Nun is named first female head of Catholic Charities USA

Sr. Donna Markham has been selected as Catholic Charities USA's new president. Photo courtesy of Catholic Charities USA
Sr. Donna Markham, OP, Ph.D., has been selected as Catholic Charities USA's New President. Photo courtesy of Catholic Charities USA

Sr. Donna Markham has been selected as Catholic Charities USA’s new president. Photo courtesy of Catholic Charities USA

(RNS) A nun has been chosen as the next president of Catholic Charities USA, the first time that a woman will head the church’s main charitable arm in its 105-year history.

Sister Donna Markham, a highly regarded Dominican who specializes in clinical psychology, will take over in June from the Rev. Larry Snyder, who has headed the Alexandria, Va.-based Catholic Charities for the past decade.

“There can be no greater call than to serve and advocate on behalf of persons who struggle to get by in a world where they are all-too-frequently relegated to the margins of society and where they long for dignity, hope and compassion,” said Markham, currently president of the Behavioral Health Institute for Mercy Health in Ohio.

“I feel blessed to walk among the many dedicated Catholic Charities workers across the country who daily make the gospel come alive through their care for their sisters and brothers in need.”

Catholic Charities agencies across the country serve 10 million people annually, and their 70,000 employees are on the front lines of the church’s social service efforts in the U.S.

Markham’s appointment by the CCUSA board of trustees — a board she once chaired — comes as Pope Francis is pushing to give women more prominent roles in the Catholic Church.

The choice of a well-known Catholic sister also coincides with efforts to ease the Vatican’s tensions with the American nuns, who have been the subject of two separate Vatican investigations and intense criticism from conservatives in Rome and the U.S.

“I will do all in my power to support her leadership and passion in working to respond to the growing needs of the underprivileged, especially following the example of our dear Pope Francis,” said Pittsburgh Bishop David A. Zubik, the chief liaison between the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and CCUSA.

During his 10 years as head of Catholic Charities, Snyder became a prominent faith-based voice for social justice on Capitol Hill. He is returning to work in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.


About the author

David Gibson

David Gibson is a national reporter for RNS and an award-winning religion journalist, author and filmmaker. He has written several books on Catholic topics. His latest book is on biblical artifacts: "Finding Jesus: Faith. Fact. Forgery," which was also the basis of a popular CNN series.


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  • From the mental health trade. Isn’t that cute?

    If you could sit down to dinner with anyone from history (alive or dead) who would it be and why?

    I would love to meet Nelson Mandela.

    Of all the people she wants to meet, it’s a South African politician properly subject to much criticism. So much for the saints.

    One of her more recent employments was as a senior administrator o’er at the ruins of Georgetown University.

    Chances this dame will act on the understanding that corporal works of mercy are auxilliary to spiritual works of mercy = close to nil.

  • @ Art Deco = “Though generally enjoined upon all the faithful, often, in particular cases, a given individual will not be obligated or even competent to perform four of the seven spiritual works of mercy, namely: instructing the ignorant, counseling the doubtful, admonishing sinners, and comforting the afflicted. These works may require a definitely superior level of authority or knowledge or an extraordinary amount of tact. The other three works – bearing wrongs patiently, forgiving offences willingly, praying for the living and the dead – are considered to be an obligation of all faithful to practise unconditionally.[4]” source: Wikipedia.

    @Art Deco, too bad that the comments you choose to post are full of judgement, disdain, sexism and an incorrect understanding of Corporal and Spiritual works.

    Isn’t THAT CUTE. Don’t hate, learn the real debate!

  • “Catholic Charities agencies across the country serve 10 million people annually, and their 70,000 employees are on the front lines of the church’s social service efforts in the U.S.”

    I wish Donna Markham well. But she’s being wasted.
    What a shame Cath. Charities is forbidden from offering all women proper family planning healthcare. Do they pass out condoms? No. Do they offer Abortions? No. Do they offer proper sexual education? Of course not.

    Instead there is so much wasted effort with Bibles and Sermons. Yuck.

    Instead she should be running Foundation Beyond Belief – now THAT is an amazing charity. Small by comparison to Catholic Charities for sure. But growing quickly in this age of disgust with religion – and it is a charity which does not discriminate or proselytize.

    Plus, Foundation Beyond Belief (entirely atheist) is not part of an international criminal organization which hides pedophile priests and their godfathers: Bernard Cardinal Law for example, the godfather of the Boston Pedophile Network.

  • Tanya,

    Yes, ‘the pill’ is healthcare.
    Condoms are healthcare – especially in countries with AIDS.
    And Uterine care is something half the world’s population needs desperately.

    Funny how religion poisons everything while it forbids decency.
    so humble.

  • In general atheists consider proper healthcare as advice and treatment endorsed and accepted by medical professionals in the field as safe, effective and for the general well being of the patient.

    This is as opposed to advice and treatment done for the sake of furthering a sectarian religious agenda and having nothing to do with the needs of the patients.

  • @art Deco,

    Don’t mind the naysayers on here.. they are just the cheer leaders for the ‘Nuns on the Bus’. This ‘Sister’ is missing her habit and is a member of the LCWR which means that she is going to fit in quite nicely with the Catholic Charities aka the Extended Arm of the Democratic Party.

    I just found a quote from Sister Donna in which when asked during a LCWR meeting regarding the Vatican’s review of the loony old ladies in pant suits.. her reply was “I felt extremely hurt, betrayed by my own church.”

    My reply to Sister Donna’s quote about being betrayed: “Big surprise Sister.. considering that you betrayed Christ and your religion order when you reneged on your vows and the charism of your order.. in other words.. sold out to the world in order to live a few human years in self glory plastered with feminazi sentiment.”

