Year Joined MKLM: 1993
City: João Pessoa
Focus: Health, human rights and education
Project(s): Health and human rights leadership formation for women in marginalized communities
People Served: Approximately 90 women served annually
Project Goal(s): Facilitate support circles and leadership training on health and human rights issues especially confronting domestic violence in marginalized communities.
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 and leadership training for women focusing on mental and physical health and human rights in periphery communities in the greater João Pessoa metropolitan area and on land settlements in rural areas of the state of Paraíba. In addition to the health promotion and human rights content of the circles, Kathy teaches relaxation techniques – including yoga, breathing exercises, massage and meditation – to help women manage stress.
One focus of her ministry is accompanying pregnant women and moms of newborns who live in marginalized communities. She teams up with public health agents to identify pregnant women and moms with newborns with health issues who would benefit from learning the Shantala baby massage method. The method promotes maternal bonding while providing many other benefits including increasing immunity, helping to develop motor skills, and relieving intestinal gases. She also facilitates health courses that promote breast-feeding, care of newborns, prevention of DSTs and issues related to mental health such as post-partum depression.
Another focus of the group work is gender, sexuality and human rights workshops. This formation aims to raise awareness and explore ways to confront Intimate violence against women and children, which are problems that affect many of the women that she accompanies.
Kathy participates in the city-wide feminist movement, which denounces human rights violations such as gender violence and organizes events to promote gender equality and LGBTQ rights such as International Women’s Day manifestations and protests.
Originally from Battle Creek, Michigan, Kathy graduated from St. Mary’s College in South Bend, Indiana, 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 Maryknoll Lay Missioners in 1993, Kathy worked at Bread for the World, a citizen’s lobby focused on hunger issues.
Kathy met Flávio Rocha while working on a social justice project in Brazil. They married in 2000 and moved to Berkeley, California. While there, Kathy was Maryknoll Lay Missioners’ Western regional recruiter and active in Holy Spirit Newman Parish. Flávio joined Maryknoll Lay Missioners in 2003, and they returned to Brazil in 2004. Their daughter, Maya, was born there in 2005. Kathy worked in João Pessoa from 1994 to 2001 and 2004 to 2010. They served as missioners in São Paulo from 2010 to 2018, where Kathy worked in women prisons on health issues. 2018 marked Kathy’s 25th anniversary as a Maryknoll Lay Missioner and Flávio’s 15th anniversary. In early 2019 they returned to João Pessoa to reopen the Maryknoll Lay Missioners presence there.