Sister Christine Stephens, CDP entered eternal life on July 18, 2019 at the age of 78. She was the younger of two daughters born to Walter Irving and Frances Louise (Bulian) Stephens. She was born December 22, 1940 in Austin, Texas and was given the Baptismal name, Mary Christine. She entered the Congregation of Divine Providence on September 7, 1962 and professed first vows as a Sister of Divine Providence on June 22, 1964. Sister Christine graduated from the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas with a Bachelor of Arts in Economics prior to entering Our Lady of the Lake Convent. She later earned a Master of Arts in History from St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, Texas.
Sister Christine attributes her faith formation to her parents who set the example of perseverance and seeking justice for one’s family and community. Her father was a member of the pipe fitters union. This foundation served Sister Christine in her first seven years as a teacher, then as a social worker for eight years, and expanded and deepened when she became an organizer 45 years ago.
Sister Christine did not choose organizing as a ministry, it chose her. She was spotted by her now close friend and mentor, Ernesto Cortés, Jr., who said it was her anger that caught his attention. That was the first time she viewed her anger in a positive light. The work of justice was at the heart of her ministry and her life. Her work with the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) was the vehicle to funnel her anger against injustice.
Sister Christine’s commitment to identifying, training and transforming leaders and organizers throughout the country worked to bring millions of dollars for water and waste water to the colonias along the Texas/New Mexico Border, instrumental in developing the Alliance School strategy that impacted hundreds of schools across the country, plus the creation of nationally renowned job training programs modeled after Project QUEST in San Antonio.
Her advocacy work during the past four decades in her various roles, as National IAF Co-Director and Supervisor of organizations across the IAF Network will be greatly missed. Her organizing career began with The Metropolitan Organization (TMO) in Houston where she was a founder, followed by Lead Organizer of C.O.P.S. in San Antonio and Dallas Area Interfaith.
She enjoyed seeing ordinary leaders who worked across multi faith traditions, economic lines and race to do extraordinary things in their communities. She breathed and lived the Gospel values of justice and leaves a legacy to be continued. She had an enduring faith in the values of democracy.
She is survived by her sister Sarah Howell, and all her Sisters of Divine Providence. She is also survived by her niece Angela Duhon (William), their children, Emma and Nathaniel. She was preceded in death by her parents Walter and Frances Stephens.
The Rosary and Wake were on Thursday, July 25, 2019 and a Mass of Resurrection on Friday, July 26, 2019. All services were held in Sacred Heart Chapel, next to Our Lady of the Lake Convent Center in San Antonio, Texas.
In lieu of flowers, you may make a memorial contribution to the Sisters of Divine Providence, 515 S.W. 24th Street, San Antonio, TX 78207-4619.
Christine Stephens Worked to 'Help Others Advocate for Themselves,' Austin American Statesman [pdf]
With Blessing from the Archbishop, 'Recognizing the Stranger' Prepares 173 for Parish Leadership in San Antonio
With the blessing of Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller and support from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD), Mission and Ministry, Inc. (MMI), the Organizers Institute of the West/Southwest IAF, and COPS/Metro, Spanish-language 'Recognizing the Stranger' training prepared 173 for parish leadership in San Antonio and surrounding areas.
Parish leaders participated in leadership development workshops and engaged with scripture and their religious traditions as they reflected on their roles in public life.
80 Trainees in Omaha are Prepared for Parish Leadership through 'Recognizing the Stranger' Initiative
With the support of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD), Organizers' Institute of the West/Southwest IAF, and Omaha Together One Community (OTOC), 80 Omaha and Western Iowa parish leaders participated in leadership development training, made available in Spanish through the 'Recognizing the Stranger' initiative.
The Omaha Archdiocesan Director of Latino Ministry, Deacon Gregorio Elizalde, helped organize the training. Fr. Scott Hastings, Vicar for Clergy for the Archdiocese, blessed the effort and attended some sessions.
Spanish Leadership Formation (including list of participating institutions), OTOC
With support from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD), the Organizers Institute of the West/Southwest IAF, and One LA, Spanish-language training reached 54 parish leaders from six Catholic institutions in the San Gabriel Valley of Los Angeles County.
Parish leaders participated in leadership development workshops and engaged with scripture and their religious traditions as they reflected on their roles in public life. This is the first of multiple local trainings planned for the duration of the coming year.
"...parishes are strengthened, unified, and revitalized."
With a grant from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD), the Interfaith Education Fund piloted a program in fall of 2016 called Recognizing the Stranger, a multiyear regional approach to the immigration issue, in seven southwestern dioceses.
This year, it is expanding into 19 dioceses across the west and southwest US. Says Senior IAF Organizer Joe Rubio, "The Recognizing the Stranger strategy works with local parishes to identify, train, and mentor immigrant leaders to build connections among themselves and with nonimmigrant allies in their parishes and the broader community. It’s a collaborative effort among clergy, leaders, and organizers to develop capacity to tackle tough issues."
