C.S.J., connected Young and her sister, Kathryn Mallon, with a colleague, Sister Irene O’Neill, C.S.J., Sisters Rising Worldwide’s president and co-founder.

O’Neill’s vision was clear — an online platform uniting nuns in all corners of the globe to share resources, provide moral support and raise funds. “We asked ourselves, ‘Wouldn’t it be amazing if we gave sisters the resources they need to solve the root causes of social injustices around the world?’” O’Neill said.

Creating the online platform, however, was out of her depth. “You need my cousins,” Johnson suggested. Mallon designed a technology platform that would break down the language barrier by instantly translating messages. It also features a user-friendly fundraising form that allows the nuns to seek donations for much-needed projects.

Young and Mallon flew to St. Paul, Minnesota, to develop the platform that met O’Neill’s vision. “I understood what Sister Irene was trying to create; its value to sisters and how essential it was for the world if we wanted to continue to move forward with addressing injustices,” Young said.

Although raised Catholic, Young grew up knowing little about the international reach of Catholic nuns. The more she worked with Sisters Rising Worldwide, the more she realized, “These women do such incredible work, but no one sees [it]. They are so humble; they aren’t waiting for recognition. They simply work hard so everyone has a chance to flourish,” she said. “Sisters love without distinction.”

Sisters Rising Worldwide’s online platform, the PeaceRoom, has helped fund projects including providing a van so one sister can safely transport girls to internships in India, giving them educational opportunities equal to men; introducing sisters in Nigeria to vertical gardening to feed families during a dangerous political crisis; and providing solar lights paired with financial literacy in Malawi.

“We are working to promote systemic change and address the root cause of the problems,” Young said. “We are not looking to put a Band-Aid on the problem but to create lasting change, breaking the cycle of poverty.”

Connecting sisters

“People think that nuns work in large groups, but more often it’s one sister in some far-off place,” O’Neill said. “But they can open the PeaceRoom and feel instantly connected to the world and to the whole sisterhood.”

No one knows that better than Sister Julie Matthews, R.S.M., director of the St. John Bosco Orphanage and Bosco Academy in Guyana. She has raised $15,000 through the PeaceRoom — used to purchase books and supplies, as well as tuition, for the 40 boys in the orphanage.

“It feels as if the staff of Sisters Rising really care about what the sisters are doing and want to share in our mission,” Matthews said. 

In one of those coincidences that prove Flyers can be found in all corners of the globe, Matthews’ colleague, UD alumna Sister Meg Eckart, R.S.M. ’11, provides structured after-school tutoring for Bosco Academy students. “The after-school program is meaningful to me because it is my way of helping our boys prepare for the world ahead as best as they can,” Eckart said. 

Eckart’s involvement only reinforces O’Neill’s impressions of the University of Dayton. “What makes people most valuable is their ability to do research and to solve problems,” she said. “Kelly’s training at UD gave her those gifts.”  

Touched by kindness

Young’s spirit of service began during her undergraduate years, volunteering with Christmas on Campus and visiting the elderly in the community. “That atmosphere in Dayton about community and helping each other is so much stronger than at other universities,” she said.

Jen Wegman Smith met Young in the laundry room of Marycrest Hall freshman year. Smith, who was attending UD on a soccer scholarship, encouraged Young, a talented soccer player, to try out for the team. She made it — marking the beginning of a lifelong friendship. “I don’t know what I would do without her,” she said. 

No matter how successful her friend has become, Smith always sees the same girl she met at Marycrest: “She has worked incredibly hard her entire life to be in the position that she is now. She has been an incredible role model for her children, that if you want something, go after it.”

Young may be unpaid in her current role, but the intangible rewards are incalculable. “I often joke, ‘Oh my gosh, Kelly, I am doubling your salary,’” O’Neill said.

“She has been a complete blessing. She always leaves you with the feeling you have been touched by kindness. And now she has done that with sisters around the world. Kelly has touched every corner of the world with her kindness.” 


Photograph by Rusty Williams

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