Nearly 60 students received diplomas or GED certificates as Next Step Learning Center celebrated its graduation and National Adult Honor Society induction on July 27 in Oakland, CA. It was an especially satisfying day for the two Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary who co-directed the center for more than two decades.
Sisters Cynthia Canning and Rosemary Delaney were among those who applauded the graduates, who included eight community college graduates, and the nine students who were inducted into the honor society. “It was wonderful to witness this milestone for people who have most likely never been recognized before for any accomplishment. They have demonstrated true grit and stayed the course,” they said.
One student named Cha’Shonn said, “I left Next Step but came back; I left again, but came back; I left again and came back and stayed, got my GED, just earned my AA at Merritt Community College, and am enrolled at San Francisco State where I will start in August.”
“The spirit of Next Step got inside of me and carried me through to earn my GED and finish what I started to do at many other programs,” said another student. A third student commented, “Being at Next Step is about more than reading and studies; it’s about continuing on with your life path after getting off track.” And a fourth student added, “There are angels at Next Step who work with you as tutors.”
Melinda, who is a long-time Next Step volunteer, shared these thoughts: “Couldn’t you tell from the crowded parking lot and balloons that we were about to experience a wonderful afternoon? As soon as I parked my car, I began to see graduates posing for photos in their caps and gowns, grinning despite themselves. Inside the gym was another story: live music from the guitar and drums duo, little kids, seniors, even infants all there to witness a grad, tutors galore and Next Step staff. I found one of the few remaining empty chairs and sat between a woman whose fiancé was graduating and another woman who was cheering for two nephews. The formal program began with Elgar’s familiar ‘Pomp and Circumstance’ as the graduates marched in. From then on, we were treated to wise words from Next Step staff, words of support and encouragement and pride in all that had been accomplished. Interspersed, as noted on the program, were prepared speeches by selected students. Their sentiments were echoed, one after another, by the graduates. I couldn’t count how many versions of ‘thankful,’ ‘patience,’ ‘persistence’ and ‘supported’ were expressed. Not surprisingly, those very same descriptors seemed to fit many in the crowd, tutors included. Next Step rocked!”
The Sisters of the Holy Names founded Next Step as an adult literacy program in 1994 to address the high dropout rate in Oakland. It brings together participants pursuing educational and life goals with more than 70 volunteer tutors. Sisters Cynthia and Rosemary led the center until last year, when Lisa Stringer became its executive director.
Next Step Learning Center celebrates the graduation of 60 students on July 27, 2017.
Next Step Learning Center celebrates graduation of 60 students July 27, 2017.
Cha’Shonn delivers a speech during Next Step Learning Center’s graduation ceremony on July 27, 2017.
We, the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, are members of an international community of Catholic women religious, 425 of whom are United States citizens living and ministering in California, Oregon, Washington, Mississippi, Florida, Maryland, Michigan and New York. We are committed to “the full development of the human person” through education, social justice and collaboration with others in programs that promote systemic change to protect the human rights of individuals and communities. We were appalled by the facts from the Congressional Budget Office regarding the effects of the American Health Care Act (AHCA) passed by the House of Representatives last month. We want the Senate to be aware of our distress that the Act goes against the principles and values of our country, our Christian beliefs and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal “to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.”
According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report, under the AHCA:
- 23 million Americans would become uninsured.
- Medicaid would be cut by $834 billion and 14 million low-income and disabled Americans would lose Medicaid coverage.
- Low-income senior citizens could see premium increases as high as 800% while the richest Americans would see their premiums drop, plus enjoy a multi-billion-dollar tax cut over 10 years.
- Current funding levels will cover only 110,000 individuals of the 2.2 million ACA enrollees with a pre-existing chronic condition at present.
- Cost of maternity care could also increase by thousands of dollars since the abolished ACA provided prenatal and pediatric care to 9.5 million previously uninsured women.
- States could drop coverage for those needing mental health and substance abuse care.
We want the Senate to take a firm hand in correcting the House’s law and to create a new Act that respects the dignity of every American, provides for those who are the poorest and most vulnerable and does not favor the wealthy with special privileges at the expense of mentally or chronically ill persons.
We urge all Senators as strong and principled leaders to recall and be guided by the January 18, 2017 statement of the U.S. Catholic Bishops: “…all people and every family must be able to see clearly how they fit within and access the health care system in a way that truly meets their needs,” emphasizing that “health care should be truly universal and genuinely affordable.”
