The History of Centro Santa Catalina
The history of Centro Santa Catalina (CSC) reflects a commitment to provide programs that expand nutritional, health, academic, entrepreneurial and life skills that would empower and lift women and children living in Cuidad Juarez, Mexico from abject poverty and social marginalization. The center was founded in 1996 by Sisters Donna Kustusch and Eleanor Stech. It is located at Calle Pavo Real #1480 in Colonia Pánfilo Natera, Cd. Juarez on the former municipal garbage dump. As they met in prayer with the women, the Sisters learned that the women were looking for ways to earn money to send their children to school and help feed their families. They began making piñatas, but found the market was flooded.
The first successful project was a sewing cooperative in 1997, known as the Cooperative of Women of Hope and Faith. The women made scarves, purses, table cloths, shawls, prayer flags, etc. out of beautiful Mexican fabric. These products are sold mostly in the U. S. at conferences, bazaars, parishes, and over the internet. After expenses the profits are divided between the 13 members of the sewing cooperative. After the sewing machines were put away, Rachel Pineda and Sue Williams volunteered and taught Spanish and ESL classes in the same room from 1999-2OO9.
The Homework Help Program began with the construction of a second room in 1997. Eight tutors instruct 200+ students a year (grades 1-6) to help them succeed in school. The instruction was enhanced by 20 computers donated by the Mexican foundation FECHAC (Foundation of Chihuahua Businesses) in 2015. These children also are the recipients of classes in dance, music, art, and learning how to play the guitar sponsored by FECHAC (a civil association in Mexico). The Universidad Autonoma de Juarez has also donated free dental care for these children. In view of the violence in Mexico, this program provides a safe haven for children whose parents are working outside the home.
The garden program began in 2004 and was coordinated by CSC staff with the solidarity and supports of the Center for Action and Contemplation (CAC) in Albuquerque. Vegetable gardens were planted and supervised at pilot home-cites of local women. In 2016 the CAC provided raised-beds in which the women and children of CSC grow organic vegetables. This project emphasizes the importance of taking care of the land as well as the planting and harvesting of a variety of vegetables.
One building was remodeled to accommodate a kitchen and a dining room in 2019. The children now enjoy a free nutritional lunch five days a week.
Spiritual workshops are frequently provided for the tutors. Credit must be given to the religious women who have volunteered throughout the years: Sisters Donna and Eleanor O. P., Elizabeth (Libby) Pepe, OSF, Rose Ann Schlitt OP, Rene weeks OP, Fran Hicks 0SF, and Maureen Gallagher OP. Sister Terri Rodela OSF is the current Marketing Coordinator for the sewing cooperative.
Our superb director, Rosa Elida Villela Hernandez, is at the helm as she directs Centro Santa Catalina into the future.
Maria De Dolores Franco: A Member of the Co-Op at Centro Santa Catalina:
“I began coming to Centro Santa Catalina with my children. The prayers I have experienced here helped me grow. All four of my children are growing up with good values. The sewing cooperative helps me financially. But even more importantly I have friends here. Before I was isolated and now I have a community. Because of the visitors we have met i also have experienced different ways of thinking and different cultures. I really know God now. It is God who helps us to continue in the struggle.”
Eulogia (Chikis) Felix: A Member of the Co-Op at Centro Santa Catalina:
“I’ve worked at the sewing cooperative for five years. I like everything I do– sewing by machine, creating the knotted fringes, pulling threads and braiding cord. I’ve also grown spiritually through participating in Values, Faith, and Life. Before I just remained in my house and was very submissive, afraid to state my opinion. Now I am stronger and more confident in myself. I have a better family life, too. My daughter has grown a great deal because of the tutoring she has received. When she started coming here she was failing in all her subjects. Now she is doing well and likes school.”