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Sister Maureen Gallagher, OP, Returns to Centro Santa Catalina for Fundraiser
Sister Maureen Gallagher with Rosa Villele Hernandez in front of the products made by women at the sewing co-op

October25, 2022, Ciudad Juárez, Mexico – When Sister Donna Kustusch, OP, first came to Ciudad Juárez, Mexico in the late 1990s to work with Siena Heights University students at a soup kitchen, she became involved in the lives of the local women – first in a prayer community and then to address the needs of the people. Together, Sister Donna, Sister Eleanor Stech, OP, and the local women started Centro Santa Catalina with the people of Juárez.  

Anniversary Event

Six attendees of the anniversary fundraising event pose for a photo
Attending the fundraising event for Centro Santa Catalina are, standing, from left, Gloria Yanez, Rosa Villele Hernandez, Carlotta Arriola Rodela and her daughter, and Sister Jean Keeley, OP; Sister Maureen Gallagher, OP, in the wheelchair.

About 26 years later, Sisters Maureen Gallagher, OP, Jean Keeley, OP, and Nancy Murray, OP, traveled to El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juárez to celebrate Centro Santa Catalina’s anniversary, reconnect with the people, and observe the improvements in the city and in the lives of the people. 

The anniversary program involved a special presentation, Catherine of Siena: A Woman of our Times by Sister Nancy, who portrays St. Catherine of Siena – 14th Century Dominican mystic and reformer and the Patron Saint of Centro Santa Catalina – to parishes, schools, and other organizations around the world. Held at Loretto Academy Little Theater in El Paso, the event also included refreshments, a silent auction, and the opportunity to buy products made by women in the sewing co-op at Centro Santa Catalina. 

The Sisters’ three-day visit included lunch in El Paso with members of the Centro Santa Catalin’s board and other Sisters that Sister Maureen had come to know; a meeting with Bishop José Guadalupe Torres Campos of the Diocese of Ciudad Juárez; the fundraising program; and a visit to the Centro Santa Catalina and the community.

“It was wonderful to see the warmth and the welcome for [Sisters] Maureen and Nancy and to see how much the Center has grown – and how much bigger their influence,” Sister Jean said. “I was privileged to be Maureen’s companion.”

History of Centro Santa Catalina

In an interview, Sister Maureen recounted the history of Centro Santa Catalina, which began as a women’s prayer group in a chapel near the city’s garbage dump. Eventually, learning from the women that they needed money to buy food and send their children to school, Sister Donna helped the women to start a sewing co-op to earn their money. 

Since then, the Center has become a faith-based community for women who are economically poor, offering a Homework Help program for children, a daily lunch program, computer and sports programs, and monthly prayer gatherings. Sister Maureen describes the Center as a community. “Every single woman lost an immediate family member or other relative to the [drug] cartel,” she said. “They supported one another” through these tragedies.

Sister Maureen said that Sister Donna invited her in 2006 to serve as marketing director for the products made by the women in the sewing co-op. 

Based in El Paso, Texas, Sister Maureen focused on selling the women’s products in the United States. While her predecessor had sold the women’s products at five parishes in El Paso, Sister Maureen expanded the outreach. By the time she left the ministry in 2019, she said, “almost every parish in El Paso would sell some of the products before Christmas.” She also sold the products at conferences and asked other Adrian Dominican Sisters to help in the sales when they attended conferences.

Thanks in part to Sister Maureen’s marketing, the women in the co-op earned enough money to make a living. “When I was there, there were 30 co-op workers,” she recalled. “They take care of their own budget. They pay the bills first and then buy the material. If anything is broken, they fix it and then they get their share. So, they really know how to run the co-op.”

But the co-op did more than help the women earn money. “They grew really confident,” Sister Maureen recalled. “When I first got there, they would look to the ground with their heads down and wouldn’t speak. Now they stand up straight and look you in the eye.” 

Sister Fran Hickey, OSF, stands with five seated tutors for the Homework Help program
Sister Fran Hickey, OSF, teaches tutors for the Homework Help program.

Improving Lives

Sisters Maureen and Jean saw other improvements in the lives of the women and in the Center during their recent visit. The Center is now directed by Rosa Villele Hernandez, a Mexican woman who had been in religious life in a Mexican community. “With her religious background, she kept the spirituality program going,” as well as the programs for children in grades 1 to 5, Sister Maureen said. “She encouraged the women – tutors especially – to go to school, and we paid their tuition.” Some returned to work professionally at the Center, she added, while others found jobs elsewhere. 

Because she is a native of Mexico, Rosa obtained grants from the Mexican government and from foundations. Such funding enabled the Center to install solar panels and to provide purified water, Sister Maureen said. 

Sister Jean noted that a grant from a Mexican foundation has provided funding for the Center to add two nutritionists, a psychologist, a nurse, and drama teachers to its staff. “It’s greatly expanded the resources for people coming to the Center,” she said. In addition, the Center draws help from healthcare students of the local university. 

Rosa “has connections we never had,” Sister Maureen pointed out. She especially wants Adrian Dominican Sisters to know that, in the tradition of missionary work, a ministry begun in part by Adrian Dominican Sisters from outside of Mexico has now been turned over to the people from Mexico.


Feature photo at top: Rosa Villele Hernandez, left, Director of Centro Santa Catalina, and Sister Maureen Gallagher, OP, sell products made by the women at the sewing co-op.

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Avatar  Rene Weeks, OP last yearReply

Wonderful to see Maureen and to read about her visit to El Paso! So glad she could make the trip to reconnect with all those folks she helped so much. I was privileged to live with Maureen for three years while I was the Director of Centro Santa Catalina. And we were very fortunate to find Rose Elida when it became apparent that the Center needed leadership in Mexican hands.
Please give my greetings to Maureen!

Avatar  Ginny King last yearReply

Wow! The center has come a long way! I am thrilled to read about its progress. Donna and Eleanor arrived in El Paso at the same time I arrived in Berkeley California 1992. In the late 90's our Alavida mission group visited Donna and the women of Juarez for a true experience of the project and met several participants. I was an awakening for us to experience what already had been accomplished. We also purchased articles that the women had made. I told Donna at the time that this was the start of something big and growing. We were welcomed with open arms and hugs. I only wish I could have known Spanish to speak directly with the women. Maureen has carried on the spirit of Santa Catalina with her ability to promote the program and sell the products. All involved have done marvelous work. May you continue and enjoy the blessings of St. Catherine and the prayers and good wishes of all the Adrian Dominican sisters and associates.
God bless you and keep you moving ahead.
Ginny King, OP



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