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Sisters Respond to Economic Injustice with Quiet Ministry of Lending

Community development investing is a quiet ministry for the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary. Although it’s low-profile, it’s a high-impact way of responding to the needs of people who have little or no access to credit.

By investing in people who would never qualify for a traditional loan, the Sisters leverage their financial resources to promote economic justice in low-income communities. These innovative and highly collaborative efforts bring together religious women from many different congregations who, as Gospel people, have committed financial assets to raising some of society’s least privileged people out of poverty.

How much does it take to make a difference? In 2013, the Sisters of the U.S.-Ontario Province acted to dedicate 3% of their investment portfolio to community investment initiatives. Province CFO Vicki Cummings, who has been involved with community investing for 30 years, says those funds have helped poor women in Haiti start small agricultural businesses, helped conserve land and clean water in the Pacific Northwest, and supported organizations in several states that assist low-income residents who need adequate housing, education, health care, food and jobs. And that’s just a few of those who have benefited.

In May 2017, Sister Rosemary Delaney and Sister Marcia Frideger had a first-hand encounter with the work of the Northern California Community Loan Fund (NCCLF), one of the organizations with which the Holy Names Sisters have a loan. At NCCLF’s 30th anniversary gathering in San Francisco, they met Sisters from other congregations who contribute to the same loan fund, as well as supporters from business and local government. As part of NCCLF’s commitment to California’s low-income communities, it has partnered with socially conscious impact investors and mission-driven organizations to promote affordable housing, education, health care, food, jobs and economic opportunity for individuals and families in need.

One of its recipient organizations is Planting Justice in Oakland, CA. It’s a grassroots organization with a mission to democratize access to affordable, nutritious food by empowering urban residents with the knowledge, skills and resources they need to work in food production. With an NCCLF loan, Planting Justice purchased 80,000 square feet of land in East Oakland to develop and expand a plant nursery. Planting Justice collaborates with San Quentin State Prison’s Insight Garden Program to provide inmates with training in permaculture gardening and employment opportunities after they are released on parole.

NCCLF also lends to Salud Para La Gente, which began in Watsonville, CA in 1978 as a storefront “free clinic” to serve the health needs of local farmworkers. Over the years, it has become a Federally Qualified Health Center with its main clinic in downtown Watsonville. In 2015, NCCLF provided tax credits financing to renovate and expand the main clinic. The expansion has allowed the clinic to increase services, including counseling and medical, dental and vision care for about 30,000 patients each year.

Community development investing is a gift that keeps on giving, according to Vicki, because nearly all the borrowers pay their loans back, making the funds available for reinvestment. This success rate is due to making the loans highly affordable, combined with proper due diligence to assure the borrowers’ repayment ability.

Rather than lending directly to individuals, the Sisters of the Holy Names work through several specialized community lending organizations. One of them is the Religious Communities Investment Fund (RCIF), a coordinated effort that pools investments from about two dozen women religious congregations to promote economic justice, compassion, human dignity and environmental stewardship.

Vicki, who serves on the RCIF board of directors, points out that the Sisters can support causes they care about both directly and through RCIF. Among the many recipients of RCIF loans worldwide, one example is Fonkoze, an entrepreneurial banking organization in Haiti that focuses on some of the country’s poorest women. In February 2017, Sister Mary Ellen Holohan and Vicki visited Haiti to witness how effectively Fonkoze is using low-interest loans to assist women in remote rural areas by first helping to meet their basic living needs, then accompanying them on the road to literacy, financial self-sufficiency and confidence. As a result, families that once struggled to survive are becoming assets to their communities. Fonkoze receives investments from the Holy Names Sisters both directly and through RCIF.

Community development investing by the Sisters of the Holy Names touches lives in places where Sisters have ministered for decades, including Latin America, Africa, upstate New York, Washington, DC, Florida, Oregon, Washington, California and Mississippi. The Sisters consider it part of their Gospel call to love their neighbors, and to live out their charism of the full development of all human persons.

