Providing Safe Housing for Families in Los Angeles

June 7, 2024

Since 1996, Alexandria House (AH) in Los Angeles, California has provided safe and supportive housing for women and children who are in the process of moving from emergency shelters to economic stability and permanent housing.

Central to this ministry are the programs that support this dramatic change from shelter living to independent living in the context of community. AH reaches out to the broader neighborhood community by providing educational and enrichment opportunities for neighbors as well as residents. AH consciously and practically creates a cross-cultural environment that is anti-racist and promotes the values of mutuality, dignity and respect.

AH has a proven record of transitioning women and families. When families leave Alexandria House for secure permanent housing, they are economically stable. The staff continues to provide ongoing support to help them thrive and remain in their own homes, and 92% of the families remain in permanent housing.

Former resident Jamese Banks summarizes her experience this way: “As a child, I was aware of homelessness but did not experience it. Later in my life because of job complications, I became one of the unhoused women in Los Angeles. I found Alexandria House and my life turned around. Being among other residents, mothers and staff members pushed me into being my best self. We are resilient women.”

Through the years, three religious communities and many generous individuals donated to repair buildings and support programs, and several became a ministry of presence. The Immaculate Heart Community purchased the first house; Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet Judy Vaughan is the director; and Holy Names Sisters Anna Keim and Susan Maloney provide ministry support in a variety of ways.

Alexandria House

Holy Names Sisters Susan Maloney and Anna Keim with Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet Judy Vaughan.

Several years ago, Sister Anna created an annual “Homelessness Solidarity Retreat” that takes place during a weekend at Ramona Convent Secondary School. Each year, Sister Judy brings a woman who has experienced homelessness to share stories with the girls on the retreat. The students sleep overnight in cardboard boxes in the English courtyard. The next day, they serve meals at shelters, including Alexandria House.

Next door to the original AH is the Immaculate Heart Community residence. Many of these apartments house AH women as they transition to independent living. Sister Susan, whose office is in this building, has developed friendships with the women through conversation and listening, giving emotional and spiritual support as part of her ministry. Sister Susan also provides clothing and general help when needed.

Holy Names Sisters in Southern California provide support in many ways. For example, AH received a grant from the Province Pandemic Relief Fund to provide financial support to families experiencing hardship due to the Covid crisis, especially with food, hygiene items, emergency support and childcare. Through the initiative of Sisters Jo’Ann De Quattro and Jennie Lechtenberg, AH also received funds from the Province to support the purchase of an additional building.

Sisters see collaboration with Alexandria House as an extension of the SNJM ministry and commitment to women, children and immigrants.

SNJM Endorses Joint Statement on the Conflict in Israel and Gaza

“A Call for Peace in the Middle East: A Joint Statement on the Conflict in Israel and Gaza” was published on Feb. 14 on the Archdiocese of Seattle website. We, the Leadership Team of the Sisters of the Holy Names U.S.-Ontario Province, along with leaders from women’s religious communities and several Bishops in the Northwest, endorse this statement.

A Call for Peace in the Middle East

A Joint Statement on the Conflict in Israel and Gaza

A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation, and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children;
she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more.
(Jeremiah 31:15)

The leaders of the women’s religious communities in the Northwest, along with several Bishops in the Northwest are deeply troubled by the escalating war between Israel and Hamas after the horrifying attack by Hamas on October 7, 2023.

We deplore the violence of the Hamas attack against Israel, just as we deplore the disproportionate violence against Palestinians in Gaza with months of indiscriminate bombing by Israeli forces — all while medical and humanitarian assistance are withheld from innocent civilians.

More recently, the widening of the conflict, as additional nations from the Middle East and the West become involved, is of great concern. Besides the terrifying destruction caused by attacks on both sides, there has been a significant increase in anti-Semitism and Islamophobia throughout the world, which exacerbates the sin of racism and ignores the dignity of the human person.

As Catholics, we pray for a peaceful end to the war in Israel and Gaza, which is destroying innocent lives and devastating families, and invite all people of faith to pray and advocate for a peaceful resolution. We call for a humanitarian cease-fire, knowing that the continued fighting will not resolve the root causes of this relentless cycle of violence but, instead, sow seeds of intergenerational hatred and animosity. We also fervently pray for the immediate release of all hostages and for everyone who is suffering due to the inhumanities and violence inflicted by this war.

Peace is needed now. Accountability rather than retribution is needed now. Language that speaks of peace and reconciliation without words of violence and vengeance is needed now.

