Operation Breakthrough, Sister Corita Bussanmas and Sister Berta Sailer
Operation Breakthrough was co-founded by Sister Corita Bussanmas and Sister Berta Sailer in 1971 when their efforts to serve the families of this neighborhood demonstrated the need for a nonprofit childcare organization. The two nuns worked around the clock and demonstrated incredible creativity to meet the needs of parents and children in the early years of the organization. Thanks to their leadership and example, the organization now provides educational programming, before and after school care, well-child care, resources for parental support, and emergency services. The organization aids children and parents that live in poverty, and cares for over 700 children each weekday. Sister Corita and Sister Berta were fierce advocates for children and personally approached the leading athletes, philanthropists, and politicians in the community to gain support and funds for Operation Breakthrough. Their advocacy expanded, educating middle-class families in the community on the issues of poverty in the Kansas City area. On top of developing Operation Breakthrough, Sister Corita and Sister Berta served as foster parents for dozens of children.
Sister Berta Sailer
Sister Corita Bussanmas
Backstory and Context
"I think we need to make kids a priority."2
In a 2017 interview with Global Sisters Report, Sister Berta Sailer emphasized this point when speaking of the systems within our nation that impact impoverished children, foster children, and orphans. And, while both Sister Berta and Sister Corita Bussanmas highlighted how there is still work to be done to help children living in poverty, their lives were an example on how to make such changes and help children in need.
Sister Corita and Sister Berta met in 1958 when they were both assigned to the Our Lady of Angels School in Chicago by their order, Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The school had just experienced an unimaginable tragedy: a fire that took the lives of 92 students. Sister Corita and Sister Berta learned firsthand how to comfort children, including those who had undergone great suffering, and ran a club for wayward teens in the area. In the latter half of the 1960s, they were assigned to St. Vincent's in Kansas City. While at St. Vincent's, Sisters Corita and Berta recognized that single mothers in the area needed childcare in order to provide for their families. Thus, the pair began to provide this service for their community, ignoring the Catholic diocese's plans to close St. Vincent's and the childcare it provided. Their dedication to the community allowed them to maintain the school as well as provide daycare services for younger children in the convent's living room.
In 1971, their vision expanded, and Sister Corita and Berta consolidated their childcare program and the school into Operation Breakthrough, a not-for-profit dedicated to providing necessary services to impoverished children in the community. It was originally located at 31st and Paseo, moving to its current location in 1981. The pair worked countless hours to maintain Operation Breakthrough and build it from the ground up, personally communicating with politicians, athletes, and philanthropists to gain donations and support from prominent members of the community. While their work within Operation Breakthrough and the community was important, the pair devoted even more of themselves to the needs of children in the 1990s: they became foster parents.
In 1994, Sister Corita and Sister Berta became licensed foster parents, and fostered over 70 children throughout their lives. They also adopted four children: Yauti, Ronnie, Vanshay, and Tyrez. This was not a common practice for nuns at the time, but Sister Cortia and Berta did not let that stop them from changing the lives of dozens of children in the Kansas City area. Their contributions have been recognized more than once, with Sister Berta receiving the 2010 Greater Missouri Woman of the Year award, and Sister Corita receiving the 2006 Bank of America Neighborhood Builder Award, and the Marion and John Kreamer Award for Social Entrepreneurship from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Both were inducted into the Starr Women's Hall of Fame at the University of Missouri-Kansas City in 2021. Sadly, Sister Corita Bussanmas passed away on March 27, 2021, but her legacy lives on through Operation Breakthrough.
Currently, Operation Breakthrough serves over 700 children every weekday, ranging from infants to 14-year-olds. The organization provides before and after school care, as well as educational programming. The services Operation Breakthrough provide to the community are vital for the wellness of children and families who are living in poverty, and the legacy of Sister Corita and Sister Berta will live on through the organization's work.
- History, Operation Breakthrough. Accessed April 6th 2022. https://operationbreakthrough.org/about/history.
- Korkzan, Shireen. Q & A with Srs. Berta Sailer and Corita Bussanmas, Global Sisters Report. July 18th 2017. Accessed April 11th 2022. https://www.globalsistersreport.org/blog/q/ministry/q-srs-berta-sailer-and-corita-bussanmas-48026.
- Moxley, Elle and Laura Ziegler. Sister Corita, Co-Founder Of Operation Breakthrough and 'Mom' To More Than 70 Foster Children, Dies At 87, KCUR. March 27th 2021. Accessed April 6th 2022. https://www.kcur.org/news/2021-03-27/sister-corita-co-founder-of-operation-breakthrough-and-mom-to-more-than-70-foster-children-dies-at-87.
- Sister Berta Sailer, Greater Missouri Leadership Challenge. Accessed April 6th 2022. https://greatermo.org/sister-berta-sailer/.
- Sister Corita Bussanmas - 1933-2021, Operation Breakthrough. Accessed April 6th 2022. https://operationbreakthrough.org/sister-corita-bussanmas-1933-2021.