According to CCHD Director Ralph McCloud, "Recognizing the Stranger is particularly successful because it captures the connections between what happens at Mass on Sunday morning, how families live their lives throughout the week, and how parishioners interact with members of the broader community. I have been impressed that participants seek true change. In the process, parishes are strengthened, unified, and revitalized."
Click links below for local stories of parish work and additional details about the strategy.
Program Trains Leaders to Put Faith into Action, Texas Catholic - Dallas
Milestones: Catholic Campaign, TMO Offers Leadership Training for Hispanic Parishioners, Texas Catholic Herald - Houston
Parish IDs Bring Relief to Immigrant Community, Dallas Catholic Magazine
ID Parroquiales Traen Alivio a Comunidad Inmigrante, Revista Católica de Dallas
Church Divinity School of the Pacific Roots Community Organizing in Curriculum, Honors Ernesto Cortes Jr. with Degree
When CDSP sought to strengthen its formation, emphasize the importance of relational skills and develop an understanding of public life, it began a relationship with the West / Southwest IAF to incorporate community organizing in its curriculum.
The organizing class -- taught as weeklong intensive in partnership with the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) -- soon became a draw for students eager to establish a theological foundation under their organizing efforts.
The partnership began in 2013 as a collaboration between the Bay Area IAF and CDSP. The course is taught by senior organizers with the IAF network who induct seminarians in the skills and practices that help communities build relational power and a common agenda for collaborative work. A CDSP faculty member teaches the theological portion of the course for those seeking a Masters of Divinity, which is designed to embed the training in a theological and ethical framework.
Says Dr. Jennifer Snow, associate professor of practical theology and director of extended learning, the course requires "thinking differently about power: building relationships with people, inviting people in to share the power with you as a leader. It's a very specific strategy about trying to reach a more just society in our particular context."
At its May commencement ceremony, CDSP recognized Ernesto Cortes with an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters.
Commencement Ceremony Video [skip to 1:16:38 for intro of Cortes]
Blessed Are the Organizers, Crossings
CDSP Prepares Seminarians for Public Life, Episcopal News Service
Public Ministry in Practice, Episcopal News Service
Growing up in a San Antonio in which pernicious neglect by an Anglo-controlled "Good Government League" left low-income Mexican-American neighborhoods flooded each year, Andy Sarabia helped transform the political landscape of the city and mentor generations of community leaders. In partnership with Ernesto Cortes, Sarabia not only reshaped the City, he launched COPS/Metro and the modern Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF).
A civil engineer with the Kelly Airforce Base and active at Holy Family Church, Sarabia was first approached by Cortes after a pastor recommended they meet. Standing ankle deep in a front yard pool of water after recent rains, he grew agitated when Cortes asked him whether he liked standing in floodwater. Reflecting on that question, Sarabia decided that he did not like standing in floodwater and went about shifting the racial and class dynamics in San Antonio so that his family and neighbors would not have to stand in floodwater again.
“Andy was quiet and methodical, the master of checklists with an ability to systematically organize,” says Cortes. “He had a natural talent as a negotiator, to make trade-offs, to reach a deal.” Sarabia soon found himself at the epicenter of a seismic shift in local politics as Mexican-American congregations began to band together -- not to march in the streets, but for quiet engagement in parish classrooms and union halls to identify barriers that chafed at the dignity of hard-working families. Through the formation of the broad-based organization Communities Organized for Public Service (COPS), Sarabia worked for the advancement of lower-income families, inducting them into a discipline of careful political research and targeted public action, and thus initiating sweeping structural changes (see Texas Monthly piece from 1977 below). Monied Anglos were fearful of the changes. Others, like bank founder Tom Frost, eventually welcomed them.
As the first president of COPS, Sarabia shaped the culture of the organization. During the 1970s, change was stirring across the nation, and a generation of young people explored local activism, party politics and candidacy for elected office. Sarabia believed in institutional change and regularly spurned invitations to run for office. He created a culture of organizing in which accountability to an institution was required and organizational leadership positions awarded to those that produced results. At the end of his two-year tenure, he continued to remain active from the sidelines -- mentoring new presidents, coaching first-time public speakers, and reminding subsequent generations of the organization's history and traditions.
“The most important thing for people to know is that none of the work was ever about him, it was about the betterment of the community, siempre para la gente,” said Linda Ledesma, Sarabia’s widow. “He was compassionate, he was caring, and he wanted justice, but he went about things his way, quietly.”
Sarabia connected the present to the past -- reminding leaders and public officials alike that it took COPS' power to establish successful programs like nationally-renowned Project Quest and the San Antonio Educational Partnership. The organization he helped establish, now COPS/Metro, has persisted as a powerhouse. This year, the San Antonio Current recognized it as the only community organization on its top ten list of power brokers.
