"We know what it's like to be in hell."
These are the words of women who have known jail. Women who have known what it is like to be separated from family, especially young children. Known what it is like to be invisible and marginalized as a woman locked up, or worse, despised and stigmatized by the label "ex-con" when she is finally released.
Thanks to the Sisters Rising Project of Chicago, which provides part-time, creative employment to women who have been incarcerated, the voice of these women-as well as their message of hope-is being brought to communities affected by the cycles of violence that often lead to imprisonment.
Sisters Rising - Jacalyn Brown, Yolanda Burgess, LaToya Teague and Bobby McLaurinSince 2007, the women of Sisters Rising have created readings and performances for touring, and even staged an original theater piece, Feeling Beautiful All Over, which debuted at Chicago's Lifeline Theater in May 2009 and recently won a Creative Movement Award from In Sight Arts. "The performances and readings created by the women of Sisters Rising are intended to challenge stereotypes of incarcerated women, and inspire dialogue among audience members about the consequences of being locked up," explains Lisa Wagner-Carollo, the executive director of Still Point Theater Collective which runs the program.
This summer, a grant from Mary's Pence will pay the stipends of the women of Sisters Rising as they bring their inspiring production to women's shelters. "We feel it is extremely important to bring Sisters Rising to women's shelters - as the women who participate in our program truly are role models for the transformation and strength many residents living in these shelters strive for," Ms. Wagner-Carollo explains.
The project is the outgrowth of a successful program that Ms. Wagner-Carollo has run inside two prisons and a jail for several years in the Chicago area. She is inspired by the words of incarcerated women like Kelsey Smith who shared, "I feel like if I can make a difference in one person's life, then not one day of any of the time that I have to do is in vain."
Sisters Rising - Jacalyn Brown
Ms. Wagner-Carollo is no stranger to inspiring women. As a young woman she toured with CTA performing her one-woman show Haunted by God, depicting the life of Dorothy Day. Later, after founding Still Point, she developed POINTS OF ARRIVAL: A Jean Donovan Journey. She still performs in addition to her work with women both in and out of prison, and work with people who have developmental disabilities.
All of these projects emanate from a decision early in life to make her faith the focus of her daily life. "I always wanted to be an actress, but I had a spiritual experience at 15," she recalls. "I thought about going into ministry while I was still in high school, then in college I was drawn to social justice." After graduating with a theater degree she spent time living in a L'Arche community in Kansas City. Founding Still Point was a way to bring spirituality, social justice and theater together in meaningful community work.
The experience of "community" is also what enables the women of Sister Rising to grow and blossom. "The group gives these women a safe place to reflect on who they are, to let themselves be seen, and to practice the personal changes they want to make in their everyday lives," Ms. Wagner-Carollo reflects.
It also is a great source of hope, not only for audiences, but for the women themselves. Ms. Wagner Carollo recalls one participant who wrote and performed a poem about God. "After the performance she came up to me and said, 'Thank you for giving me hope. I always felt I was a failure. Now I feel like I can do other things.' What we do feels small, but it can have a big impact."
For more information about Sisters Rising visit www.stillpointtheatrecollective.org
|Issues of Justice|
Founding of Mary's Pence
In this month of Mary, in this month of mothers, here is a commentary from one of the women who birthed Mary's Pence, Maureen Gallagher OP. Maureen served on staff as founding coordinator from 1987 to 1998. Thank you to all the Mary's Pence women who came before us to ensure that women have the funding they need to support women's concerns.
Currently Maureen works with Centro Santa Catalina in Ciudad Juarez in Mexcio, a women's center and economic cooperative. You can visit their website at www.centrosantacatalina.org. Maureen also hosted a radio show, Voices that Listen, in the Chicago area, discussing spirituality, wellness, human growth and religions.
--THE WHY OF MARY'S PENCE-
Mary's Pence - A penny for Mary! Up until 1987 there was no structure, process or channel within the Roman Catholic Church for members to direct their donation directly to Catholic women ministering to those in need - or studying to bring a woman's viewpoint to theology or the history of the growth of Christianity. Mary's Pence wanted to provide that structure or channel - -
"from the people in the pews to the women ministering in the Americas"*
Some catholic people were/are not aware of the fact that the money they donate every Sunday into the basket was/is not shared with women working to bring about the teachings of Christ within the Church structure or among the people of God. Women working within the institutional church were/are underpaid or expected to volunteer. Most women were happy to do this as they felt it was a need and they had the time and were working to help bring about a Christianity we all dreamed about. However time and history changed and women were needed to help support their families (single as well as married or vowed); women were well educated and wanted to use their knowledge, gifts and ideas in responding to the needs of people and the nation.
