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Sister Donna Markham, Named Top Executive, Addresses UN on Plight of Refugees and Migrants

September 27, 2016, Washington, DC – Sister Donna Markham, OP, PhD, President and CEO of Catholic Charities USA, was active in the public sphere in mid-September. She was honored on September 15 as one of the Non Profit Times’ (NPT) 2016 Power and Influence Top 50 non-profit executives and, the next week, spoke as part of a panel  on migrants and refugees at a side event at the United Nations. 

“Any recognition I receive is rightfully a tribute to the Adrian Dominican Congregation that has formed me, loved me and supported me throughout my religious life,” Sister Donna said in response to these events. 

The NPT Top 50 Gala, held at the National Press Club, gave the honorees and their guests the opportunity to meet and interact with one another. They also listened to a keynote address by David Wilkinson, Director of the White House Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation. Mr. Wilkinson spoke about the involvement of the White House with non-profit organizations. Honorees were then called forward one at a time to receive their special award from NPT.

In naming Sister Donna to the list of top 50 nonprofit executives – from a field of roughly 300 executives – the NPT noted her work to “break the image of Catholic Charities as solely a major emergency relief organization.” Her philosophy of “participative government” is bringing “unlikely partners to the table and changing how this $4.5 billion behemoth operates and collaborates.”

Sister Donna, former Prioress of the Adrian Dominican Sisters, is the first woman to head Catholic Charities USA, a national network of 164 agencies who serve people in need. Services include disaster relief, food banks and pantries, emergency shelter and a variety of housing options, educational and training opportunities for adults and children, and advocacy on behalf of those who are in need.

Since taking on the presidency of CCUSA in June 2015, Sister Donna has worked with the White House and both houses of Congress, imparting Catholic social values; represented Catholic Charities during Pope Francis’ visit to the United States in October 2015; and helped to coordinate organization’s vision for 2017-2022. 

“The ministry of Catholic Charities has been engaged in a process of identifying our strategic priorities for the next five years and articulating our vision for the future,” she wrote in a preface to CCUSA’s 2017-2022 vision.   

On September 19, Sister Donna described one of CCUSA’s 2017-2022 priorities – immigration and refugee services – while she spoke on a panel at a side event during the United Nations Summit on Refugees and Migrants. Sister Donna spoke of the growing numbers of migrants and refugees who take great personal risks to flee the dangers and hardship they face in their homelands and to find security and freedom in other countries. 

Through the years, Catholic Charities agencies have settled refugees in the United States; provided legal services to migrants seeking immigration status; and helped refugees and migrants to find “housing, school, employment and social support in their new communities,” Sister Donna said. She noted that Catholic Charities is part of the global Caritas Internationalis movement, which works “around the world to assist refugees and migrants.”  

Read Sister Donna’s entire address here.   

Watch the video of the panel discussion.

Sister Donna Markham Receives Honorary Doctorate from Dominican University

June 13, 2016, River Forest, Illinois – Sister Donna Markham, OP, PhD, first woman President and CEO of Catholic Charities USA, received an honorary doctorate from Dominican University, River Forest, Illinois, during the University’s Spring Commencement exercises. Dominican University was founded in 1901 by the Sinsinawa Dominican Sisters.

Sister Donna Markham, left, with Dominican University President Donna M. Carroll. Photo Courtesy of Dominican University 

A certified clinical psychologist, Sister Donna has held leadership positions in mental health agencies: the Behavioral Health Institute for Mercy Health, serving Ohio and Kentucky, and Southdown Institute, based in Ontario, Canada, and offering residential treatment for clergy and religious.

Sister Donna, Prioress of the Adrian Dominican Congregation from 2004 to 2010, received this special recognition “for her strong leadership and efforts to bring dignity, hope, and compassion to the most marginalized members of society.”

Sister Donna, for her part, noted her own sense of humility in receiving the award, especially at the time when the Church’s Year of Mercy coincides with the 800th anniversary of the Order of Preachers, Dominicans. She presented the 2016 graduates with eight words to accompany them into their future.

  • Seek truth: Sister Donna held up the “long line of scholars” in the Dominican tradition who have sought truth to “address the social and moral dilemmas” of their times: from St. Dominic to other Dominican saints; Albert the Great, Thomas Aquinas, and Catherine of Siena. “Regardless of your particular field of expertise, you embody the depth of a Dominican education as you search to find what is true and good and right in bringing about a more compassionate society.”

  • Make peace: Noting the strong pull of divisiveness and enmity in today’s culture, Sister Donna encouraged the graduates to seek reconciliation among all parties and to be “fearless in entering into the space of making peace.” She called on the graduates to make use of the Dominican tradition of disputatio – “engaging educated dialog in the service of establishing relationships, building understanding, and reconciling differences.”

  • Extend mercy: Sister Donna noted that, in this Year of Mercy, Pope Francis calls for a culture of care and compassion. “Many of you may not be directly engaged with the poorest of the poor, but everyone of us stands in need of compassion,” she said. “How we treat one another, how we treat our families and our coworkers and colleagues, how we respond to the homeless fellow living under the Wabash Street bridge – is the measure of our mercy.”

  • Reverence life: Sister Donna challenged the Class of 2016, “inheritors of Dominican education,” to make use of their education, knowledge, writing, and scholarship to address the cries of the poor and to recognize the connection among all beings. “Do not be deaf to the cry of the earth and the cries of the poor. …Stay passionate in advocating on behalf of life in all of its forms.” 



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