We urge a return to negotiating a two-state solution and call on the international community to reengage in active and sustained support for a just and lasting peace. We also urge the United Nations and relevant authorities to investigate all war crimes and violations of international humanitarian law committed on October 7, 2023, and beyond, as well as those committed in retaliation in the ensuing months, so that truth prevails, and accountability is ensured.

Finally, we call on all parties to fulfill the requirements for peace expressed by Pope Francis in his 2020 Peace Day statement:

“Peace and international stability are incompatible with attempts to build upon the fear of mutual destruction or the threat of total annihilation. They can be achieved only on the basis of a global ethic of solidarity and cooperation in the service of a future shaped by interdependence and shared responsibility in the whole human family of today and tomorrow.”

Spreading the Peace of Christ,

Sisters of Providence, Mother Joseph Province
Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, U.S. Ontario Province Leadership Team
Sisters of St. Benedict, Lacey, WA
Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia
Dominican Sisters of Adrian, MI
Dominican Sisters of Tacoma, WA
Leadership Team Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace
Most Rev. Paul D. Etienne, Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Seattle
Most Rev. Eusebio Elizondo, Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Seattle
Most Rev. Frank Schuster, Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Seattle
Most Rev. Joseph J. Tyson, Bishop of Yakima
Most Rev. Jeffrey Fleming, Bishop of Great Falls – Billings

Educating Students in Rural Peru

February 3, 2024

Sister Ana María Vilca Mamani hadn’t lived in her small hometown of La Curva, Peru for more than 20 years, but the arrival of the COVID pandemic found her there again, caring for her parents far from her usual ministries in Lima. Being in La Curva increased her awareness of local needs, especially the desperation facing poor rural families after schools shut down.

“Their children could not follow the virtual education offered by the government, and this for different reasons: not having a computer, not having the internet or not having a good connection, or simply because they don’t know how to use virtual platforms,” she said. “This reality has challenged me and from our charism as educators I have wanted to respond to this problem, providing a healthy and safe learning space.”

Sister Ana María saw that children were eager for in-person school, and knew it was important to have committed professionals teaching in a comprehensive way. In response, she created the School Reinforcement Program, which fills the educational gap until regular classes can resume.

Sister Ana Maria Vilca and students

Sister Ana Maria with her students.

Enrollment has grown to 102 boys and girls, ranging from 7 to 12 years old, during the past two years. Students come from both La Curva and the nearby town of Alto Ensenada. Juan and Guillermo, ages 7 and 9, are the first to arrive every day, always wearing smiles. Their mother had to migrate to Chile due to the public health crisis, leaving them with grandparents. The program gives them something special to look forward to, with teachers who support them in their progress.

Another child, Juan, who is 11, was unwilling at first when his mother brought him. “I proposed to Juan that he stay that day to ‘look,’ and that if he didn’t like it, he wasn’t obliged to come back,” said Sister Ana María. Juan did return and even invited friends to come, too. As an only child, it turned out that being with other children was his strongest motivation.

In the future, Sister Ana María hopes that the program can continue to reinforce learning at the primary and secondary levels, joining efforts by the local government to improve education for the next generation of Peruvian children.

Sister Ana Maria's students

Supporting Immigrant Families in Albany

January 24, 2024

In recent years, the Spanish-speaking population of Albany, NY, has been swelling, along with needs that Sister Grace R. Diaz is uniquely prepared to meet. Through her ministry as pastoral assistant at the Shrine Church of Our Lady of the Americas, Sister Grace worked with Mary Giordano and Father Frank O’Connor, the founding members of Family Promise of the Capital Region, to help immigrant families in need of affordable and safe housing.

As the daughter of immigrants from Mexico and Costa Rica who met in the U.S., Sister Grace’s first language was Spanish. Her family owned and lived in a Mexican restaurant in a then-rural area of Maryland during the ‘40s and ‘50s. That experience gave her an understanding of similarities and differences among people from different Latin American cultures, as well as the fairly typical American life of her neighbors and schoolmates.

Family Promise of the Capital Region is a community response to family homelessness that got started in 2015 with the help of faith communities, foundations, businesses and individuals. Financial support from the SNJM Ministry Grant fund has been an essential resource. Mary Giordano is now the organization’s executive director and Father O’Connor serves on the board. Sister Grace continues as an active volunteer.

Sister Grace Diaz

Sister Grace Diaz (center) spends time with community members of Family Promise.

