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Sister Donna Markham, OP, PhD, Delivers Commencement Address at Seton Hill

May 30, 2019, Greensburg, Pennsylvania – Sister Donna Markham, OP, PhD, recipient of an honorary doctorate from Seton Hill University on May 11, 2019, charged members of the Class of 2019 with four principles – in eight words – for helping to make the world a better place. “Seek truth. Make peace. Extend mercy. Reverence life.” 

Attendees at Seton Hill University’s Commencement are, from left, Mary C. Finger, President of Seton Hill; Monsignor Raymond Riffle, Managing Director of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Greensburg; Sister Donna Markham, OP, PhD; and Bishop Edward C. Malesic of the Diocese of Greensburg, Pennsylvania.

Sister Donna has lived by those four principles throughout her years as an Adrian Dominican Sister. In conferring the Doctor of Humane Letters, Honoris Causa, on Sister Donna, Seton Hill University President Mary C. Finger noted that Sister Donna’s life’s work “reflects the Parable of the Good Samaritan.” As the first woman President and CEO of Catholic Charities USA, Sister Donna used the Good Samaritan as the model for the organization’s strategic vision, Dr. Finger said. “You asked the questions, ‘Who today is lying by the side of the road in need of help? Who has been forgotten or marginalized or denigrated or despised?” 

Dr. Finger also noted the contributions that Sister Donna has made as a clinical psychologist and in her work as consultant to the migration, domestic policy and racism committees of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and through global peace initiatives. “You provide hope to your neighbors across the country and around the world,” she told Sister Donna, who served as Prioress of the Adrian Dominican Sisters from 2004 to 2010.   

“I’m so humbled to receive this honor and to be with you on an extraordinary day in your lives,” Sister Donna told the graduates. She noted her own privilege also to minister at Catholic Charities USA, which annually serves 10 million people suffering from poverty, hunger, homelessness, mental illness, discrimination, and natural disasters.

“For those of you who are graduating today, I’d like to invite you to be agents for the good in applying your scholarship and training toward creating a society that’s more compassionate and more respectful of differences,” Sister Donna said. She expounded on the four principles by which the graduates can make to help to create a better world.

  • Seek truth. “As beneficiaries of a higher education, you join a long line of scholars committed to searching for truth to address the social and moral dilemmas of our times,” Sister Donna said. While truth can be found in many ways – through study, dialogue, and discernment – Sister Donna especially encouraged the graduates to engage respectfully in “difficult conversations on difficult topics” with people who hold different views. “Always seek what is true,” she said. “Never waver from what is the right thing to do on behalf of those who have been left out or struggle to make it through life.”

  • Make peace. Noting the “deeply disturbing divisiveness of our time,” Sister Donna encouraged the graduates to focus on reconciliation, the building of relationships, and “respectful engagement” with those who have different perspectives. “You and I are charged with finding ways to counter the culture of division by serving as agents of reconciliation and peace-building.”

  • Extend mercy. Sister Donna noted that not all people have the opportunity in their daily lives to work directly with the “poorest of the poor,” but added that all people need mercy and compassion. “How we treat one another, how we treat our families, how you will treat your co-workers and your colleagues, how we respond to the homeless folks living under our cities bridges – this is the measure of our mercy,” she said. She told the graduates that their lives will give witness to mercy through “the kindness of your actions and just as significantly, in any words you may speak or write.”

  • Reverence life. Noting the “wanton destruction of life” in our world today, Sister Donna reminded the graduates of Pope Francis’ call to “hear and connect the cry of the Earth with the cries of the poor.” All are connected, and all of creation is sacred. “The challenge for each of us who are inheritors of advanced education is how we will use our knowledge, our writing, our scholarship our speaking, our teaching, to address these cries.”

Seton Hill University, chartered by the Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill in 1918 as a women’s college, now enrolls about 2,200 men and women. Watch the entire Commencement program. The conferral of the honorary degree and Sister Donna’s address begin at about the 26:25 marker.


Catholic Charities in Adrian Takes Hard Look at Child Sexual Abuse

May 29, 2019, Adrian, Michigan – One in four girls and one in six boys experience sex abuse before they reach the age of 18, yet the vast majority of these cases are preventable if children, parents, teachers, and other community members receive the proper training to be aware of child sex abuse.
That was the message that some 165 community leaders in Lenawee County heard as Catholic Charities’ Child Advocacy Center (CAC) of Lenawee County presented a workshop in late April. The workshop featured a keynote address by Jenna Quinn, a survivor of child sex abuse, and her mother, Kelly Quinn. Both told the story of Jenna’s abuse at the hands of a trusted family friend and the impact it had on Jenna and her entire family. Read more about this workshop in this article by Spencer Durham in The Daily Telegram.