COPS’ success led to the creation of over 30 sister organizations throughout Texas and the West / Southwest US, some of which are approaching 35+ years of age. Andy Sarabia was incredibly adroit with funders, ensuring support for expansion projects in Houston and Dallas through the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD).
Even in retirement, Sarabia continued to work with COPS/Metro -- writing op-eds and consulting with newer organizers. Weeks ago, from his hospice bed, Andy Sarabia watched the COPS/Metro accountability assembly on a NOWCastSA livestream. As the curtain closed, he called individual leaders, congratulating them on the session and evaluating which of the candidates were most responsive to the organization's concerns. On election day, he marked his ballot from bed, urging others: "Get out the vote. I am with you in heart and spirit." Days later he died surrounded by family and friends.
That is how COPS/Metro leaders remember him: passionate about community and democracy -- and committed to the end.
*** *** ***
Services will be held Monday and Tuesday, May 13-14 at Holy Family Church at 152 Florencia Ave. on the West Side. The 5pm viewing Monday will be followed by a Rosary at 7pm. Funeral Mass will be celebrated at 11am Tuesday, followed by a reception in the parish hall.
The Sarabia Family suggests that in lieu of flowers, a memorial contribution be sent to Holy Family Church (152 Florencia Ave., 78228) and COPS/Metro (1511 Saltillo Street, 78207).
[Credits: Upper right photo from COPS/Metro archives at UTSA; lower left photo by Carlos Javier Sanchez, San Antonio Express-News; other images provided by COPS/Metro. Quotes by Cortes and Ledesma first published by the Rivard Report.]
Andy Sarabia, COPS’ First President, Dies at 79, Rivard Report [pdf]
Editorial Board: A Man Who Gave Voice to Voiceless, San Antonio Express News [pdf]
Andy Sarabia, 79, Fought for San Antonio's Forsaken and Forgotten, San Antonio Express-News [pdf]
The Second Battle of the Alamo, Texas Monthly (1977)
COPS Takes on City Hall, Texas Observer (1976)
'Recognizing the Stranger' Training Reaches Albuquerque, Inspires New Leaders into Action Around Asylum Crisis
65 predominantly Spanish-speaking leaders from 18 institutions in Albuquerque convened for a multi-day training co-sponsored by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD), the Organizers Institute of the West/Southwest IAF, and Albuquerque Interfaith. Parish leaders participated in leadership development workshops and engaged with scripture and their religious traditions as they reflected on their roles in public life.
A civic academy about the humanitarian crisis at the border, held on the third day of training, inspired 25 new immigrant leaders to participate in a City Hall action the next day. The rapid mobilization included the participation of Archbishop John Wester and helped leverage $250,000 in municipal funding to support asylum seekers.
City Council OKs $250,000 to Help Asylum Seekers, Albuquerque Journal
111 predominately Spanish-speaking leaders from 25 Houston-area congregations convened for a multi-day training co-sponsored by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD), Mission and Ministry, Inc. (MMI), the Organizers Institute of the West/Southwest IAF, and The Metropolitan Organization (TMO)/ Gulf Coast Leadership Council (GCLC).
Parish leaders participated in leadership development workshops and engaged with scripture and their religious traditions as they reflected on their roles in public life.
Catholic Campaign, TMO Offers Leadership Training for Hispanic Parishioners, Texas Catholic Herald
Hundreds of leaders from six institutions in the Monterey, California peninsula assembled for a civic academy on affordable housing organized by Communities Organized for Relational Power in Action (COPA). Also in attendance were public officials including a Monterey County Supervisor, local city mayors, a school district superintendent and City of Monterey councilmembers. Allied research, labor and advocacy nonprofits attended as well.
The academy started with a bilingual presentation about housing conditions in Monterey County which included specific metrics on the number of units needed and institutional barriers to their development. One leader shared that as a result of taking good care of her unit, her landlord gave her 60 days to vacate so that their family could move in. The leader and her family ended up living in their car when they could not find housing within that time frame. Another leader, a senior who rented an apartment with her brother, shared that she could no longer afford the rent in the area after her brother died. She is facing relocation to a city far from friends and family.
Participants in the civic academy then split into smaller groups for fully bilingual small group conversations in which public officials listened. The academy closed with select officials detailing opportunities for allied action around housing development and tenant protections. All committed to working with COPA for change in this area.
A few years back, COPA took a similar approach to get affordable housing built in Aptos, against strong local opposition. At a recent Civic Academy at Resurrection Catholic Church, one man -- in front of an audience of 50 parishioners -- shared, “I was a big part of organizing the opposition to the affordable housing project here in Aptos… I held many of those stereotypes you have here, about crime, drugs, overcrowding, and declining property values. Let me tell you now… that project is one of the best things to ever happen to our neighborhood. It has brought new families and children into our community, we have regular community celebrations together… and I’m grateful to COPA for helping make that happen despite our attempts to stop it."