‘Women in Witness’: Their faith impels their lives

By Christine Bordelon, Clarion Herald

Through a weekly, online video presentation called “Women in Witness,” the Archdiocese of New Orleans is highlighting the role of Catholic women whose career paths involve work for the church.

Launched March 13 during Women’s History Month, the series began by highlighting Dr. RaeNell Houston, superintendent of Catholic Schools of the Archdiocese of New Orleans. It is available on the archdiocesan website – nolacatholic.org – and the archdiocese’s Facebook page, said Sarah McDonald, director of communications for the archdiocese. 

The first group of women spotlighted are mostly archdiocesan administrators, said McDonald, who is co-creator of “Women in Witness” with Archbishop Gregory Aymond.

The group includes Marianite Sister Marjorie Hebert, Mount Carmel Sisters Beth Fitzpatrick and Mary Ellen Wheelahan, Dr. Daniella Zsupan-Jerome, Alecia Bloodworth, Karen Heil, Betty-Ann Hickey and Debbie Shinskie.

“We want to honor them for bringing their skills to the Archdiocese of New Orleans,” McDonald said.

McDonald interviews each woman, delving into their faith background and upbringing, as well as their family’s influence on their faith life and professional roles before coming to the archdiocese.

Even though each narrative is different, McDonald discovered a common thread among them. “All were open to the call of working with the Archdiocese of New Orleans,” she said. “Through prayer and discernment, they ended up here.” 

Insight into women

Here is a short background on each person to be featured. After the first video with Dr. RaeNell Houston, a new video will be posted every Wednesday:

→ Dr. RaeNell Houston, a Plaquemines Parish native, is the first African American to serve as superintendent of the Office of Catholic schools and has spearheaded a special-needs initiative in Catholic schools. She has a doctorate in curriculum and instruction from the University of New Orleans, an MBA from Southern New Hampshire University, and a master of arts in curriculum and instruction with a specialty in reading from Louisiana State University. She was an associate superintendent in the schools office for five years, beginning in 2012, before becoming superintendent. Houston has experience teaching at all levels from elementary to college. 

 

 

→ Betty-Ann Hickey, an often-seen presence at archdiocesan liturgies, has been associate director in the archdiocesan Office of Worship since 2011. She has a bachelor of arts degree in pastoral ministry from Providence College and is nearing completion of a master of arts degree in theology with a concentration in liturgical and sacramental theology, also from Providence College. She had served for 17 years in parish ministry, including 11 as parish director of music and liturgy, before becoming associate director.

 

 

 

→ Sister of Mount Carmel Mary Ellen Wheelahan is a Cabrini High School graduate and was selected the school’s 2013 Alumna of the Year. She took perpetual vows with her congregation in 1984 and has served as religious coordinator at Mount Carmel in New Iberia. She was the founder/administrator of the Cub Corner Preschool at Mount Carmel in New Orleans and was associate director for elementary school catechesis. Sister Mary Ellen has a master’s degree in adult education and Christian community development and has dedicated herself to preventing child abuse as the safe environment coordinator for the archdiocese.

 

 

→ Alecia D. Bloodworth is assistant director of the Office of Black Catholic Ministries for the archdiocese. She is graduate of John Ehret High, attended the University of New Orleans and continues her studies at Dillard University. A lifelong member of St. Joseph the Worker Church in Marrero, she has served in various ministries for the past 12 years. She orders her life using Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ that strengthens me.”

 

 

 

→ Daniella Zsupan-Jerome, Ph.D., is a national speaker, educator and consultant with expertise in theology and communication. She directs the master of arts in pastoral leadership and is a professor of pastoral theology at Notre Dame Seminary. She has a bachelor’s in theology from the University of Notre Dame, a master’s degree in liturgy from St. John’s University in Collegeville, a master’s degree in religion and the arts from Yale Divinity School and a Ph.D. in theology and education from Boston College. She is originally from Budapest, Hungary, and has served as a consultant for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Communications Committee and the Catholic Press Association. She authored the book “Connected Toward Communion: The Church and Social Communication in the Digital Age” (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2014) and “Evangelization and Catechesis: Echoing the Good News in the Documents of the Church” (Twenty-Third Publications, 2017).

 

→ Debbie Shinskie is Respect Life director for the archdiocese. Shinskie said her work on behalf of human life was formed in the womb when her birth mother placed her for adoption with loving Catholic parents. She has been a registered nurse, first caring for those at the end of life at a Level 1 trauma center, then for expectant mothers and for new families, and, later, working at parish and diocesan levels within the church. She is a wife and mother of four.

 

 

→ Sister of Mount Carmel Beth Fitzpatrick is vicar for religious for the archdiocese. She has served as president and formation director for her congregation. She has taught at Notre Dame Seminary and at Hope House in the St. Thomas Housing Project and was a theology teacher at Mount Carmel Academy in New Orleans and New Iberia. She earned her undergraduate degree from St. Mary’s Dominican College, has a master of arts in systematic theology from the University of Notre Dame and did graduate studies at the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley.

 

 

 

→ Karen Heil is the archdiocesan director of human resources. Her office is responsible for the administration of all archdiocesan personnel policies. She feels the Lord has prepared her through her previous work experience for her current role with the local church to deal with “all of the business models for which we have 501c3’s, as well as the respect for the contribution of every staff member of each entity as being equally important to the mission.”

 

 

 

 

 

→ Marianite Sister Marjorie Hebert is president and CEO of Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New Orleans. She spent 25 years as a teacher and school administrator; served as vice president for finance and operations and associate to the president at Our Lady of Holy Cross College; and helped develop and coordinate Our Lady of Wisdom Healthcare Center in Algiers, serving as its CEO for 13 years. In 2014, she was named a New Orleans City Business “Woman of the Year.” 

 

Future interviews with other Catholic women will follow once the first series has aired.

“We hope to make it an ongoing project,” McDonald said. “There are always new women coming to work in the Catholic Church.”

Christine Bordelon can be reached at cbordelon@clarionherald.org.

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