    We must be in the end-times to allow such a disease to enter the Church and drive off good souls to be led to a valley of goats.

  • @atheistmax

    How about teaching people the age old lesson of self control and abstinence until they find their life long husband/wife. Imagine that.. it would solve the whole issue of birth control, murder (abortion), and all the other issues that go hand in hand with sin.. life would be so much less complicated.

  • @Michael,

    “How about teaching people the age old lesson of self control and abstinence”
    How about because that hasn’t worked anywhere it was ever tried. And because the sex lives of other people are none of your business.

    “until they find their life long husband/wife. Imagine that.. “
    Yes – You would have to imagine that because it is ridiculous. Sex is part of life – I had a dozen girlfriends before I got married to my wife of 30 years – and contraception was always used very safely.
    Happy endings happen when people are happy and healthy. And a healthy sex life is part of that.

    “It would solve the whole issue of birth control, murder (abortion), and all the other issues that go hand in hand with sin.. “
    As would a plague. ‘Sin’ is a nonsense word. Well-being requires a healthy sex life. The way to prevent abortion is to USE BIRTH CONTROL – a ridiculously simple answer which every religion brainlessly opposes.

    “life would be so much less complicated.”
    Fear of complications is exactly what leads to dishonesty. Thanks for proving my point that religion encourages laziness and immoral behavior.

    Sex is not immoral if it is safe, consensual and respectful.

    Your plan involves enforcement of religious decrees on other people than yourself to attain a fool’s errand – that alone makes it worse than awful.

  • The “pill” you propose as healthcare, is poison for women. Seems you are on a war on women too. And if people would control themselves there would be no need of so called birth control…condoms included and abortion. 1/2 the world’s population is going away, which is a natural natural resource.

  • Laying aside the “sectarian religious agenda”, ditto what i said to Max to you. You can get to the conclusion that the methods and devices used in what you deem as healthcare are not all that healthy, even without any religious backing, just following the natural law, or is meddling with the human organism proper to its’ health?

  • all of your rebuttals apply only to you, trying to win over folks to your side? Most people who love life, reject your reasoning.

  • @Tanya,

    “The pill is poison for women”
    Nonsense. You are clearly not a doctor. Besides, religion is poison for women – gods are man made (as in male-made) chauvinists in every case.

    “if people would control themselves”
    And how’s that working?
    ‘Abstinence only’ sex education programs have lead to more teen pregnancies than any other method of ‘birth control’! At some point even Christians need to wake up.

    Besides – who put you in charge of everyone else’s sex lives?
    In societies where contraception is safe and easy to get, unwanted pregnancy is rare and people are much happier – what is it about happiness that religious people find so offensive?

    If you think teens should always avoid sex you are wrong.
    First because their biology will not let you stop them. They will find a way. Second these are important decisions they need to learn to make by themselves and they need a grown-up culture which responds in a grown-up way to their questions.

    Religion leads grown ups to say and do childish things and act like children on these matters.

  • Tanya,

    “Trying to win folks over to your side?”

    Sure. Why not?
    That is what you are doing. The difference is that I am not being a hypocrite.

    Donna Markham is a sign of progress in the Catholic Charities but notice how little and how late!

    Catholic women are not supposed to use contraceptives yet they do it anyway. 90% of American Catholic women pay absolutely no attention to this profoundly ignorant dogma. They like sex, they want it and they don’t care about the Pope or anyone else’s opinion on their sexuality.

    The idea that a nun is running an organization
    which forbids healthy sex lives for women – is nothing to be proud of.

  • Tanya,

    “or is meddling with the human organism proper to its’ health?”

    Killing cancer is ‘meddling’ with the human organism.
    Are you against killing cancer?
    Removing wisdom teeth is meddling.
    Removing a sick appendix is meddling.
    Fixing a broken bone is meddling!

    Look at the ridiculous things people say when they see the world through religion. Religion’s ignorance is cosmic!

  • You know what Max, no one put me in charge of anything. But your mean spirit is dominant that’s for sure. I am laughing that you say people are happier, are they really?(see how happy I am) what planet are you living on?
    I didn’t say sex was bad, there you assuming things, and you are right I’m not a doctor, but an informed woman who is concerned about other women messing up their bodies with unneeded hormones and surgeries. Are you a doctor? But I do know that you put your faith in science. good.

  • Tanya,

    I have a very mean spirit toward religion and religious decrees
    because I have not seen one that is decent, kind or civil.

    And given that 50% of the world is made up of women, that is a lot of damage and denial of rights the Catholic Church is imposing by encouraging unsustainable and irrational policies regarding sex.
    Who do they think they are? I want to know.

    Women’s Emancipation is the cure for poverty and overpopulation – not abstinence which has never worked – and not miserable Catholic programs.

  • No, we do not lay aside “sectarian religious agenda”. It informs how patients are treated by religious based health care providers. It sacrifices medical necessity and healthcare needs for religious dogma. Prohibitions on birth control and abortion have nothing to do with personal health needs of patients and everything to do with furthering sectarian religious goals.

    “You can get to the conclusion that the methods and devices used in what you deem as healthcare are not all that healthy, even without any religious backing”

    But you are not doing so. So your statement is an irrelevance.

    You are misrepresenting healthcare and treatment options for the sake of religious backing.

    “Natural law” is simply Catholic apologetic claptrap to excuse any kind of behavior and action without giving a sane explanation. A sure sign someone is full of crap is when they invoke “Natural law” as an answer.

  • Art,

    “Chances this dame will act …” I will pray for you that you will be led away from such disrespectful characterizations of another human being.


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