Photo courtesy of Planting Justice (www.plantingjustice.org)

Collaboration: It’s Part of Our DNA

By Guadalupe Guajardo, SNJM

I like to think of collaboration simply as bringing things together as firmly as possible. As we examine our history, it’s very apparent that this dynamic element of collaboration is in our DNA as Sisters of the Holy Names.

We have been carrying out our charism and ministries through our daily activities in a collaborative spirit since our beginning days. Mother Marie Rose Durocher was integral in collaboration involved in running her priest brother’s parish in Quebec, Canada. And before long, she collaborated with two other young women to birth the Society of the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary (SNJM) in 1844.

Archival records also show we’ve been collaborating with the wider society ever since our arrival in Oregon in 1859. When babies were left at our doorstep, we founded the Christie Home for orphaned children. We’ve partnered with other religious orders in the Pacific Northwest since the arrival of our foundresses. We stepped in where the need for girls’ education was needed, while the Providence Sisters took the lead in the health and medical domains. This was a coordinated effort under the guidance of Bishop Ignace Bourget of Montreal, under whose patronage our Congregation began.

Collaboration has two cousins, "cooperation" and "coordination." Let's first understand the subtle but important distinctions in how they are related and deserving of their own “personalities.” This helps us notice how collaborative we in fact have been and continue to be today.

Coordination is about efficiency. Our Province managers and staff, with the guidance and direction of the PLT, coordinate many of our functions, from the separately incorporated institutions to health and well-being of our Sisters. Cooperation is about assisting and supporting larger efforts. We sit on the board of directors of nonprofits that ask for our presence.

Our Associates and Lay Consecrated women also cooperate in living out our vision, mission and charism. Recently, Sisters stepped in to cooperate with a vision of one our Associates who was inspired by the concept of intentional (pioneering) communities. This was one of the exciting dreams embraced during our 2016 General Chapter, the gathering every five years that brings together SNJM representatives from throughout the world.

Collaboration is undoubtedly hard work. Yet our Sisters happily take it on, knowing that their many joint efforts with others add up to a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. Today’s collaborations aren’t just accomplishing a lot for internal and external ministries. They’re helping us to reimagine religious life itself.

Whether we inch our way or make quantum leaps in the transformation of our SNJM religious order, we must stay steadfast in our commitment to working with others. No doubt the future will continue to be marked by the thumbprint of our SNJM DNA, leading us to ongoing collaboration, coordination and cooperation for the good of our society and world.

Guadalupe Guajardo, SNJM, is a member of the SNJM U.S.-Ontario Province Leadership Team.

Planted By Many Hands, a New Spiritual Direction Program Grows

By Molly Neville, SNJM

As petals begin to unfold on these warm May days by the Pacific Ocean, I’m anticipating a different kind of flowering: the first graduates are emerging from a spirituality program that was planted nearly three years ago at Villa Maria del Mar.

The Villa, which has served our Sisters as a retreat center in Santa Cruz, CA since the 1960s, has nurtured the spiritual direction education of nine women over the past 24 months. They will receive their Spiritual Direction or Spirituality Certificate from Bishop Richard Garcia at a Mass on May 17.

It’s a welcome blessing for the Diocese of Monterey, a rural mission diocese with no Catholic institution of higher learning where formal training for spiritual directors could be offered.

It all started when I arrived at the Villa for a vacation in September 2014. I found my mind racing with thoughts that first night – all because of a question asked by Sister Lois MacGillivray, who was then director of the Villa: "How can we make Villa Maria del Mar more of a spirituality center?"

I had connections among local pastors and parish leaders because of the 10 years I served as diocesan Vocations Director and Director of Evangelization. I couldn't sleep that night thinking about how this might come to be. I knew we were a strong hostess center. So I drafted a letter to the pastors and principals in the neighboring regions asking if they thought spiritual direction and some evening offerings on spirituality would be a possibility. They all responded affirmatively and said they would refer people to us.