After Vatican II many people, men and women, saw needs that the institutional church was not addressing. In a parish in Pennsylvania women saw a need to minister to parents whose children were being lured into gangs or killed by gang members; they wanted to set up a support group. The parish could not respond - "there is no money." A group of women had been volunteering at the county jail in Chicago for years and decided they needed funds to expand and asked the diocese for $1,500 - the Cardinal responded, "there is no money" however a priest who was starting a new ministry (now folded) was given $250,000 a few weeks later as reported in the Chicago Tribune. This Chicago response was very hurtful - - and it was happening in every diocese in the United States. Women had no voice in the institution.
We were not quiet about being invisible in our church. Ask any brother, husbands, uncles, friends who happened to be around us during this time. In honesty they helped because they said or indicated that it was not their fight - you as women must do something or nothing will change. So we did - - we directed our anger into something positive - - Mary's Pence.
Mary's Pence is needed so the people of God have a structure to direct their Sunday offering directly to the women ministering in the Americas. Why the Americas? The monies received are given by people living in the United States - and in the U.S. we know American women who are or have done great work among the poor, the dispossessed, the sick, those suffering because of race, sexual preference, lack of education, homelessness and so on. The institution is helping others through Catholic Relief Services, Peter's Pence/Cardinal's relieve collections and the Seminary collection used to educate men for the priesthood. Mary's Pence, without a yearly collection provided by the institution, has limited funds and to reach the most "bang for the buck" keeps the donations in the Americas.
This is the WHY of Mary's Pence. And God bless and reward the women who have kept it alive and especially to the women and men who give their Sunday donations (or part of) to the women ministers.
|Action For Mary's Pence
Mary's Pence Teleconference
On Thursday, May 5, 2010, Mary's Pence held our first teleconference, where supporters dialed in and participated in a live discussion with Katherine Wojtan, Executive Director and Gilda Larios, ESPERA Fund Facilitator. Discussion focused on our first ESPERA Fund partners and what they have learned and achieved. More conference calls are planned in the future.
Gilda Larios and Katherine Wojtan in Guatemala 2009
During the teleconference, callers where able to ask questions, offer comments and suggestions and receive first hand information from Katherine and Gilda, who works directly with the four groups in Central America who have received ESPERA Funds.
Here are comments from Vangie Bazan, owner of Sister Creek Studios and a Mary's Pence supporter:
"What a great idea to have the conference call! I kept being amazed that we were talking to each other from so many different locations about such wonderful work that you are doing.
I especially liked hearing the stories of the women and even wanted to hear more. I know that there's a lot of content on the website, including the great videos, but for me there's nothing quite like hearing a story. Sometimes the hearing of the story gives you a more personal connection. "
To hear the stories, we invite you to listen to the recorded conference online (if you do not have Flash installed, you will be prompted to install Flash before viewing). You will be prompted to register by entering your name, email and phone #, which will let us know you stopped by! Please click the following link:
For additional instructions on playback, click here:
Relationships are Our Greatest Asset:
Host a Mary's Pence Giving Circle!
Relationships are our greatest asset, and Mary's Pence is asking you to share yours with us. Would you be willing to host a Mary's Pence Giving Circle? We supply an agenda and talking points, a 6 minute DVD telling the story of Concertacion de Mujeres de Suchitoto (ESPERA Fund in El Salvador) and handouts that summarize what we do. You invite friends, and provide a location and light refreshments. And of course encourage your friends to support Mary's Pence.
We have a goal hosting 52 circles in this year, which will introduce 500 or more new people to Mary's Pence. Our goal is realistic, and will have a big impact. Can we count on you?
Upcoming Giving Circles
If you live in the area we would be happy to connect you with the local hosts of Giving Circles:
- Cindy Sullivan, St. Louis, MO - May 15
- Benedictine University at Springfield, Fr. Steven Janoski,
Springfield, IL - May 18
- Corinne Muellen, Baldwinsville, NY - May 25
- Judy Schiavo, Hastings-on-Hudson, NY - May 2
- Mary Ellen Meyering, Gross Point Woods, MI - June 1
- Roxanne Meshar, Minneapolis, MN - June 4
- Rosa Castillo, Los Angeles, CA - June 6
- Katherine Wojtan, San Francisco, CA - June 9
- Roxanne Smith, Minneapolis, MN - June 20
- Anne Leibig, Dungannon VA - June 21
Mary's Pence - Who Are We?
We are a small organization with a big vision. We want women in the Americas living in poverty to have a say and a hand in how poverty can be alleviated and social equity achieved. Therefore we invest in local women who are creating models to increase women's economic status and improve their status in their community. We look for models that foster women working together, to learn from each other, support each other, and explore new ideas. We fund women in North, Central and South America.
Top of page
St. Theresa of Avila
and sky will open their purse for you
and your life
if with all your heart you say these words each day,
"Teach me, dear God, all that you know."
One night I walked through the streets feeling desperate, in need of alchemy.
A hooded priest passed by where there were no lamps.
I could not see his face, I only heard these words that he kept repeating,
"Teach me, dear Lord, all that you know."
I knew a treasure had entered my soul.