A Sister of Notre Dame since right after high school, a faculty member at Notre Dame College for 15 years and an educator for nearly five decades, Sr. Mary Ann Baran ’72 has shared the goodness of God with others via a life in the classroom.
In addition to celebrating her charisma through teaching, Baran also has accompanied individuals as a spiritual director and prepared pastoral ministers to serve in local parishes.
Now as she retires from the College and formal classroom teaching, Sister Mary Ann hopes to dedicate her life to working with the underserved in the City of Cleveland and to continuing her ministry as a spiritual director.
“I always knew that through prayer I would know when it would be time for me to leave teaching. And now I have all this passion for what’s next,” Baran said. “I love people. Jesus was always with people. I love teaching, but a huge part of me wants to be with people of all ages now.”
Baran, who earned her bachelor’s degree in comprehensive social studies and secondary education from Notre Dame and master’s degrees in history and in religious studies from John Carroll University, has spent a total of 46 years educating young adults.
She has taught social studies and theology at the junior high, high school and college levels; in Virginia, North Carolina and Ohio. In the Cleveland area alone, she has worked at Regina High School, Notre Dame Cathedral Latin, Cleveland Central Catholic and John Carroll University, as well as Notre Dame.
An assistant professor of theology at the College, Baran has taught core theology courses in the ARCH curriculum, as well as upper-level classes for theology majors, and has served as chair of the theology department.
“When I teach about Jesus and grace, sharing what I love with people who are totally open to it, it is joy,” she said. “For me, the privilege is putting students in touch with their goodness, reminding them that their destiny is to be caught up in God and that God never gives up on them.”
Baran has created syllabi for 100-level introduction to theology classes, 300-level theology and pastoral ministry courses and the 400-level social justice seminar.
She said in these classes, she strives first to get students to know themselves.
“So many students have never thought these things before, like who am I becoming and who do I want to be, what is my meaning and what are my values,” she said.
Then, she leads students to raise ultimate questions, to reflect on God and their relationship with God, to become more familiar with the Bible and the truths it contains, and to “meet” and hopefully encounter Jesus in a deeper way. But, especially at Notre Dame, given the focus on social justice, she challenges them to be women and men of charity and justice.
Much of theology is teaching students about their personal worth and dignity, to respect themselves as well as to afford that same respect to others through social justice, according to Baran. Catholic social teaching, in particular, is educating on right societal relationships and empowering students to apply those principles to local and global situations.
“I try to teach students to see things happening in the world through a people lens. Social justice is seeing not just percentages or dollar signs. It is more than statistics. Social justice is seeing people,” she said.
Baran spends her life helping others to see their own value and the value of those around them from inside a classroom. She also connects with people─and connects them with each other─outside of formal college courses.
At Notre Dame, Baran has served as vice president and secretary of the College’s Faculty Senate and has been a member of the Faculty Affairs Development Committee
Baran also is director of the College’s Center for Pastoral Theology and Ministry, which co-sponsors the Eleanor Malburg Eastern Churches Seminar each year. The seminar, which will celebrate its 30th anniversary this fall, is a collaboration among Orthodox, Byzantine and Roman Catholic churches in the Greater Cleveland area.
In addition to the seminar, through the Center, Baran, working with the Diocese of Cleveland Pastoral Ministry Office, offers and teaches courses to prepare pastoral ministry candidates for positions in parishes throughout the diocese.
“We teach those who are interested in pastoral ministry solid theology, as well as good pastoral skills, so they can become more informed leaders in parish positions whether for paid or volunteer status,” she said.
The Center assists the Diocese in preparing five to 10 people each year for certification. Baran herself worked for four years as a pastoral minister and director of religious education at the Church of St. Justin Martyr in Eastlake, Ohio, before coming to Notre Dame in 1999.
Just as she educates students on community social justice and personal worth, Baran works with individuals for parish service and individual spiritual growth.
She is certified as a spiritual director through the Ignatian Spirituality Institute at John Carroll. As such, she accompanies eight to 10 individuals each year on their personal prayer journeys and occasionally directs spiritual retreats.
“Some people want to deepen their prayer lives, to keep themselves more focused and draw closer to God. It is a privilege to watch God at work in people,” she said.
In addition to helping individuals come closer to God, Baran also helps religious communities come together in many different ways─and not just through the Eastern churches seminar.
In 2010, she co-founded and for three and a half years co-chaired the Women With Spirit Now initiative, which fostered collaborative programming among women religious from different religious orders in the greater Cleveland area.
One program this initiative has established is the Collinwood Neighborhood Catholic Ministry Center. Baran helped found and is actively involved with this center, a collaboration of women religious and volunteers who minister to the people in the greater Collinwood area of urban Cleveland. The center provides social, cultural and educational services and opportunities.
That center, serving the poor in the Collinwood neighborhood community, is where she will most likely dedicate a good part of the next chapter in her career─though she will not give up completely on wherever else the Spirit may be leading her to be and to do.
“So much of ministry for me is presence,” Baran said, “presence with people, putting people in touch with themselves─with their goodness as well as with the goodness of God.”