December 12, 2016, Boca Raton, Florida – Sister Carmen Álvarez, OP, received the Golden Rule Award from the Catholic Realtors of Boca Raton, Florida, in recognition of exemplifying and living out Jesus’ rule to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
The award ceremony was December 2 at the Royal Palm Country Club during a breakfast after the first Friday Mass. The Realtors gather for Mass on the first Friday of every month, and bestow the Golden Rule Award annually, usually in December.
“I was full of joy and surprise,” Sister Carmen said. “I did not know anything about this until I was presented with the honor. I became aware that I partner with the Catholic Realtors of Boca Raton in bringing the love of God to others.”
Sister Carmen was recognized for a life of service, beginning in her childhood years in the province of Havana, Cuba. She first worked with other children, and then, as she matured, felt called to minister to adults, said Sister Frances Madigan, OP, who gave a presentation on her life during the award ceremony.
Sister Fran noted priests in Cuba were asked to minister to three or four parishes and communities were “fortunate to see a priest maybe once a week.” Sister Carmen became active in keeping her church open every day for prayer, meetings, and social events. She continued this work even after churches were threatened and closed under the rule of the late Fidel Castro.
After Sister Carmen was arrested and spent two weeks in jail with 300 other women, her family sent her to the United States for protection. While serving at an immigration center in Miami helping families find sponsors among their families and friends, Sister Carmen met the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine de’ Ricci and became a member of the congregation. She transferred to the Adrian Dominican Sisters in December 2012.
Sister Carmen spent some time ministering in the north before she was again called to serve the refugees in Miami. She later ministered at St. Hugh and St. Helen Parishes, training parishioners to be catechists.
Sister Carmen’s last years of active ministry before retirement were spent at St. Joan of Arc Parish in Boca Raton, directing the parish’s Hispanic Ministry. The invitation by Monsignor John McMahon to serve at St. Joan of Arc has been among her favorite memories. “The people began to feel at home sharing their customs with others and being part of another culture,” she said.
Still active in her retirement, Sister Carmen serves St. Joan of Arc as co-director of the parish literacy center and, through her work with the Santa Ann Circle of the Council of Catholic Women, made up of more than 100 women who serve the parish through time, talent, and treasure. She also coordinates donations given to repair a leaky roof in her home parish in Cuba.
Sister Fran said that Sister Carmen offers “the gift of joy, the ability to forgive and forget, and to be a peacemaker in a world where this is much needed. She is a gift to this parish, the Adrian Dominicans and to all with whom she comes in contact.”
Feature photo: From left, Monsignor Michael McGraw, pastor of St. Joan of Arc Parish, Boca Raton; Sister Carmen Álvarez, OP; and Bishop Gerald Barbarito, of the Diocese of Palm Beach attended a ceremony in which Sister Carmen received the Golden Rule Award.
November 15, 2016, Oakland, California – Sister Elisabeth Lang, OP, a Dominican Sister of Vietnam and an Adrian Dominican Associate, received a Lifetime Achievement Award for about 40 years of service in resettling refugees.
The award was presented October 21 to Sister Elisabeth during a Grant Awards Luncheon hosted by the Diocese of Oakland’s Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) at the parish hall of St. Columba Church in Oakland.
“I was very surprised but I’m very humbled by their giving me an award,” Sister Elisabeth said. “I credit it all to the staff who have been working in the [refugee resettlement] program. They’re making everything possible.”
Sister Elisabeth was one of four Vietnamese Dominican Sisters who came to Adrian, Michigan, in 1968 to study at Siena Heights College (now University). She earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology and a master’s degree in education.
Sister Elisabeth had been in Adrian for about five years when Sister Rosemary Ferguson, OP – then Prioress of the Adrian Dominican Sisters – suggested that she minister temporarily with the Vietnamese refugees. “I asked if I could go to the local agency here [in Oakland]. A limited number of people could speak Vietnamese.” What had originally been a temporary assignment of a few months stretched into nearly 40 years of ministry to refugees from numerous nations.
Sister Elisabeth was first able to return to her Congregation in Vietnam in 1991 to celebrate her Silver Jubilee. When she returned to the United States Sister Donna Markham, OP, then on the General Council, suggested that Sister Elisabeth become an Adrian Dominican Associate. She has recently celebrated her Golden Jubilee with her Vietnamese community and her Silver Jubilee as an Adrian Dominican Associate.
Now Director of Refugee Resettlement for Catholic Charities of the East Bay, Sister Elisabeth spent her first years helping to resettle refugees from Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and other Indochinese countries. About 10 years ago, she said, the Vietnamese coming to the U.S. were regarded as immigrants rather than refugees. In recent years, Sister Elisabeth said, the largest number of refugees who are processed through her office come from Afghanistan – many of them translators and interpreters who had helped the U.S. military in their country.
Sister Elisabeth’s office is one of several Catholic agencies that work with the U.S. government to resettle refugees. Each year, Sister Elisabeth explained, the federal government agrees to take in a certain number of refugees and agencies are assigned a certain number of refugees.
“This year, beginning October 1, we were projected to receive 175 refugees,” Sister Elisabeth said. “In October alone, we worked with 43 people.” Last year, she added, Catholic Charities of the East Bay committed to resettling 150 refugees but instead worked with 173.
Sister Elisabeth’s office works with 18 parishes in the Diocese of Oakland. The parish teams are given very short notice – from one to three weeks – to find a suitable apartment for the family, furnish it, and drive to the airport to pick them up. Refugees also receive orientation to the U.S. culture, assistance in finding employment, help in enrolling in English as a Second Language (ESL) programs, health care, and immunization for their children.
“Some refugees who don’t speak English at all need a lot of encouragement,” Sister Elisabeth said. “If they put heart and soul into it, they make great progress.” Other refugees – those who had professional careers as doctors or nurses, for example – need to be recertified in their professions before they can resume work in their field.
Sister Elisabeth is heartened by the many success stories among the refugees. “I love the work I’m doing,” she said. “You see the people coming in exhausted and worried, but we’re here to walk with the people and help them to get the resources they need to feel comfortable in going to school, learning English, and finding jobs.”
Among the success stories are members of Sister Elisabeth’s staff. “We have a staff that speaks different languages and in many cases were refugees themselves,” she said. “They experienced being a refugee themselves, so they can help empower the refugees to go through the same process.”
“I never thought I would spend my whole life out here, but I love the work I’m doing and it’s a challenge, too,” Sister Elisabeth reflected. “Seeing a lot of successful families and individual people is very encouraging. I feel honored to work with and serve them, to walk with them and help them in whatever way I can.”
Read a related article in The Catholic Voice, newspaper of the Diocese of Oakland.
Feature photo: Bishop Emeritus John S. Cummins presents Sister Elisabeth Lang, OP, with the Lifetime Achievement Award. Photo by Albert C. Pacciorini, Courtesy of The Catholic Voice