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 Thursday, July 25, 2019 and 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]
This summer marks one year since the Catholic Diocese of Dallas delineated basic requirements for parish identification cards to be made available to parishioners who lack access to state-issued IDs. Since then, 20 Catholic parishes have embraced the strategy, organizing teams of lay leaders who help screen applicants and issue the parish identification cards according to Diocesan standards. Parish IDs are now accepted by four police departments in North Texas: Carrollton, Dallas, Farmers Branch and Mesquite. Acceptance by these police departments was first negotiated in 2017 in collaboration with Dallas Area Interfaith.
Since then, says Rev. Jesus Belmontes, the IDs have brought relief to a vulnerable community. The acceptance of these cards by the police communicates that "they want to protect us rather than harm us. This is a ray of light that, little by little, has the potential to enlighten us all."
Parish IDs Bring Relief to Immigrant Community, Dallas Catholic Magazine
ID Parroquiales Traen Alivio a Comunidad Inmigrante, Revista Católica
Close to 70 DAI leaders joined hundreds of Texas IAF leaders at the Capitol to call on state legislators to increase state finance of adult and K-12 education.
After a morning briefing on school finance, the Texas Innovative Career Education (ACE) program and other issues -- including healthcare, payday lending, and infrastructure in the colonias -- leaders were honored for their establishment of noteworthy labor market intermediaries, including Skill Quest. Immediately afterward, they convened on the South Capitol steps. Five state legislators representing North Texas stood in solidarity with leaders and pledged to continue working for investments in people, including Victoria Neave (HD 107), Terry Meza (HD 105), Julie Johnson (HD 115), John Turner (HD 115), and Ana Ramos (HD 102).
In photo above, Bill Dehaas from Trinity Catholic Church and DAI energizes the crowd of leaders from sister organizations, including TMO in Houston, San Antonio (COPS/Metro), Central Texas / Austin Interfaith, West Texas Organizing Strategy (WTOS), El Paso's Border Interfaith & EPISO, and the Rio Grande Valley (Valley Interfaith).
After the press conference, leaders broke out into smaller delegations to meet with legislators representing their geographic regions.
Organizations Call On State Legislators to Support Adult Education, Univision 62 [Spanish video]
200 Spanish-speaking parish leaders were joined by Bishop Gregory Kelly for the CCHD-sponsored 'Recognizing the Stranger' training in Dallas. Launched in coordination with Catholic Diocese of Dallas, the Organizers Institute of the West/Southwest IAF and Dallas Area Interfaith, the training engaged delegations of leaders from 21 institutions in interactive sessions that focused on the mission of the Church and scriptural foundations for leadership. Leaders will return to their parishes to hold listening sessions and work with other institutions to develop a city-wide plan of action.
Program Trains Leaders to Put Faith Into Action, Texas Catholic
Sunday January 24th, Dallas Area Interfaith, King of Glory Lutheran Church (ELCA), and Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Parish joined together for an ecumenical service of prayer and unity. Bishop Greg Kelly of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Dallas and Bishop Erik K.J. Gronberg of the Northern Texas-Northern Louisiana Synod (ELCA) shared the pulpit. Other local pastors and leaders also took part along with combined choirs of the two congregations.
Joint statement by Bishop Erik Gronberg (ELCA) and Bishop Greg Kelly (Catholic Diocese of Dallas)
This worship marked the 2019 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity and the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Lutheran reformation. Additionally this service marked 50 years of the Joint Lutheran-Catholic Commission on Unity called for by Pope John XXIII at the Second Vatican Council. The Pope then stated that the greatest scandal in the world were the divisions between Christian Churches.
We live in a time of deep political and social division in our nation. In these times of division the goal of this service was to celebrate our unity, the richness of each tradition, rather than our differences. To continue to work together to identify ways to impact our common good of our communities through shared listening sessions and projects.
A key component to this gathering was and is the work of Dallas Area Interfaith. For the past 25 years DAI has inspired numerous Dallas area institutions to work together following its core beliefs that people can listen to the needs of their communities and organize to impact the common good. These efforts have recently resulted in changes to the Dallas City Housing code; issuance of parish IDs, and better and stronger relationships with police departments. DAI is an instrument and institution that helps bridge the gaps between traditions and faiths, bringing people of faith together to serve.
This movement toward unity has now acknowledged that we can best partner by shifting our enthusiasm towards common prayer and works of mercy – work done together to help the sick, the poor, the immigrant, and the imprisoned. Pope Francis, along with Bishop Munib Younan of the Lutheran World Federation, marked the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran reformation in October 2017 in Lund, Sweden. On that occasion Pope Francis said “To do something together is a high and effective form of dialogue – we need to work together!” We celebrated that hope, to explore and appreciate the richness of our traditions on January 27th and we pledge to continue to work together.
In fall of 2018, the federal government proposed redefining who might be considered a “public charge” -- a federal designation for people it believes are overly dependent on federally-funded social services. Under proposed changes, immigrants who are "likely at any time" to become a public charge could be ineligible to get visas and green cards that give them legal permanent residency.
