September 24, 2015, Washington, DC – It was not a typical day for Sister Donna Markham, OP, PhD – or for millions of Catholics and other interested residents throughout the United States – as Pope Francis set foot for the first time on U.S. soil, greeted President Obama and the American people, and later canonized St. Junípero Serra.
Sister Donna, former Prioress of the Adrian Dominican Sisters and now President and CEO of Catholic Charities USA (CCUSA), was a first-hand witness to all of these special events. Today, after witnessing Pope Francis’ address to the U.S. Congress, Sister Donna and others from Catholic Charities will serve lunch to some 300 people who are enduring homelessness.
Sister Donna will be the honored guest on Friday, September 25, of The Most Reverend Bernardito C. Auza, Apostolic Nuncio (ecclesial diplomat) and Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the Organization of American States in New York. As his guest, she will attend the Pope’s address to the United Nations General Assembly.
That afternoon, Sister Donna will be present with Catholic Charities of New York City for Pope Francis’ visit to Our Lady Queen of Angels School in East Harlem. Pope Francis and Catholic Charities will spend time with immigrants and refugees served by the parish and school.
Also witnessing the Pope’s arrival at the White House was Sister Carol Coston, OP, founding director more than 40 years ago of NETWORK, a Catholic social justice lobby. Today will be a special day for Sister Donna Baker, religion teacher at Rosarian Academy in West Palm Beach, and for six eighth-graders and three other chaperones who will be at the west lawn of the U.S. Capitol with Pope Francis arrives to address Congress.
Sister Donna Markham said being at these events was a “thrilling and moving experience” and that it was an “incredible day” that brought together the Catholic Church and the U.S. government so powerfully.
Still, she and CCUSA are not basking in the glory of this experience. In response to Pope Francis’ plea that people work together to care for creation and people who are poor, Sister Donna announced that the CCUSA, in collaboration with AmeriCorps VISTA, will work with the White House to “help local communities prepare for and be resilient to natural disasters associated with climate change.”
“Today’s announcement is part of an ongoing effort by the administration to identify opportunities to increase resilience among marginalized populations,” Sister Donna said. “Catholic Charities will leverage its national network to convene interfaith conversations, share best practices, and disseminate preparedness information.”
Sister Donna, a clinical psychologist, served on the Board of Trustees of CCUSA for eight years before being selected early this year as the first female President of the national agency. She served on the General Council of the Adrian Dominican Sisters from 1986 to 1992; was President for of Southdown Institute, a residential treatment facility for priests and women and men religious suffering from a variety of mental health challenges; and served as Prioress of the Adrian Dominican Sisters from 2004 to 2010. Most recently, she was President of the Behavioral Health Institute at Mercy Health.