“Tres Mujeres Valientes”—Three Strong Women
On Friday, May 5, Franciscan Mission Service held our annual World Care Benefit. Every year, the organization bestows the Anselm Moons, OFM, Award to remember our founder, who began the Lay Mission Formation Program in 1989 to offer lay Catholics the opportunity to serve overseas in the spirit of Saints Francis and Clare. This year’s recipients were chosen for their outstanding contributions to the university in Carmen Pampa, Bolivia, which has educated hundreds of people from adjacent rural communities. Those who missed the chance to meet the sisters at the event can get to know them from the biographical sketches below, as well as through a forthcoming video from their acceptance speeches.
Sr. Damon Nolan, MFIC
Sister Damon was born in the small town of Roslindale, Massachusetts. She was the first of her six siblings to attend Catholic school, where the Franciscan sisters at St. Clare’s High School cultivated her passion for education and serving the marginalized. Sister Damon went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in English and a master’s in Earth Science.
After moving to Bolivia in 1980, Sister Damon had a chance conversation with the local bishop in which she mentioned how unfortunate it was that there were no opportunities for higher education in the area. The idea of a rural university took root in her mind, and Sister Damon set about making this dream a reality. Her first request was simple—for money to purchase a generator—but it went to just the right person, Dick Leahy, with whom she would go on to co-found la Universidad Académica Campesina at Carman Pampa.
Since the school’s inception, it has grown into a powerful educating force boasting five majors, over 600 graduates, two campuses, and opportunities to study abroad in the US. Over 90% of students end up working jobs that support Bolivia’s rural area and approximately 50% of graduates are women. But equally important are the intangibles imparted at the school: a Franciscan spirit and dedication to the dignity of the local population. More than 20 years later, Carmen Pampa is thriving, thanks to Sister Damon’s vision and dedication.
Sr Chris Cullen, MFIC
Sister Chris was born in Golan, Ireland, one of 10 children. In college, she received a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and also studied architecture. After university, she traveled to London and worked for the bank of Tokyo. Sister Chris then joined the Franciscan sisters, and—after receiving a master’s degree in Hispanic ministry—she answered Pope John Paul XXIII’s call to serve in overseas mission work.
Sister Chris has been living and serving in Bolivia since the 1980s. She is recognized for the yellow tractor she once wheeled around the mountains of Bolivia, and for her knowledge of plumbing, electricity, and general maintenance, which she translated into grounds maintenance projects for students.
As a person, Sister Chris is tough yet soft-spoken. She offers listening without judgment, often with her signature brand of humor. After almost 40 years of service to the people of Bolivia, she says that her greatest joy has been seeing the students grow up, work at an education, and become strong family leaders and influential community members.
Sr. Jean Morrissey, MFIC
Sister Jean was born Patricia Morrissey in Dorchester, Massachusetts. The Franciscan spirit struck Sister Jean at an early age. During a visit to Msgr. Ryan Memorial High School, “I was greeted by Sister Cataldus on the convent roof throwing a ball down to some children and laughing,” she recalls. “At that moment, something clicked: I knew that I would become a Franciscan.”
At 18, Sister Jean entered the convent, and she subsequently earned a bachelor’s degree in education from Mt. Alvernia College and a master’s degree in theology from St. Bonaventure in Allegany, New York. She had been working for many years as an educator when she heard a presentation from Sister Damon about South American missions. Learning about the great need in those regions led Sister Jean to head south.
Sister Jean had been working in Peru for 10 years when she was called in 2003 to work in Carmen Pampa. She loves working with the young adults and teaching Human-Christian formation. “The class considers all aspects of our humanity,” she explains, “from the social and psychological to the biological, all in the context of the gift of Franciscan spirituality.” Sister Jean remains a tireless worker for justice and peace, shaping one young student at a time.