While working on the Senate Health Care Bill, we urge the Senate also to develop a law that embodies Pope Francis’ statement of May 7, 2016: “Health, indeed, is not a consumer good, but a universal right which means that access to healthcare services cannot be a privilege.”
In keeping with their commitment to “welcome the stranger among us,” the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary (SNJM) have overwhelmingly adopted a corporate stand expressing solidarity with migrants and refugees.
Affirming the corporate stand involved in-depth study, dialog, prayer and finally a vote by the entire SNJM community in countries where they minister, including the United States, Canada, Peru, Brazil and Lesotho.
The corporate stand represents a commitment to unite with others in response to the ongoing world crisis of human migration and strong anti-immigrant bias. About 65 million people who have been forcibly displaced face suffering not only from violence, poverty and illness but from government policies that feed widespread fear and persecution of immigrants.
“Members of the SNJM community have long supported immigrants through public actions such as vigils, marches and letter-writing campaigns, as well as countless quiet acts of solidarity and hospitality toward refugee families and individuals. Our corporate stand will give new impetus to these actions,” said Maureen Delaney, SNJM, Provincial of the U.S.-Ontario Province.
The Sisters of the Holy Names and their Associates based their decision on Gospel values, Catholic social teachings and their community’s unique mission – the full development of the human person through education, social justice, contemplation and the arts.
The Corporate Stand on Migrants and Refugees is the third formal corporate stand by the Sisters of the Holy Names. The Congregation adopted the Corporate Stand against Human Trafficking (2004) in opposition to the exploitation of women and children for sex and forced labor, and the Corporate Stand on Water (2008) to affirm that access to clean water is a basic human right. The full text of the corporate stands can be found at www.snjmusontario.org/corporate-stands.
Just before Easter, two Associates of the Sisters of the Holy Names completed a project to gather hundreds of long-sleeved shirts to protect migrant workers in Florida from agricultural health hazards.
Most people don’t wear long sleeves in Florida because of the warm weather, but Sharon and Chuck Dunham – both Associates from Albany, NY – say local farmworkers desperately need them to limit dangers including burns from liquid and wind-borne chemical pesticides. Working with another couple at their “snowbird” home parish in New Smyrna Beach, FL, the Dunhams dedicated themselves throughout Lent to collecting, purchasing, sorting and folding 1,300 shirts.
The project began with a challenge from the Diocese of Orlando, which Father Patrick Quinn of Our Lady Star of the Sea Parish in New Smyrna Beach was quick to accept and share with the parish’s Human Ministry team. Sharon and Chuck teamed up with another couple to organize the shirt-collection effort. They decorated giant cardboard boxes with wrapping paper and placed them at strategic collection points in the church and parish center. It didn’t take long before the boxes were overflowing.
“I tell you, something like this you do have to work at. You can’t just let the clothes pile up and think you’ll deal with it all at the end,” Sharon said. “Twice a week, we would meet to sort them, because there were shirts for both men and women, and fold them.” A number of parishioners who didn’t own any long-sleeved garments donated cash, which the Human Ministry team used to shop for shirts at second-hand clothing stores.
Sister Bea Hall in Albany, where the Dunhams live during the non-winter months, called the project a great example of practical caring and taking action “where you are, with what you have.” The couple has never allowed distance to be a barrier, she added. When they lived far north of Albany, they would make the 5-hour round trip to participate in gatherings with other Associates and the Sisters.
The two Associates were in for a shock when they delivered the shirts to a tiny building that serves as a resource center for migrant workers in nearby Pierson, FL, an area that supplies much of the U.S. demand for ferns for floral arrangements. “I was pretty taken aback,” Sharon said. “There were, I think, two small plastic bags of clothing and a case and a half of beans. That’s all they had for resources, and people were lined up outside waiting for help.”
The Dunhams wanted to share their story because the project would be easy for others to duplicate in their own communities. “It worked out very well. It was something that was doable. We didn’t have to have money or anything. The parish put it in the bulletin, that’s all,” Sharon said. “Sometimes you want to do something, but you don’t know what you can do. This was simple.”
In the photo: Chuck Dunham (at left) delivers bags of shirts to the migrant worker resource center in Pierson, FL along with fellow parish member Bob Hellmann (center) and the resource center manager.
