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Women and the Church: A Journey ‘Essential to the Dream’

By Rosemary Delaney, SNJM

According to St. Francis of Assisi, "The journey is essential to the dream." While my years in ministry have not involved much of a journey regarding turf, I have been blessed along the way of my ministry journey by crossing paths with neighborhood people in the flatlands of Oakland and with people connected in numerous ways – students, parishioners, volunteers, staff, Board – with St. Francis de Sales Cathedral Parish, St. Mary-St. Francis de Sales Parish and Next Step Learning Center.

“Let your hope keep you joyful” from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans surfaces somewhat regularly.

In my 40-plus years in West Oakland, I’ve focused on doing ministry with people who have minimal resources and have been enriched by talking with folks about their hopes both for themselves and for their neighborhood community. Personal hopes took on life as our conversations moved to looking into positive options to implement a hope related to education, employment or career. The hopes of neighborhood groups were expressed as local issues, such as a need for curbs and gutters. These hopes were realized through organized community actions that would bring positive changes in their quality of life related to such areas as the environment, health and the economy.

My onramp into founding Next Step Learning Center (NSLC) came with the 125th anniversary of the Holy Names Sisters’ arrival in Oakland, CA, and a partnership with Sr. Cynthia Canning and Sr. Margaret Kennedy. Sr. Cynthia and I were Co-Directors for 21 years.

One of the tutors at the Center wrote, “Next Step is a wonderful oasis in West Oakland where the most important work imaginable is happening.” Older youth and adults who have an unfinished journey of not graduating from high school see that Next Step is a constant, safe, dependable place with supportive and creative staff and volunteers. They continue their journeys on the transformative avenue of education offered through opportunities to earn high school equivalency certification, to pursue community college, or to gain greater confidence with basic adult literacy.

Letteria, who first earned her GED certification, then went on to earn a master’s degree, reflected: “Coming to Next Step was the beginning of creating hope for myself; the beginning of thinking that I could be more than the circumstances that I came from; the beginning of an idea that I could do more than what I thought and what other people thought of me.”

Many years into my journey at NSLC, a Howard Thurman reflection unfolded for me, “… the good deed is a meeting place for the mingling of one life with another.” At NSLC we created an environment for the mingling of those being served (students) and those offering service (volunteers). It was an opportunity for persons from two different segments of society to come together as partners, opening an avenue of insight into each other’s world. "Next Step encouraged me to want to come back to school. They provided a tutor that made everything I thought was hard look easy. But the greatest thing is Next Step brought hope back in my life," said Melvin, a GED graduate).

I frequently ponder the disciples traveling the Road to Emmaus and recognize after the fact, as the two disciples did, blessed times in my life for which I am grateful.