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]
In a budget process that "devolved into a clash of wills," according to the Houston Chronicle, TMO clergy and leaders leveraged a major wage win for workers: $14 per hour for 3,000+ of the lowest paid employees in the Houston Independent School District, employees who keep children safe, nourished, and schools clean.
In testimony to the HISD Board, Deacon Sam Dunning, Director of the Office of Peace and Justice in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston argued: "A budget is a moral document...it is time to treat all workers with dignity."
Rev. Carissa Baldwin-McGinnis of Northside Episcopal Church argued, "There is a price to be paid for allocating funds that is not equitable to all classes and that price will be paid by your hourly workers and their family members... in the form of hunger, inadequate housing, anxiety, fear and stress." Rev. Jimmy Grace of St. Andrew’s Episcopal, Rev. Darrel Lewis of New Pleasant Grove Baptist, Rev. Jacqueline Hailey of New Hope Baptist, Rev. Rhenel Johnson of St. Andrew's UMC and Chava Gal-Orr from Temple Sinai spoke at Board meetings and press conferences as well.
This spring, TMO was part of a delegation of 300 Texas IAF leaders that called on state legislators to increase spending in public education in order to retain the talent upon which public schools rely. After passage of HB3, which put millions of dollars into public schools across the state, TMO leaders worked locally to make sure Houston Independent School District used its funds for the lowest paid workers.
[Photo Credit: Top photos from footage by Univision]
Houston ISD Trustees Approve $1.9 Billion Budget, Houston Chronicle
Video of clergy statements [first skip to 14:33 and then to 19:05]
TMO leaders held a press conference on Tuesday, June 18th at the Houston Independent School District (HISD) Administration Building to stand with workers in HISD. With the lowest paid workers being paid $12 per hour, and with $136 million additional dollars flowing into the school district, the time to stop perpetuating poverty in the district is NOW. TMO is calling for a starting wage of $15, and we need your support. Leaders have started a petition calling for a raise in wages to $15 an hour for the lowest paid workers. Petitions are being circulated and signed in member institutions with hundreds of signatures already obtained.
Rev. Jacqueline Hailey and Rev. Darrell Lewis (bottom photos) also spoke in front of the school board at the most recent HISD budget hearing asking for starting wages to be raised to $15 per hour. Leaders are continuing to schedule meetings, call and write to board members to directly advocate for the raising of wages for workers and support staff before the Board’s vote on Thursday, June 27th.
[Photo Credit: Top photos from footage by Univision.]
TMO institutions assembled to discuss and celebrate outcomes from TMO’s Legislative priorities for the 86th Legislative session. Leaders participated in a training to conduct house meetings and shared stories on issues present in their communities. Leaders made public commitments to reach over 1,000 individuals through house meetings in their congregations to prepare an issue agenda for elections in the fall.
With our member congregations and institutions, we have worked to facilitate outreach sessions where we connect congregants with city, county, and non-profit staff who help to guide them through the process. So far this year, TMO has conducted 8 outreach sessions. Including outreach sessions from last year, TMO has engaged over 700 households, 80% of which did not previously have a case manager or recovery support.
Sessions were held at Christ Church Cathedral Episcopal, Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic, Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic, St. Francis Cabrini Catholic, St. Gregory the Great Catholic, St. Cyril of Alexandria Catholic, and Our Lady of Grace Catholic in South Houston.
TMO recognizes Rev. John W. Bowie for his leadership and dedication in tackling social issues and his work around immigration and civic engagement. An active leader with TMO, Reverend Bowie was a vocal advocate on behalf of struggling families.
In 2010, the New York Times described his courage and solidarity in this way:
The Rev. John W. Bowie knows it is hard to sell the people in his neighborhood on the idea that they should support changing immigration laws to give illegal immigrants a path to citizenship. His church lies in one of the oldest black settlements in the city, where unemployment is high and many people see immigrants as competitors for jobs.
Yet there he was in the pulpit at True Light Missionary Baptist Church on the Fourth of July, with a full choir behind him, urging his flock to support an overhaul of immigration laws that “lets the undocumented come out of the shadows.”
“All 13 colonies were made up of illegal aliens because they had not gotten permission from the residents here, who were the Indians,” he said. “Then a few years later, they brought us here and made us illegal, too. These immigrants, we immigrants, have built the greatest nation in the world, coming from everywhere, all over, because, you see, nobody owns this world except God.”
Houston's Clergy Unites to Urge Support for Immigration Reform, New York Times [pdf]
Houston Clergy, Politicians Gather for Immigration Prayer Service, Houston Chronicle
In 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), 111 predominantly Spanish-speaking leaders from 25 Houston-area congregations convened to learn how to be effective leaders in their communities. Most the leaders came from Spanish-speaking Catholic and Episcopal congregations.
Parish leaders participated in leadership development workshops and engaged with scripture and their religious traditions as they reflected on their roles in public life. Groups from each parish were encouraged to engage with their pastor and parish leadership to explore opportunities for local training and the development of a listening campaign this year for their parishes and communities.
Milestones: Catholic Campaign, TMO Offers Leadership Training for Hispanic Parishioners, Texas Catholic Herald
Leadership Development at Assumption Catholic Church, The Metropolitan Organization (TMO)
Reflecting on an independent study of the long-term job training program on which Capital IDEA-Houston is modeled, Houston Chronicle business columnist Chris Tomlinson writes that:
"Programs to train low-skilled, underemployed adults to move up the economic ladder are notoriously ineffective, but Project Quest in San Antonio has hit on a formula with a now-proven track record....
Marc Elliott, CEO of Economic Mobility Corp, asserts that “to see earning differences this large and for this long is unprecedented in the workforce development field.” Economic Mobility is the organization that conducted the nine-year evaluation.
Capital IDEA-Houston, which was established by TMO, is modeled on Project QUEST. In right-side photos above, trainees learn to conduct PERRLA evaluations and cradle newborns. [Photo Credit: Jerry Lara, San Antonio Express-News]
San Antonio Program Moves Low-Skilled into Middle Class, Houston Chronicle [pdf]
Nine Year Gains: Project QUEST's Continuing Impact, Economic Mobility Corporation [pdf]
TMO and Texas IAF Leaders Push Legislative Committee to Delay Vote on Extreme Payday Lending Proposal
Rev. Darrell Lewis from The Metropolitan Organization (TMO) and Rev. Olin Knudsen from Dallas Area Interfaith (DAI) testified before the House Pensions, Investments & Financial Services Committee to oppose House Bill 3292. Both pastors argued that payday loans are immoral and spoke of how predatory loans trap families in their congregations in vicious cycles of debt.
House Bill 3292 Fact Sheet, Texas Fair Lending Alliance
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 Capital IDEA-Houston. Immediately afterward, they convened on the South Capitol steps. Legislators representing districts from across the state stood in solidarity with leaders and pledged to continue working for investments in people.
In photo above, the Rev. Dr. Rhenel Johnson is accompanies by TMO leaders and leaders from sister organizations, including Dallas Area Interfaith (DAI), 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]