The five leaders of the U.S.-Ontario Province of the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary have mailed a letter to all Catholic members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives asking them to help rescind recent executive orders affecting immigrants to the United States. Below is the text of the letter.
As the Provincial Leadership Team of the U.S.-Ontario Province of the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, an international congregation of more than 1,000 Catholic Sisters and Associates, we reject the executive orders of President Donald Trump on immigration.
The January 25, 2017 executive order 13768 entitled “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States” is antithetical to the U.S. tradition of welcoming immigrants, the Christian Scriptures, and Catholic Social teaching. Our faith calls us to welcome the stranger and to love our neighbor. Two sections of the order are particularly egregious to us:
Section 5: Enforcement priorities expands broadly those who are considered a deportation priority with no regard to their length of time in the United States, family situation, or contribution to the U.S. economy. For many immigrants from south of our border their only disobeying of U.S. law is entering our country without documentation.
Sections 7 and 8: Additional Enforcement and Removal Officers and Federal-State Agreements call for the hiring of 10,000 additional Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents. The power of these agents is expanded to allow them to determine the level of threat of the persons they detain. Individual agents have little accountability to higher levels of authority for their judgments. Also, contrary to long-standing practice, state and local law enforcement personnel are now ordered to perform the functions of ICE agents.
We agree with Bishop Joseph S. Vasquez, chairman of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, about the harms of this executive order:
“… (It) eliminates important protections for vulnerable populations, including unaccompanied children and asylum seekers…. (It) constitutes the establishment of a large-scale enforcement system that targets virtually all undocumented migrants as ‘priorities’ for deportation…
The engagement of local law enforcement to enforce federal immigration law can undermine public safety by making many who live in immigrant communities fearful of cooperating with local law enforcement in both reporting and investigating criminal matters.”
We call on the U.S. Congress to do all you can to protect the vulnerable in our world, including refugees, immigrants and children. We denounce the actions called for in Presidential Executive Order 13768 and we respectfully ask you to work to rescind this executive order. We look forward to your response.
Mary Breiling, SNJM
Maureen Delaney, SNJM
Guadalupe Guajardo, SNJM
Margaret Kennedy, SNJM
Mary Rita Rohde, SNJM
U.S.-Ontario Province Leadership Team, Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary
Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon (EMO) announced today it will honor the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary (SNJM) as “Ecumenist of the Year” on May 11 at its Benefit Dinner and Awards Celebration.
EMO’s annual awards seek to “honor extraordinary individuals and organizations such as SNJM whose courage, moral vision and commitment to action have contributed profoundly to making Oregon, and the world, a better place,” the organization said in a news release. The Sisters have been ministering in the Northwest since Oregon became a state in 1859.
EMO cited SNJM’s commitments to education and justice, demonstrated by its recent partnership with EMO and the Albina Ministerial Alliance to bring the Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III to Portland in 2016. Rev. Dr. Moss delivered the annual Collins Lecture on “Redeeming the Soul of America: Race, Justice and Reconciliation.”
As a statewide association of Christian denominations, congregations, ecumenical organizations and interfaith partners, EMO brings people of faith together to improve the lives of Oregonians through community ministry programs, ecumenical and interreligious dialogue, environmental ministry and public policy advocacy.
The awards celebration will be held at the Portland Hilton Hotel, 921 SW Sixth Ave., following a reception and auction to benefit EMO’s ministries to the poor, the vulnerable, the hungry and the sick throughout the state. For more information, contact Carla Starrett-Bigg at (503) 221-1054, ext. 275, or email@example.com.
The 34th General Chapter Acts call on the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary to both “open wide our doors” in welcome and to respond to those who beckon for others to come through their doors. A recent insight trip to Haiti with the microfinance institution Fonkoze provided an opportunity for two people from the SNJM family to encounter a powerful example of what happens when this call is put into action.
Mary Ellen Holohan, SNJM, who is part of the Sisters’ Congregational Leadership Team, and U.S.-Ontario Province Chief Financial Officer Vicki Cummings participated in the February trip organized by Fonkoze along with church groups from Florida, New York, Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia. In the region around Mirabelais, Haiti, they had an opportunity to meet several participants in a Fonkoze program designed to help ultra-poor women in rural areas become financially self-sufficient. Fonkoze – its full name is Fondasyon Kole Zepòl, or the Shoulder-to-Shoulder Foundation – is among the programs the Province supports through loans.
