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.
[Photo Credit: Nuri Vallbona, National Catholic Reporter - Global Sisters Report]
Christine Stephens Worked to 'Help Others Advocate for Themselves,' Austin American Statesman [pdf]
Austin Interfaith Commends Mayor and Council for Reforming Ordinances That Negatively Impacted People Experiencing Homelessness
Austin Interfaith commends the Mayor and City Council for addressing the negative impact of ordinances that criminalize many of the everyday activities people experiencing homelessness need to do to get by. Austin Interfaith clergy and leaders have long expressed concern about the precarious conditions experienced by people facing homelessness. During the elections last fall, at our accountability session, Austin Interfaith leaders called on the mayor and City Council to change these ordinances.
Passing the proposals last night is a significant step towards achieving that goal.
[Photo from footage by CBS Austin]
On Thursday, June 6th, Central Texas Interfaith (CTI) and Capital IDEA leaders successfully protected a $319,000 increase in workforce funding the Mayor and City Council committed to this past summer. In response to the Texas Legislature passing legislation this session that places a future 3.5% cap on property tax increases, a move was made to reevaluate and potentially reverse this $319,000 investment and other budget items that were set for approval yesterday.
CTI and Capital IDEA leaders mobilized to call and write their council members while Rabbi Alan Freedman, of Temple Beth Shalom and Co-Chair of the CTI Clergy Caucus, explained to the Mayor and Council how even a short delay could postpone and jeopardize the recruitment and enrollment of 50 new students.
When a motion was made to delay the Capital IDEA funding, it did not receive a second. Council Member Alison Alter made a counter motion to immediately award the funding for Capital IDEA, and it received unanimous support. Kudos to all the Council Members who supported this funding, and to Rabbi Freedman, CTI leader and Capital IDEA Board Member Joy Penticuff, and Capital IDEA Executive Director Steve Jackobs, and all the CTI leaders who worked on this intensively in less than a 24 hour period!
Click links below for videos about two Capital IDEA graduates:
Spanish-speaking Catholic leaders from 12 parishes across the Austin Catholic Diocese participated in Central Texas Interfaith “Recognizing the Stranger” training today on a rainy Saturday at Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church.
The follow up session was conducted in partnership with the Austin Catholic Diocese and Catholic Charities.
Central Texas Interfaith Leaders Push for Restoration of ACE Funding and, with Texas IAF, Advance EDAP Legislation for Economically Distressed Areas
One month after 300 Texas IAF leaders descended on the Capitol to call for investments in human development, delegations have been visiting the Capitol daily to engage legislators around school finance, the ACE fund, payday lending and infrastructure support for economically distressed areas. In photos above are Central Texas Interfaith leaders from the Congregational Church of Austin, Wildflower Church (including Reverend Brian Ferguson), Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic, and Capital IDEA.
Legislative allies in the Rio Grande Valley and El Paso crafted a proposed constitutional amendment providing for the issuance of bonds by the Texas Water Development Board for projects in economically distressed areas. The proposal is almost to the finish line.
With ACE funding already in the draft budget, leaders are working to restore it to its original $10 Million. When economist Marc Elliot from Economic Mobility delivered a presentation on the effectiveness of the Project QUEST job training model at the Capitol, representatives from over a dozen legislative offices attended.
The QUEST model is hailed as the hitting on a "formula with a proven track record" and Texas IAF organizations across the state have applied it in across the state, including in Austin through Capital IDEA .
Texas ACE Fund Return on Investment, Texas IAF
Nine Year Gains: Project Quest's Continuing Impact, Economic Mobility
San Antonio Program Moves Low-Skilled into Middle Class, Houston Chronicle [pdf]
Hundreds of Texas IAF leaders bused in to Austin from El Paso, the Rio Grande Valley, San Antonio, Houston, Dallas and West Texas, to join 100 Central Texas Interfaith leaders for a press conference calling on state legislators to increase spending on adult and K-12 education.
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 publicly recognized in the Gallery with a House resolution in support of the ACE program. Immediately afterward, they convened on the South Capitol steps for a press conference in which they were joined by five state legislators from Central Texas who pledged to continue working for investments in people, including Gina Hinojosa (HD-49), Vikki Goodwin (HD-47), John Bucy (HD 136), Erin Zweiner (HD-45) and James Talarico (HD-52).