The next challenge was finding the right people to staff the program. I teamed with Sister Lois and Lynn Rombi, who is now a Holy Names Associate. After meeting with retired Sisters trained in spiritual accompaniment, friends who are spiritual directors and interested lay leaders, we assembled a group of available spiritual accompaniers. Then Bishop Richard Garcia asked us to provide spiritual directors for new Permanent Deacon candidates. We were on our way! The Hurricane of the Spirit guided us.

Needless to say, I never got my vacation.

Those completing the Spiritual Direction program must receive at least 180 hours of training/supervision in active listening skills, the art of discernment and prayer development. Those receiving the Spirituality Certification must have 120 hours training in the same skills, in addition to designing and giving retreats under supervision.

Even before celebrating this milestone, we’ve already welcomed eight additional women who started a new session of spiritual direction training in March. The new students were drawn to our solid program of integrated learning – spirituality, theology, psychology, discernment – and hands-on training. Our spiritual directors meet with all kinds of people in our rural mission, where agriculture and tourism are major industries.

Participants come from many parts of Northern California. Pastors, principals and lay leaders of the Diocese collaborate with us on ideas, suggestions for leaders and referrals.

Today, the Villa provides a wide range of spiritual care including spiritual direction, monthly retreats, mentorship for retreat guides, and an annual summer “Intensive” session. This year’s Intensive theme is: “Renewal by the Sea: How to Live a More Mindful, Holistic and Centered Life in God.” It follows two previous summer sessions, “The Art of Discernment” and “The Joy of Pastoral Ministry: A Skills Intensive.”

I want to thank Sister Cheryl Milner, Director of the Villa for her championship and encouraging support and all the Holy Names Sisters and Associates who have been retreat directors, presenters and mentors for the program. Most especially, I want to thank my Spirituality Team of Sister Lois MacGillivray and Associate Lynn Rombi for their faithfulness, dedication and creativity.

This has truly been a collaborative ministry of the Spirit, an effort of love and joy. This outreach has brought amazing riches to individuals, parish groups, schools and all of us at the Villa.

In the photo: Sister Cheryl Milner, Associate Lynn Rombi, Sister Lois MacGillivray and Sister Molly Neville.

Sister Molly is Spirituality Coordinator of Villa Maria del Mar, owned and operated in Santa Cruz, CA by the Sisters of the Holy Names. Follow the Villa on Facebook or visit the website at www.villamariadelmar.org.

News from the Novice: Walking the Way of the Cross

By Michelle Garlinski, SNJM

Christ is risen – indeed He is risen!

I realize it has been a long stretch since my last update and all I can say is that life has been full. It is wonderful to be watching a glorious sunset as I write. I am appreciating the longer days and although we were surprised with some “white precipitation” last weekend, I am confident that God has it all sorted out now. While I was at Mass this morning, I was experiencing even more gratitude towards my parents today. Forty-seven years ago, they chose to have me baptized and gave me the gift that keeps on giving – faith!

My ministry at St. Mary’s Academy in Winnipeg continues to unfold. It seems like there are no two days alike in the Charism and Mission office! My primary focus in Lent was finalizing the coordination and preparations for the Public Way of the Cross, which we co-sponsored with the Archdiocesan Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry. It was a true experience of full community involvement. Though Good Friday started with thunder and lightning at 6:00 a.m., by the time the 1,700 participants arrived for the procession, the weather upgraded to cloudy and windy. It was a moving and humbling public expression of our faith. The SMA Winnipeg Facebook page has an archived copy of the live video that we provided for those unable to walk in the procession. You are also welcome to visit the online photo gallery.

As for the formation and day-to-day life of the Novice, Lent also afforded me opportunities to have necessary, grace-filled and honest conversations with God and those accompanying me on my formation journey. It has been a challenging year. I have learned more about religious life and myself through these experiences. I could name some of my needs as I live into the vows in very uncertain times. In response to these needs and in order to move forward in my discernment, I will move out of my current living situation in early May into a smaller apartment and live on my own. Although my preference is to live with others, it is not possible now. I am committed to living community alone, and the Manitoba and U.S.-Ontario provinces are dedicated to doing this with me. I remain open to whatever might develop, trying to KEEP CALM AND TRUST GOD.

