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October 18, 2021, Detroit – Sister Rosalie Esquerra, OP, was recently recognized for 48 years of dedication and commitment and for the lives she influenced for the good through her ministry at Life Directions. The Detroit-based organization – which Sister Rosalie co-founded – encourages young people in high school and beyond to work with and inspire their peers, helping them to recognize their own gifts and lead productive and happy lives.
Sister Rosalie was honored during Life Directions’ Spirit of Hope Tribute Gala.
“It’s been a wondrous journey,” she said of her ministry at Life Directions. She was one of the founders of the organization with Father John Phelps, CSsR, President and CEO; Father Alexander Steinmiller, CP; and Alexander and Judith MacDonald.
“Father John had initiated a conversation about the poor in Southeast Detroit,” Sister Rosalie recalled. “The five of us were caught up by that vision, so we initiated various programs,” including working in public schools. At the time, Sister Rosalie said, she was already involved in public schools, walking with the students through their various challenges, including local gangs.
Very early on, the co-founders began what has been their focus for much of their history: “peers inspiring peers.” Sister Rosalie, Father John, and Father Alex each began working with one high school in Detroit. “We initiated conversation groups with at least 15 students” in each school, Sister Rosalie said. “We asked teachers to send us students who are positive and have goals and students who are ambling along. The idea was peers inspiring peers.” During the first session, participants were invited to express their concerns, and the three leaders from Life Directions created modules based on those concerns.
“The impact on the schools was incredible,” Sister Rosalie recalled. Among the students who had been less purposeful, “grades went up, attendance improved, and the spirit in the school was positive.”
But, Sister Rosalie said, the focus of Life Directions was on young people in Detroit who were past the age of high school. Young adults were invited to a retreat, “Focus Life,” which helped them to see that each is a gift.
The focus during the retreat was still on “peers inspiring peers,” with groups formed of seven to nine achieving and non-achieving young adults. “They’d work in small groups and encourage and support each other,” Sister Rosalie said. “Their role was to share their journey, the journey dealing with hurts and heals, the joys and the special things that happened in their lives.”
After the retreat, Sister Rosalie said, the participants were invited to stay connected as a circle in their neighborhood. Married couples would continue to listen to, guide, encourage, and support them, she added.
In both programs, the staff of Life Directions focused on low-income neighborhoods in which gangs and gang violence were prevalent, Sister Rosalie said. “Years later, the neighborhoods are still doing well,” she said. “The impact in the neighborhood is still evident.”
The success of the program in Detroit led Life Directions to begin programs in Chicago; New Orleans; San Antonio, Texas; Tucson, Arizona; and Salem, Oregon. Since then, with the success of the program established in these areas, Life Directions turned its own focus solely on Detroit and Chicago, she said.
“One of the core values we hold is that you are a gift and I walk with you to help you see your gift, grow in your gift,” Sister Rosalie said, adding that seeing the gifts in others is also important. “All of us are gifts, and many times the focus that is given is on the downside of people’s lives rather than on their gift side, their caring side,” she said. “Sometimes that caring side is just a spark. By walking with people, recognizing them, encouraging them, they actual begin to value the gift they are.”
Many of the people Sister Rosalie worked with attended the gala tribute to her. “The people at the celebration were people we worked with in high school 50 years ago and people from retreats,” as well as from parish missions that Life Directions conducted, Sister Rosalie said. “It was really special to be there and see people who had met me at a retreat when they were a young person or had met me at school because of the peer motivation program.”
Many others who were influenced by Sister Rosalie could not attend the celebration because of COVID-19 restrictions. These include a group of Adrian Dominican Sisters, who created a video in tribute to Sister Rosalie. Watch the video by Sister Suzanne Schreiber, OP, and hear more about Sister Rosalie’s impact and influence.
Note: This article was updated on October 22, 2021, to include the video of the award ceremony.
October 13, 2021, Morris Plains, New Jersey – For the sixth year, Sister Donna Markham, OP, PhD, has been named one of the Top 50 Power and Influence executives of nonprofit organizations by The NonProfit Times (NPT). The 50 were chosen from among 300 top executives and were recognized as initiators, innovators, and leaders who worked as “day-in, day-out executives,” according to The NonProfit Times.
The 50 honorees were feted recently at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., at the Annual NPT Power and Influence Gala.
Sister Donna, the first woman to serve as President and CEO of Catholic Charities USA (CCUSA), was recognized for her commitment to immigrants. She is “one of the few nonprofit CEOs who went to the border on more than a photo-op tour,” according to Paul Cholery, Vice President and Editorial Director of NPT. “She and her network are showing how to care for detained immigrants.”
Immigration Advocacy and Refugee Services is one of the top priorities of CCUSA. Catholic Charities agencies around the country provide critical assistance to immigrants and refugees, as well as citizenship education and other services.
In April, Sister Donna traveled to the U.S.-Mexico border at El Centro, California, to get a sense of the situation at the border and to give her support to Catholic Charities workers struggling to meet the needs of the immigrants. Local Catholic Charities agencies set up shelters with food and clean clothes for immigrants coming out of detention and helped them get transportation to their friends or relatives in the United States.
“There’s no way you can look at that degree of human suffering and not be affected by it,” Sister Donna said. “My hat is off to the people in Catholic Charities who are doing this all the time, every day. Each one of them is a walking saint. They reach out in compassion and respect.”
Feature photo: Sister Donna Markham, OP, PhD, left, takes time to chat with William and his daughter, Julia, who came to the United States from Brazil during her recent visit to Catholic Charities shelters at the U.S.-Mexico border.