After the press conference, leaders broke out into smaller delegations to meet with legislators that represent their geographic regions, including in Austin, Western Travis, Williamson County, Comal and Hays.
Organizations Call On State Legislators to Support Adult Education, Univision 62 [Spanish video]
The CCHD-sponsored 'Recognizing the Stranger' strategy launched in Central Texas with the support of Catholic Bishop Joe Vasquez, the Diocese of Austin, the Organizers Institute of the West/Southwest IAF and Austin Interfaith.
50 trainees from 13 institutions participated in Spanish-language sessions including the Body of Christ, the Baptismal Call of the Church and Qualities of Leaders through the lens of the Beatitudes.
Central Texas Interfaith (CTI), a network of over 50 religious and civic institutions comprised of Austin Interfaith, Bastrop Interfaith, Corridor IAF, and related projects in Western Travis and Williamson Counties has launched a non-partisan effort to Get Out the Vote in four Central Texas counties. These efforts include signing up at least 15,000 to support a common agenda of issues. Over 5,000 residents met through small group “house meetings” to identify issues of mutual interest that candidates for local office will be asked to support.
CTI will also host 4 Accountability Sessions, one each in Travis, Williamson, Hays, and Bastrop to gain commitments from candidates on affordability, infrastructure, living wages, immigration, healthcare access, and public safety. Candidates for Austin Mayor, including Steve Adler and Laura Morrison, Austin City Council, Hays County Judge and Commissioners, Texas Legislator, and U.S. Congress will have an opportunity to give their public support to the CTI agenda of issues. CTI does not endorse candidates. The first two Accountability Sessions will be held on October 21st, in Travis and Hays Counties.
CTI’s goal is to overcome a divisive political culture by building a network of 15,000 voters who are connected through face-to-face relationships and conversations in congregations, schools, social service organizations, unions, and neighborhoods. Volunteers from CTI are engaging these voters in pews, health clinics, back to school nights, health fairs, and at doorsteps. CTI is on target to conduct over 40 “Sign Up Take Charge” block walks in neighborhoods across Travis, Hays, Williamson, and Bastrop Counties leading up to the November 6 election.
Immediately after the November elections, Central Texas Interfaith will engage the thousands of voters who signed onto the agenda to advocate for these identified priorities with elected officials.
Examples of specific items on the CTI issues agenda include:
Affordability: Economic displacement of families from the Eastside and Southside of Austin to Kyle, Buda, and outside 183 in Travis County.
Education: Cutting of Austin ISD school budget due to inadequate state funding even while Austin is one of the fastest growing cities in the country
Health Care: Lack of medical personnel who accept Medicaid and Medicare in Williamson County
Infrastructure: Limited funding for infrastructure improvements in central Texas
Immigration: Undocumented migrants afraid to attend church in Bastrop and New Braunfels due to concerns about ICE
We commend the Mayor and City Council for fully funding all of Austin Interfaith’s priorities in the just-approved FY-2019 city budget. This includes full funding for AISD Parent Support Specialists, AISD Prime Time After School programs, an increase in the City of Austin Living Wage to $15/hr., and an increase in funding for long term job training for programs such as Capital IDEA, for a combined budgetary impact of over $5 million.
We commend the collaboration of Councilmembers Alison Alter and Greg Casar for their combined amendment to restore full funding to these education and workforce development programs, which also provided funding for programs addressing homelessness and other social services. Mayor Adler and Councilmembers Garza, Kitchen, Poole, and Tovo also supported this measure. Austin Interfaith also commends Mayor Adler for his earlier motion to free up additional budgetary money by setting the tax rate at an appropriate level, making good on a promise he and council members made to Austin Interfaith and the community earlier in the year to hold crucial human development programs harmless from the budgetary impact of increasing the homestead exemption.
We do believe the city needs to evaluate its budget process and will work with them to make sure these essential investments in human and economic development are not left to last minute budget decisions. But we commend the Mayor, Council, their staffs, and the City Manager and his staff for their accessibility and collaboration in this budget process, as well as the hundreds of volunteer hours put in by Austin Interfaith leaders from across the city in advocating for these community priorities. This was the democratic process in action.