I continue to gather with the young adults for faith sharing, and the space in the new apartment will facilitate this in the future. I resumed my commitment at Gonzaga following a Lenten hiatus. It is amazing to see the growth (physically, intellectually and socially) among the students. It felt like I was never away as they welcomed me back with such ease. Our Archdiocese has undertaken a Synod process, and I have been part of a focus group developing the recommendations and priorities for Youth and Young Adult Ministry. It was an intense and meaningful experience. I pray that we will be open to where the Spirit is calling us to go and grow as Church. It feels like there is lots of room for improvement!

I pray that you continue to experience the joy that permeates this Easter Season. May we hold in prayer the many people – Sisters, Associates, family and friends – who are now embracing the fullness of NEW LIFE with our loving God.

Blessed be the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary – Alleluia!

Note: Michelle Garlinski was received as a novice of the Sisters of the Holy Names in July 2015. During her first year living with Sisters at our Province’s welcome house in Berkeley, CA, she began sharing her journey through a series of "News from the Novice" letters. She is spending in her missionary novice year at St. Mary’s Academy in Winnipeg, Manitoba. To learn more about becoming a Sister and the SNJM formation process, please click here.

In the photo: Sister Michelle helps to coordinate the Public Way of the Cross procession in Winnipeg.

Youth Ending Slavery Representatives Inspired by UN Experience

Leaders of the Youth Ending Slavery group at St. Mary's Academy, Portland share this reflection about their recent participation in a major women's event at the headquarters of the United Nations. They were able to make the trip with financial assistance from the Sisters of the Holy Names.

This year we had the wonderful opportunity and privilege of visiting the United Nations headquarters in New York City and participating in the Youth Forum at the 61st Session on Commission on the Status of Women (CSW 61). The event is perfectly described by CSW as a “critical opportunity for young people and adolescents in all their diversities to convene in advance of the official opening of CSW to amplify their common concerns and advocacy efforts,” and that it was! As active members of the social justice community, we get excited about even the smallest events or gatherings in which we are able to share our opinions and fight for rights. Attending an event as big as the CSW ’61 was an amazing opportunity that we are incredibly thankful for.

What struck us most about the Youth CSW ’61 was the amount of diversity we experienced in fellow attendees. Knowing the event was taking place at the United Nations headquarters, we expected to see representatives from around the world, but we were nonetheless so impressed by the variety of countries in attendance. More than 600 participants attended the Youth CSW, and they came from more than 80 different countries around the world. On the first day, one could sit next to a man from India, befriend a woman from Uganda and hear speeches from people from Australia, Pakistan, Japan and more. Coming from a predominately white city like Portland, we found the experience of being immersed in such beautiful heterogeneity to be incredibly eye-opening.

It is at diverse and inclusive events like these that we hold up the efforts and concerns of youth where missions like ours are fulfilled. We were not only given a chance to share YES's work, but we were also invited to make our voices heard within the context of an international audience of individuals who share our broadest purpose.

Each one of us in attendance from the YES board felt inspired to expand our advocacy efforts in unexpected ways; as seniors anticipating moving to new campuses in the fall, we will bring with us this spirit of inclusion, curiosity, engagement and energy into our next roles, mobilized by the spirit of activism. And we shared our experiences with the younger members of the YES board who will carry on the important work moving forward.

We are so grateful for the support of the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, who helped us attend this event and who generously empowered us to bring our local nonprofit to new heights. It was an experience we will never forget, which has inspired each of us to advance our advocacy efforts in ways we never thought possible.

Katy Foley, President of YES
Natalie Bojarsky, Treasurer
Molly Kelleher, Policy and Expansion Director

In the photo, L-R: Natalie Bojarsky, Molly Kelleher and Katy Foley at the Youth Forum in New York City.