Because she is a Sister, traumatized families quickly develop a deep level of trust that opens them to Sister Grace’s guidance. A typical situation occurred when Sister Grace and Mary Giordano orchestrated legal assistance and translation services for a single-parent homeless family from El Salvador struggling to get through the asylum application process. At the same time, the supportive housing provided by Family Promise made it possible for the family’s daughter to earn her high school diploma in 2021, a year complicated by Covid.

Sister Grace sees her ministry with immigrants in the Albany area as continuing the SNJM tradition of responding to today’s needs and meeting them as they arise. She is grateful to her family in the U.S. and Latin America and to her SNJM community who make possible the use of her homegrown and experiential gifts to welcome and reach out to “the stranger” in her community.

Advocating for Women and Children at the United Nations

January 3, 2024

In 2000, Sister Catherine Ferguson invited members of the U.S. Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) to form a coalition Non-Governmental Organization to advocate at the United Nations on behalf of women and children. In December 2001, six congregations met to develop a mission statement and budget, as well as to create the new organization’s name: UNANIMA International. The name begins with “UN” to represent the United Nations. “Anima” is from the Latin word for feminine “spirit” or “life principle.” It also represents a group acting with one heart and one mind.

Now with 22 coalition partners, UNANIMA works at the UN for structural change on behalf of women and children living in poverty, immigrants and refugees, and the welfare of our planet. At the center of its mission are women and children around the world, especially those struggling to overcome disadvantages and discrimination.

Sister Catherine Ferguson

Sister Catherine Ferguson

After more than a decade as UNANIMA’s Coalition Coordinator and five years as SNJM Congregational Leader, Sister Catherine returned to Spokane, WA. These days she continues a ministry of advocacy as Chair of the Board of NETWORK, a Catholic social justice lobby based in Washington, DC. In addition to NETWORK’s advocacy for federal policies to eliminate wealth and income gaps and to improve the well-being of our communities, leaders of the group have committed to an anti-racist focus and worked to include a diverse variety of people among its growing staff and board.

At home in Spokane, Sister Catherine is involved with The Fig Tree, an ecumenical newspaper committed to peace journalism by telling stories about people of faith. In its mission, The Fig Tree strives to support community efforts by connecting people through story-sharing that builds understanding, explores ideas, and promotes dialogue. Sister Catherine contributes as a board member and as part of the writing and editorial team that creates the monthly publication.

In all she does, Sister Catherine remains steadfast in her commitment to facilitate the cause of justice through transformative education.

More: Sister Catherine discusses the work of UNANIMA International on the SNJM’s Women on a Mission podcast. Click here to listen.

Panel Discusses Sister’s Essay on Ordination of Women

May 12, 2023

Georgetown University recently presented “Faith, Feminism and Being Unfinished: the Question of Women’s Ordination,” a panel discussion exploring a 1975 essay by Sister Anne E. Patrick (RIP) titled “A Conservative Case for the Ordination of Women.” The essay is included in Sr. Anne’s final published work, “On Being Unfinished: Collected Writings.”

The Georgetown discussion of Sr. Anne’s essay was in part a response to the October 2022 release of the Vatican synod document “Enlarge the Space of Your Tent,” which reflects a global call for inclusivity, including expanded roles for women in the church. A diverse group of theologians and thought-seekers discuss the history and future of women in the church, the intersection of gender and race in religion and a young woman headed to school for her master’s degree to become a minister shares how women religious before her expanded her perception of how she can pursue her charism.

Watch the recording of the discussion below (or here on the Youtube channel of Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs).


Statement by the National Black Sisters’ Conference on the Murder of Tyre Nichols

We encourage you to read this powerful statement from the U.S. National Black Sisters Conference on the murder of Tyre Nichols. We, the Sisters of the Holy Names of the U.S.-Ontario Province, stand with our Black Sisters as they speak publicly about Tyre’s death and the urgent need for systemic reform.

A Statement by the National Black Sisters’ Conference on the murder of Tyre Nichols

The New Year is barely a month old. We have just celebrated the national holiday honoring the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the warrior of peace, and the world sadly commemorated International Holocaust Remembrance Day. In a few days, we will celebrate Black History Month as we honor the achievements and contributions of African Americans in the struggle for freedom.

Yet here we are again grieving the death of another young Black man, Tyre Nichols, whose life was taken at the hands of five Black police officers on a night in a quiet Memphis neighborhood.

Tyre Nichols’ life at the age of 29 was taken before he had a chance to fulfill his purpose. This young man was not a person to be feared or perceived to be a threat. He was a son, father, and contributor to society; respected and loved by all who knew him. His only crime was being Black in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Violence against African Americans has been a fact of life in this country since the first slave patrols were created in the 1700s to apprehend runaway slaves. Historically, the system was designed to institutionalize terror against Black people.