Using a process adapted from Bangladesh, Fonkoze leaders select a rural area and hold community meetings open to all. They identify women at the meetings who lack subsistence food and viable shelter. Each woman who agrees to join the 18-month program is visited weekly by a case manager, and for the first six months she receives a subsistence stipend. As soon as she can construct an enclosure, she is given goats or pigs as assets. Gradually, through the weekly meetings to assess the past week and plan the next week, these women are able to achieve minimal food security, to put concrete over their mud floors and tin roofs on their tiny homes, and have their livestock multiply. They also get together monthly with other women participating in the program in the same community.
“We had opportunities to meet women at varied stages in the program and their progress was tangible,” said Sister Mary Ellen. By the final months, the women had increased confidence, were able to send their children to school and had dreams of how they could become more self-sufficient through small commerce projects. Almost all of the managers and leaders of this program are Haitians who are deeply committed to rebuilding their nation one person at a time.
Fonkoze supports the program through donations. It costs $1,500 to support one woman through the entire process. Through its financial support, the SNJM U.S.-Ontario Province is a vital participant in the mission of Fonkoze and its multiple microfinancing projects in Haiti. To learn more about Fonkoze, please visit their website at www.fonkoze.org.
The Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, U.S-Ontario Province Leadership Team recently joined an interfaith amicus brief supporting the case Darweesh v. Trump. The case challenges the President’s executive order of Jan. 27, which banned refugees coming from specified countries with predominant Muslim populations.
In keeping with the SNJM General Chapter Acts and Gospel value of “welcoming the stranger,” the Province joined over 50 interfaith groups in support of this case. Faith groups signing the brief include the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, Jewish Council on Urban Affairs, Massachusetts Council of Churches, African American Ministers Leadership and Catholic Charities Community Services, NY.
Here is the text of the Province statement in the brief: “We have great interest in this amicus brief because our values include welcoming and advocating for immigrants and refugees. Several of our Sisters and Associates work and volunteer with immigrants and refugees so we are familiar with the roadblocks and struggles they have to endure. We wish to be proactive in assisting and welcoming immigrants and refugees to the U.S.”
A discussion around the dining room table at Kateri House in Toppenish, WA led to a decision by Yakima Mission Centre members to write to the bishop of Yakima about supporting immigrants and refugees. At their Feb. 11 meeting, five Sisters and seven Associates shared the energy they feel about advocating for migrants and refugees, which emerged as a major priority during the SNJM community’s 34th General Chapter in July 2016. Most of those at the meeting work and/or volunteer with immigrants, and all have immigrant neighbors, friends and extended family. In their letter to the bishop, the Yakima Mission Centre members quoted from the Acts of the 34th General Chapter and asked to meet with him to see how they can more effectively collaborate with him in current and future diocesan support for immigrants and refugees in the Yakima Diocese.
As Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary of the U.S.-Ontario Province, a community of over 430 Catholic women religious, we were astounded to learn that refugees were being turned back and refused entry to the U.S., even though they had valid visas from our country. We join with other concerned citizens and members of many faiths in opposition to this action, since it is contrary to the values of our nation, our faith and our religious congregation.
The earliest members of our community – following Jesus’ message “I was a stranger and you welcomed me” – rescued Irish immigrant orphans abandoned at ports along the St. Lawrence River and housed them in their schools. Some Sisters in our congregation today in Canada and the U.S. sponsor or operate temporary homes, especially for women and families who are victims of economic or religious oppression, or refugees from war-torn countries throughout the world. Sisters in every large city where we are located are collaborating with others in local programs to assist refugees and immigrants as they become acclimated to a new home, a new country. Some of our Sisters are refugees themselves; most of our members are children of immigrants. We reverence the Muslim women, their families and their stories when they join with us at various holidays.
Pope Francis has reminded us recently of the connection between the migration crisis and human trafficking. This is an added concern for us, since anti-trafficking education and action have been a significant aspect of our ministry for the past 10 years. At our 2016 General Chapter, we recommitted ourselves “to partner with immigrants, refugees and indigenous people to resist racism, advocate for human rights and create welcoming communities.”
We pray for the safety of this country and invite persons of all faiths, people committed to justice, to join with us in prayer and action for a just and reasonable resolution to this unacceptable refusal to accept and welcome these immigrants displaced from their home countries by such violent and unjust oppression. They, too, have a right to safety and care.