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Sisters completing Catholic Extension program called the ‘face of God’s love’ in ministry

Women religious who earned university degrees upon completing Catholic Extension's U.S.-Latin American Sisters Exchange program gather to celebrate May 4, 2024, on the Minneapolis campus of St. Mary's University of Minnesota. (OSV News photo/ courtesy Catholic Extension)

CHICAGO (OSV News) — Forty-four women religious graduated this spring with university degrees upon completing the U.S.-Latin American Sisters Exchange Program, sponsored by the Catholic Extension Society in partnership with the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation.

Of the group, 28 sisters earned bachelor’s degrees in health care and human services management. Another 16 sisters earned master’s degrees in integrated studies with a focus on areas in human services and pastoral care. They all received their diplomas from St. Mary’s University of Minnesota May 4.

“I thank God for the gift of religious sisters, and today we celebrate their milestone of graduating with university degrees, which will only enhance their ministries as they serve the poor and marginalized,” said Father Jack Wall, president of Catholic Extension. “These women religious are the very face of God’s love and channels of God’s grace to those who need it the most.”

The U.S.-Latin American Sisters Exchange Program, which takes place over five years, provides an opportunity for Catholic sisters from Latin American religious congregations to pursue a university degree “as they create new ministries in U.S. dioceses supported by Catholic Extension Society,” according to a news release.

According to U.S. census data, more than 80% of the most impoverished counties in the country exist in these dioceses.

“Thank you, Catholic Extension, for the opportunity to participate and graduate from this program. Some of us were the first in our family, or even in our village, to receive a university education,” said Benedictine Sister Gabriela Ramírez in remarks during this year’s commencement celebration. “The impact of the education we received will be felt by every person we serve.”

The program has three main objectives. First, it offers higher education degrees to Latin American sisters serving in the U.S., who would otherwise have no such opportunities. Second, as the sisters’ study, they apply what they learn to their ministry, establishing new services and performing outreach initiatives “collectively” touching tens of thousands of disadvantaged people, said Catholic Extension. “Meanwhile, their spiritual witness is a sign of hope to all they encounter.”

Finally, the program also aims to create a supportive network of sisters from multiple congregations.

Catholic Extension first partnered with the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation more than 10 years ago to develop the U.S.-Latin American Sisters Exchange Program. Through the program, groups of three or four sisters are hosted by one of 10 participating Catholic Extension “mission dioceses.”

A Chicago-based nonprofit, Catholic Extension was founded in 1905 to build up Catholic faith communities in underserved regions.

The Hilton Foundation was established in 1944 by the man who started Hilton Hotels to support efforts to improve the lives of disadvantaged and vulnerable people around the world and among its commitments is supporting the apostolic works of religious sisters who serve this population.

Catholic Extension also welcomed a new group of nearly 60 sisters into the U.S.-Latin American Sisters Exchange Program this year. Many of these sisters are newly arrived in the United States, hailing from Colombia, Nicaragua, Mexico, Ecuador, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.

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