Sister Pam Millenbach, OP

“This event could be considered an early step in creating a trauma-informed community in Adrian,” said Sister Pam Millenbach, OP, a Licensed Master Social Worker who for the past eight years has worked in the foster care program at Catholic Charities of Jackson, Lenawee, and Hillsdale Counties. “One of the goals of the Child Advocacy Center is to promote trauma-informed communities, which involves education and bringing people together in facing trauma such as sex abuse of children.” 

The CAC, established in November 2017 in Adrian, offers a “child friendly” place where children who have faced sexual or severe physical abuse can receive the support they need while working with social workers and law enforcement in the prosecution of the case. “In the past, children under the age of 18 suspected of suffering from sexual and/or severe physical abuse were secondarily traumatized by multiple interviews with police, Child Protective Services, prosecutors, and invasive exams in hospitals,” Sister Pam said. Through the CAC, children only undergo one interview and receive the crisis counseling and support they and their family need. 

Amanda Davis Scott, Director of the Lenawee County Child Advocacy Center (CAC) of Catholic Charities, welcomes participants to the workshop.

“It’s nice to have a place where children can come and feel supported and know that they’re not alone in this scary situation,” said Amanda Davis Scott, Director of the CAC in Lenawee County. “It’s very empowering for children to speak about the experience and be told it isn’t OK – and for the child to realize that it was not their fault.”

Sister Pam said the Lenawee County CAC has received funding from the Adrian Dominican Sisters’ Ministry Trust. The continuing grant beginning in July 2019 will fund a key aspect of the CAC’s work of creating trauma-informed communities: prevention. “Prevention is the core of trauma-informed communities,” Sister Pam explained. “We are usually reacting to crisis, but 90 percent of sexual abuse can be prevented. That’s where education is so critical.”

One program, Darkness to Light, will begin in July. “Darkness to Light is a sexual abuse awareness program for adults,” including teachers, other professionals, and parents, Amanda explained. “We’ve already done some of these trainings for community and support staff of Lenawee County. Through Darkness to Light, schools can provide similar training to parents. 

Adults who receive this training are more aware of the possibility that a child could be suffering from sexual abuse – and would be more prepared to report the possibility, Amanda said. They would be more aware of the “red flags” in a child’s behavior and less apt to allow their children to fall victim to perpetrators who might appear to be friendly. “Stranger danger is a myth,” she said. “Ninety percent of perpetrators are people who have built a relationship of trust with the family.” 

The next phase is the education of children, Amanda said. A special program – Child Help Speak Up Be Safe – is offered to children in Pre-K through 12th grade. The program focuses not only on sexual abuse but also on cyber safety and bullying, “different areas where children are apt to be victimized,” Amanda said. Children will receive programming throughout their years in school, focusing on different areas according to the students’ age. “Cyber safety goes for older kids, but touch for younger children,” she noted.

Following the April presentation, a group of 30 key representatives, including State legislators, state-wide Child Advocacy Center representatives, and various service providers from Lenawee County met. Next steps – furthering partnerships and input on how to create proactive, positive policies and procedures within the State of Michigan – were discussed, including enacting “Jenna’s Law,” requiring each school to adopt and implement a prevention policy that educates students, teachers, and parents on how to recognize and report child sexual abuse. Over half the country has adopted legislation reflecting the principles of “Jenna’s Law.”

Sister Pam said many of the children in foster children with whom she works have been victims of sexual abuse, and many have received services through the CAC program. She also works with the foster parents, many of whom are in tears.  “They have little or no experience with the behaviors the children exhibit and do not understand the effect on the brain that has occurred due to the trauma,” she explained. “We are finding through MRIs and other scans that the brains of children who have experienced trauma are not developing normally.” She provides educational material to the foster parents and discusses with them evidence-based techniques to work with the children.

Sister Pam compared trauma-informed communities to resilient communities, the focus of one of the four Enactments approved by the Adrian Dominican Sisters at their General Chapter of 2016. Through the establishment of a trauma-informed community in Lenawee County, “resilience is created through the initiation of an evidence-based educational prevention component, thus promoting the well-being of the community and its ability to address stressors from crises and sustain itself into the future,” she said.

Feature photo (top): Jenna Quinn, a survivor of child sexual abuse, gives the keynote presentation at a conference April 26, 2019, to help professionals in Lenawee County to form a trauma-informed community.

Kelly Quinn speaks of her experience as the mother of Jenna Quinn and of what her family learned about child sexual abuse from Jenna’s experience.


 

 

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