November 15, 2016, Oakland, California – Sister Elisabeth Lang, OP, a Dominican Sister of Vietnam and an Adrian Dominican Associate, received a Lifetime Achievement Award for about 40 years of service in resettling refugees.
The award was presented October 21 to Sister Elisabeth during a Grant Awards Luncheon hosted by the Diocese of Oakland’s Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) at the parish hall of St. Columba Church in Oakland.
“I was very surprised but I’m very humbled by their giving me an award,” Sister Elisabeth said. “I credit it all to the staff who have been working in the [refugee resettlement] program. They’re making everything possible.”
Sister Elisabeth was one of four Vietnamese Dominican Sisters who came to Adrian, Michigan, in 1968 to study at Siena Heights College (now University). She earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology and a master’s degree in education.
Sister Elisabeth had been in Adrian for about five years when Sister Rosemary Ferguson, OP – then Prioress of the Adrian Dominican Sisters – suggested that she minister temporarily with the Vietnamese refugees. “I asked if I could go to the local agency here [in Oakland]. A limited number of people could speak Vietnamese.” What had originally been a temporary assignment of a few months stretched into nearly 40 years of ministry to refugees from numerous nations.
Sister Elisabeth was first able to return to her Congregation in Vietnam in 1991 to celebrate her Silver Jubilee. When she returned to the United States Sister Donna Markham, OP, then on the General Council, suggested that Sister Elisabeth become an Adrian Dominican Associate. She has recently celebrated her Golden Jubilee with her Vietnamese community and her Silver Jubilee as an Adrian Dominican Associate.
Now Director of Refugee Resettlement for Catholic Charities of the East Bay, Sister Elisabeth spent her first years helping to resettle refugees from Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and other Indochinese countries. About 10 years ago, she said, the Vietnamese coming to the U.S. were regarded as immigrants rather than refugees. In recent years, Sister Elisabeth said, the largest number of refugees who are processed through her office come from Afghanistan – many of them translators and interpreters who had helped the U.S. military in their country.
Sister Elisabeth’s office is one of several Catholic agencies that work with the U.S. government to resettle refugees. Each year, Sister Elisabeth explained, the federal government agrees to take in a certain number of refugees and agencies are assigned a certain number of refugees.
“This year, beginning October 1, we were projected to receive 175 refugees,” Sister Elisabeth said. “In October alone, we worked with 43 people.” Last year, she added, Catholic Charities of the East Bay committed to resettling 150 refugees but instead worked with 173.
Sister Elisabeth’s office works with 18 parishes in the Diocese of Oakland. The parish teams are given very short notice – from one to three weeks – to find a suitable apartment for the family, furnish it, and drive to the airport to pick them up. Refugees also receive orientation to the U.S. culture, assistance in finding employment, help in enrolling in English as a Second Language (ESL) programs, health care, and immunization for their children.
“Some refugees who don’t speak English at all need a lot of encouragement,” Sister Elisabeth said. “If they put heart and soul into it, they make great progress.” Other refugees – those who had professional careers as doctors or nurses, for example – need to be recertified in their professions before they can resume work in their field.
Sister Elisabeth is heartened by the many success stories among the refugees. “I love the work I’m doing,” she said. “You see the people coming in exhausted and worried, but we’re here to walk with the people and help them to get the resources they need to feel comfortable in going to school, learning English, and finding jobs.”
Among the success stories are members of Sister Elisabeth’s staff. “We have a staff that speaks different languages and in many cases were refugees themselves,” she said. “They experienced being a refugee themselves, so they can help empower the refugees to go through the same process.”
“I never thought I would spend my whole life out here, but I love the work I’m doing and it’s a challenge, too,” Sister Elisabeth reflected. “Seeing a lot of successful families and individual people is very encouraging. I feel honored to work with and serve them, to walk with them and help them in whatever way I can.”
Read a related article in The Catholic Voice, newspaper of the Diocese of Oakland.
Feature photo: Bishop Emeritus John S. Cummins presents Sister Elisabeth Lang, OP, with the Lifetime Achievement Award. Photo by Albert C. Pacciorini, Courtesy of The Catholic Voice
By Sister Mary Lou Putrow, OP
June 20, 2016, Port Huron, Michigan – When Mayor Pauline M. Repp of Port Huron, Michigan, declared that so many people had never before been in attendance at the Annual Spirit of Port Huron Awards Ceremony, little did she know that 90 percent of the attendees were from Holy Trinity Parish. They came in support and tribute to Sister Gloria Korhonen, one of two recipients of the Lifetime Achievement Award.
The Spirit of Port Huron Awards Program was established to recognize citizens who had made a significant contribution to the city. Sister Gloria was among 11 award recipients at the 2016 event, held in the late afternoon of June 13 after a reception at McMorran Lounge.
The Lifetime Achievement Award “bestows special recognition on the rare individual who has consistently and unselfishly given an extraordinary amount of time and personal effort over the course of many years toward the betterment of their community.”
City Council member Rico Ruiz, in presenting the award to Sister Gloria, noted her 53 years of service as music and religious formation teacher at St. Joseph Church in Port Huron – which has since merged with others to become Holy Trinity Parish. Mr. Ruiz – himself a former student of Sister Gloria’s – described her work in collaborating with Grace Episcopal Church to present major vocal works to the community, as well as her key role in United We Sing events. She holds a bachelor’s degree in music from the University of Michigan and a master’s degree in special education from Wayne State University, Detroit.
“Sister Gloria has inspired many to choose a career path in music or pursue a devotion to music,” Mr. Ruiz noted. “Over the years, she has spent countless hours patiently directing and teaching the Chorale Choir and Celebration Singers. Most importantly, this has been done with a smile on her face.”
Mr. Ruiz concluded his tribute with commentary on Sister Gloria’s character. “She does not judge or carry prejudice,” he noted. “Sister Gloria is one of those rare, dedicated individuals who unselfishly gives of herself to others. We are all beneficiaries of her teaching and her contributions to the community.”
The love and admiration of Sister Gloria’s parishioners was unmistakable as the crowd gave her a standing ovation at her acceptance of the Lifetime Achievement Award.
The parish celebration of Sister Gloria did not end with the ceremony. The parishioners had arranged for a special dinner in an exquisite setting at the Port Huron Township Elks Club. At the conclusion of the evening, the choir members serenated her in gentle harmony with a beautiful blessing. She was chauffeured home in the same style in which she had arrived at the ceremony – in an elegant, vintage car which appeared to be right of the Great Gatsby era.
Adrian Dominican Sisters Sue Schreiber, Janet Fulgenzi, and Mary Lou Putrow were privileged to be part of the celebration and to witness the deep appreciation and affection of the many parishioners for Sister Gloria and her ministry with them.