Giving the Gift of Courage

June 26, 2003
Giving the Gift of Courage
By Howie Mansfield
Sister Maureen D’Onofrio, CSJ, receives award for domestic violence awareness work

Quietly, Sister Maureen D’Onofrio, CSJ, has made a difference for victims of domestic abuse across the diocese. As diocesan director of Ruth Ministry, Sister Maureen visited parishes, spoke at Masses, encouraged victims to talk about the personal prison they have lived in for years. This spirit of love and friendship for those in need was one reason Sister Maureen received the Sister Mary Vera Recognition Award from Vera House, Inc. at the OnCenter in Syracuse during the organization’s annual Recognition and Celebration Luncheon on June 19. The Sister Mary Vera Award is given annually by Vera House to a member of the community who has made a significant contribution in the field of domestic violence, in the spirit of Sister Mary Vera Blank, CSJ.

Sister Maureen said she is touched and honored to receive the Sister Mary Vera Award. “Sister Mary Vera was a member of my very own religious community. I’m so proud as a Sister of St. Joseph, but also happy to be a member of the same community,” said Sister Maureen. “It has been my privilege to travel the diocese to raise awareness. I’ve given talks in many parishes throughout the diocese. Someone said to me, ‘Thank God someone in the Catholic Church is reaching the people in the pews about domestic violence.’ The church is very much on top of it.”

One of the individuals who nominated Sister Maureen said, “I was struck by her limitless compassion for individuals in great emotional pain. Her passion to help appears limitless too. I have witnessed few individuals who can be fully present on the face of human tragedy and trauma. Sister Maureen is one of those individuals. She has that gift.” Sister Maureen said she has been blessed to work in the Ruth Ministry office. “I want to thank Dennis Manning [diocesan director of Catholic Charities] and Cindy Falise [diocesan director of the Respect Life Office] for their vision to see this as an important ministry in the church,” she said. “I have enjoyed coming in and working for these two years.”

In her travels, Sister Maureen said people who have been abused feel others might not recognize their statements are truthful. “The biggest problem area is that these women and men fear that no one will believe them,” she said. “That’s why I spent so much time in the parishes, giving the talks and presentations about the issue of domestic violence. It will be part of my ministry wherever I go.” As of September 1, Sister Maureen will become a pastoral associate at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Syracuse. She is thrilled about the opportunity to minister there. She will be reunited with Father Joseph Champlin, rector of the Cathedral, who Sister Maureen worked with as co-directors of the RENEW program. “I feel very privileged to be a part of the Cathedral team. I hope I can bring my gifts to further the ministry at the Cathedral.”

Falise said Sister Maureen is well deserving of the Sister Mary Vera Award. “She has been enormously successful by going into the parish and educating them at that level. She has touched more than 80 percent of the parishes and given them an awareness,” Falise said. “This award is the culmination of those efforts toward promoting domestic violence awareness. There are women and men living in domestic violence situations that know the church is there for them because of her.” The goal of the diocesan director of Ruth Ministry was to “infuse the need for domestic violence awareness into the parishes.” Falise said the position was only funded for two years and feels that the mission has been accomplished. “This is a respect life issue. There have been huge strides made in the last 10 years on how we view domestic abuse. We are better educated,” Falise said. In addition to Sister Maureen, Vera House also presented the Sister Mary Vera Recognition Award to Valerie Brogan, a detective in the criminal investigation division of the Onondaga County Sheriff’s Department. Brogan worked in the Abused Persons Unit in the sheriff’s department for seven years.

Sister Maureen said that in dialoging with Sister Gloria DeCotis, CSJ, a member of Vera House’s first board of directors, a strong connection developed between Vera House and Ruth Ministry. Sister Gloria said, “The foundation of Vera House and the creation of the diocesan office of Ruth Ministry both came from a faith response to God’s call. Ruth of the Old Testament and [Sister Mary] Vera — these were selfless generous women who became vehicles for change and for good.” Ministry always works both ways, Sister Maureen said. “It’s a two-way street. You might be ministering to people, but they minister to me,” she explained. “We all share in the same journey.”

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