The five Black police officers who brutally took Tyre’s life as he cried out for his mother; were indoctrinated into a corrupt system and freely chose to perpetrate violence against other Black people in the name of institutionalized racism.

Unfortunately, police violence is not new. The video of the incident is no different from other police footage, and the only difference is that the majority of the officers are Black!

In speaking to this fact, Mr. Nichols’ mother, RowVaugh Wells, stated:

“…And what they are doing to black communities is wrong. We’re not worried about the race of the police officers, and we’re worried about the conduct of the police officers. Policing in this country is focused on control, subordination and violence…society views black people as inherently dangerous and criminal…”

The National Black Sisters Conference is worried too! When will we wake up as a nation?

How many lives will it take? How often must we bear witness to the senseless killing of African Americans by the police? Where is the collective voice of our religious communities, African American organizations, and Church? The prophet Micah’s words speak to what the righteous are called to do: “The just God demands justice!” God demands a change of heart.

As we move into Black History Month, how will we answer a mother’s prophetic words on the sad occasion of her son’s death? What will we remember? How will this modern-day Black genocide be eradicated? Where do we go from here?

With righteous indignation, we all must act! Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. writes in his book, Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? “Freedom is not won by passive acceptance of suffering. A struggle wins freedom against suffering.” Let this be our rallying cry for justice!

As the National Black Sisters’ Conference, we are demanding JUSTICE FOR TYRE! and calling for:

  • Immediate passage of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2021 by Congress
  • More progressive oversite and accountability of police departments by the Justice Department
  • Local and State reform of policing, and
  • The end to police brutality that continues to plague Black and poor communities

Finally, we call on our Church to speak out in the name of the Gospel. This killing is a pro-life issue that is just as important as protecting the life of the unborn.

Tyre’s spirit cries out for justice, and we will continue to stand in the gap, crying out in the name of justice for our people.

United in the struggle for justice,

The National Black Sisters’ Conference

January 30, 2023

Ministering Where There Is a Need: Trinity Catholic School in Spokane, WA

School support for students without stable homes.

Trinity Catholic School in Spokane, WA, is in one of the state’s poorest neighborhoods. Students who live in poverty often experience trauma and emotional distress that disrupts their education. “Many of these students do not have a stable home life at all,” says Sister Irene Knopes, who secured a grant for Trinity to hire a part-time school counselor.

Trinity Catholic School Counselor Tony Schuh

Trinity Catholic School Counselor Tony Schuh.

As the new counselor began supporting students and their families, the impact was profound. “Having a counselor has made an astronomical difference in the social-emotional learning that we’re able to provide to the students,” said Principal Stacie Holcomb. This much-needed service is improving the educational experience for young people in Spokane.

Listen to an interview with Sister Irene Knopes and Trinity Principal Stacie Holcomb:

Ministering Where There Is a Need: Friendship Office of the Americas

Empowering women seeking human rights.

In 2014, Pope Francis wrote that migrants provide “an occasion that Providence gives us to help build a more just society.” That message reverberates at a ministry supported by Sister Carol Ries seeking to counteract forces that lead desperate people to flee Central America. The Friendship Office of the Americas has worked for years in Nicaragua and Honduras to document rights abuses where women have faced danger when they seek restoration of lost land or information about loved ones who have disappeared. “The quest for human rights is probably what is most visible and accompanying that is the leadership of women that is empowered by this project,” says Sister Carol.

Listen to an interview with Sister Carol Ries and Jennifer Atlee from Friendship Office of the Americas:

Ministering Where There Is a Need: St. Andre Bessette Church in Portland, OR

The joy of this places shines like a light.

Sister Linda Patrick at St. Andre Bessette Church in Portland, OR

Sister Linda Patrick assisting a guest of St. Andre Bessette’s community hospitality program in Portland, OR.

This past spring, Father Tom Gaughan, CSC related how six homicides occurred within walking distance of St. Andre Bessette Church in Portland, OR, just since Christmas Eve. “It’s saddening. In the midst of all that, the joy of this place shines like a light.”

Sister Linda Patrick is a long-time volunteer at the parish, helping to serve visitors who come seeking coffee, a meal, clothing and – most importantly – a welcome respite from the harsh streets. Father Tom shared that the SNJM Ministry Grant and the dedication of Sister Linda has helped the church “nurture community, restore hope and share God’s persistent love.”

Listen to an interview with Sister Linda Patrick and Father Tom Gaughan: