Protecting Nuns, Empowering Good Works

Two people look at a computer together.

As an IT professional, Bart Blocker helps protect the nuns of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, a religious institute of Catholic women dedicated to helping people who are suffering from poverty, sickness and lack of education. The Sisters serve through health care, social services, and ministries and assist those in harm’s way, including women and children who are victims of violence and human trafficking. As the Director of IT (for two of the Sisters’ major regions), Bart works to keep the nuns safe from a different kind of danger–phishing schemes and ransomware.

“In doing their great work, the Sisters often assume the best in people,” Bart explains. “But when it comes to nefarious emails, they have to be extra careful. My job is ensuring that the organization’s 800 Sisters, and about 700 lay employees like myself, are empowered with technology that is easy to use, convenient in the field, and safe.”

Harmful phishing schemes are on the rise everywhere, and nonprofits can be seen by hackers as particularly valuable targets. Data breaches and ransomware can potentially cripple nonprofits, which typically have fewer resources than large corporate enterprises. With an organization like the Sisters of Mercy, the security environment is particularly complex, given that the many users under Bart’s watchful eye work remotely across 20 US states, Guam, and Jamaica.

Many of the Sisters are highly educated and have earned multiple doctorates and master’s degrees, but they also have varying levels of fluency with new technology. The average age of the Sisters is 79 years old, and sometimes transitioning to the latest tech can be a lengthy process, requiring detailed documentation and individual training. But all of the nuns in active service are using Office 365 and videoconferencing like Skype for Business to get the job done. Many are in the process of transitioning to Microsoft Teams.

Bart is an active Windows Insider and stays constantly abreast of new developments that might help his mission to support the Sisters’ work. He’s proud of the organization’s early adoption of Office 365 and the cloud. “We’re now advancing the skills beyond just email and SharePoint,” he says. “We’re really pushing OneDrive now and training the Sisters to not have to use flash drives, which eliminates another vector for potential security problems.”

Bart he began his career in finance more than 25 years ago. He acquired his tech skills primarily through self-teaching and learning on the job, leading network infrastructure and IT systems for banking and a variety of other industries. Then the 2008 global recession hit, and Bart was laid off from his director position at a global logistics company. A few weeks later, a colleague offered to pass his resume onto a religious organization. As a non-Catholic, Bart wasn’t sure what to expect. What he discovered was an incredibly dedicated group of women with a wealth of experience and a passion for helping others. (Also, the Sisters haven’t worn religious habits since 1969. “You could be sitting by one at a restaurant — which is realistic, as they are very active in the field–and you probably wouldn’t know it,” Bart notes.)

“Looking back on my last ten years here, this has by far been the best job I’ve ever had,” Bart reflects. “It’s easy to get behind what the Sisters are about. Their five critical concerns are women, immigration, non-violence, racism, and the earth. Like the other lay employees here, I want to do something good that helps the Sisters in their mission. That makes it really easy to come into work every day.”

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