Year Joined MKLM: 1993
City: São Paulo
Focus: Education, Health, Pastoral Care
Project(s): Health Formation for Women Prisoners
People Served: Approximately 80 women prisoners served annually
Project Goal(s): Facilitate support circles for women in prison, targeting pregnant women and moms with newborns.
Searching to combine social work and advocacy in overseas service work in a faith community led Kathy to Maryknoll Lay Missioners in 1993. She reflects, “I am very grateful for the opportunity to be in mission. My spirituality is nourished by ever-widening circles of people and cultures, which are interwoven with stories of pain, transformation and God’s abundant love. I am inspired by many of the women I accompany, as they strive to forge a new direction in their lives. After 25 years in mission, I have witnessed the link between group participation and increased self-esteem for women especially in situations of vulnerability. Joy in mission for me is being able to journey with women as we strive to attain more of our fullest potential.”
Kathy facilitates support circles for incarcerated women focusing on mental and physical health with the Archdiocesan of São Paulo prison ministry and the NGO ITTC (Institute for Land, Work and Citizenship). There are approximately 12,800 women in São Paulo’s state prison system. Kathy visits three women’s prisons in São Paulo, which like most prisons in Brazil suffer from overcrowding, human rights abuses and over-extended judicial processes. In addition to the health promotion content of the circles, Kathy teaches relaxation techniques – including yoga, breathing exercises, massage and meditation – to help prisoners manage stress.
Her prison ministry focuses on accompanying women who have babies in prison. She co-facilitates moms and newborns’ health courses, that promote breast-feeding, where care of newborns and other health issues are discussed. She teaches the Shantala Baby Massage method to promote maternal bonding while providing many other benefits including increasing immunity, helping to develop motor skills, and relieving intestinal gases. This simple technique can easily be practiced by the women in their cells.
In an effort to reduce the number of people of prison, Kathy and her team partner with Church groups, Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and public defenders who are advocating for prison reform, especially to allow women with young children to serve alternative sentences to jail time.
Kathy shared a mission story of a woman she accompanied: “As I was passing through a small park, I ran into Grace, a young woman from the Philippines. I accompanied her last year when she was in prison. Grace faithfully attended the health issues workshops I taught. Upon recognizing me, she gave me a big hug and thanked me for visiting her during very difficult moments of being in prison in a foreign country. For me, one of the hardest things is that I often don’t know what happens to the women after they get out of prison. Sometimes we don’t have the chance to say good-bye, so “bumping into” Grace made my afternoon. I was happy to hear that she was working two jobs and had a safe place to live. Prison ministry is often like planting seeds without ever seeing the fruits. This made my encounter with Grace extra special.”
Originally from Battle Creek, MI, Kathy graduated from St. Mary’s College in South Bend, IN, with a double major in Finance and Spanish Literature. Immediately after college, she volunteered for two years at a community center in San Juan, Puerto Rico, where she co-founded an artisan cooperative for women and coached youth volleyball teams. Before joining MKLM in 1993, Kathy worked at Bread for the World, a citizen’s lobby focused on hunger issues.
Kathy met Flavio Rocha while working on a social justice project in Brazil. They married in 2000 and moved to Berkeley, CA. While there, Kathy was Maryknoll Lay Missioners’ Western Regional Recruiter and active in Holy Spirit Newman Parish. Flavio joined MKLM in 2003 and they returned to Brazil in 2004. Their daughter, Maya, was born there in 2005. They have served as missioners in São Paulo since 2010. The year 2018 marks Kathy’s 25th anniversary as a Maryknoll lay missioner and Flavio’s 15th anniversary. In addition to her ministry with women, Kathy has served MKLM in several capacities including Regional Director of Brazil and member of the MKLM Board of Directors from 2012-2017.