Dallas Area Interfaith soon began receiving calls from parents of US-born children who stopped getting medical care and nutrition assistance for their kids. In response, DAI began organizing parish-based efforts to educate and urge the public to weigh in on the proposed changes .
“We have already heard stories of parents un-enrolling their kids from CHIP,” Lead Organizer Josephine Lopez-Paul said. “It is another piece in building a culture of fear.”
It is through church-based relationships and networks that DAI is able to educate the public about ways to take action on this issue.
[Photo Credit: Obed Manual, Dallas Morning News]
A handful of Dallas-area churches, with the support of Dallas Area Interfaith, started issuing their own ID cards this year. Police departments in Dallas, Carrollton and Farmers Branch have been given discretion to accept those church cards as a form of identification.
Socorro Perales, a senior organizer at Dallas Area Interfaith, said her group was excited about the possibility of a city-issued card....
[Photo: Dallas Morning News]
Rinaldi's district in northwest Dallas County was one of five targeted by Dallas-Area Interfaith, a group that organized canvassing and phone banks to pump up voter turnout.
At an election night watch party at Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Dallas, a television report flashed on the screen and showed that Rinaldi was losing. Lily Rodriguez (in photo above) shouted out: “Why don’t you call immigration now?”
Rodriguez said she had quietly fumed when Rinaldi called ICE on protesters, but took action and began pushing parishioners at another Catholic church to vote.
She’d talked to them about the size of the Hispanic population, which in Dallas County is 40 percent and larger than any other group. “Hispanics are the majority and we continue to think like minorities,” Rodriguez said.
Interfaith organizer Socorro Perales said members were determined to get more people to the polls. Two weeks before polling began, the nonpartisan group held a community event at a church that brought in 2,000 people and five candidates, all Democrats.
“They are learning to organize, strategize, and this actually works,” Perales said.
All five candidates won, including Colin Allred, the Democrat who beat Republican incumbent Rep. Pete Sessions, a staunch ally of Trump, in the District 32 race for Congress.
Perales said she didn’t go after the low hanging fruit — those registered who had previously voted. Instead, she sifted through lists of registered voters who didn’t vote in the last election.
“They are just not used to voting,” Perales said. “There are enough registered voters and, if we can broaden the base, we can win. And we did.”
[Photo Credit: Ashley Landis, Dallas Morning News]
Latinos Could Turn Texas Blue in 2020 if Enthusiasm Holds, Some Say, Dallas Morning News [pdf]
On a Sunday October evening, two thousand leaders and parishioners from Dallas Area Interfaith institutions assembled at the Christian Chapel Temple of Faith to challenge candidates from the Texas Tribune’s 2018 Hotlist, including Texas House Districts 105, 107, 114, and 115, and US Congressional District 32. Republican and Democratic candidates for Coppell, Richardson, and Dallas Independent School District School Board positions also participated.
At the assembly, DAI leaders publicly challenged each candidate to, if elected, commit to working with them on immigration, job training, expansion of healthcare, payday lending, and public education. All participating candidates, including local Republican candidates, publicly committed to partner with DAI leaders in supporting and / or crafting policy in these areas. One journalist reported that “in a city that’s sharply segregated by race and class, the forum was a rare example of cohesive pluralism.”
The assembly and Get Out The Vote actions are the culmination of a two-year campaign on behalf of the families and communities of Dallas. Less than a year ago, DAI leaders successfully negotiated with Police officers of the cities of Dallas, Farmers Branch, and Carrollton to accept Catholic Parishes ID’s as a form of identification. For immigrant families, having a photo ID could help prevent deportation. Since then, the parish ID strategy spread to the East Coast through DAI’s sister organization in Baltimore, BUILD. Leaders from BUILD testified at the October 14th assembly that Baltimore police officers have committed to accepting the IDs as a valid form of identification.
Since then, leaders have pushed forward with parish-based Get Out The Vote walks across the Dallas area, so far knocking on hundreds of doors and contacting thousands of voters by phone. DAI has also partnered with the business community to encourage voters to participate in the midterm elections through a downtown press conference.
DAI Accountability Voter Forum [video]
Why Dallas Republicans Skipped an Interfaith Forum, Rewire.News
From Levi’s to Southwest Airlines to Walmart, Business Tries to Turn Out The Vote, Dallas Morning News
On Wednesday, several groups are planning a news conference in downtown Dallas to continue pushing for higher turnout. They also plan to encourage candidates to speak at public forums.
“Unless people feel connected to the issues affecting them, they’re not likely to vote,” said Josephine Lopez Paul, lead organizer for Dallas Area Interfaith, a coalition of congregations, schools and nonprofits.
As residents learn about issues and candidates, they'll be drawn into the process. And institutions can have a bigger impact.
“If their business and church and school are saying the same thing — go vote — then we’ll see a rise in voting,” Paul said.From Levi’s to Southwest Airlines to Walmart, business tries to turn out the vote, Dallas Morning News