The new president of Catholic Charities USA was a special assistant to the president of Georgetown University before serving six years as prioress of the activist Adrian Dominican Sisters in Michigan. She also led an association of women religious that was the subject of a recent Vatican investigation and publicly undermined the bishops’ efforts to prevent abortion coverage in Obamacare-affiliated insurance plans.
In 2003 and 2004, Sister Donna Markham, O.P., was Georgetown University’s director for leadership initiatives and special assistant to President John DeGioia. It was in October 2003 that Georgetown’s Women’s Leadership Initiative sponsored a first-ever Meeting of the Ministers of Women’s Affairs from countries around the world to discuss women’s issues.
Sr. Markham left Georgetown to serve as prioress of the Adrian Dominicans, a post she held from 2004 to 2010. During her tenure, the reputation of the congregation for progressive activism was not diminished. As key participants in the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, Adrian Dominicans have been leaders in the “shareholder movement” to force public companies to disclose political donations and other transactions. They also have been leaders in environmental activism; it was while Sr. Markham was prioress, in 2008, that Adrian Sister Patricia Siemen, O.P., founded the Earth Law Institute.
“The concept of inherent rights of nature emerges from the continuing tradition of indigenous peoples, who like Earth herself struggle to exist and flourish,” Sr. Siemens told the heterodox publication National Catholic Reporter. “Their cosmovision provides the world with a path forward, yet their communities continue to be targeted for destruction and commodification. The call for women religious to stand in solidarity with indigenous peoples and Earth is ever more urgent—and needed.”
While Sr. Markham was prioress, the Adrian Dominicans joined the Catholic Health Association in undermining the U.S. bishops’ efforts to ensure that abortion would not be covered under health plans associated with Obamacare. They joined an effort to lobby Congress to approve the measure, despite the bishops’ opposition.
“Despite false claims to the contrary, the Senate bill will not provide taxpayer funding for elective abortions,” wrote Sister Kathleen Nolan on behalf of the Adrian Dominicans’ General Council, together with other women religious, in a March 2010 letter to Congress. “It will uphold long-standing conscience protections and it will make historic new investments—$250 million—in support of pregnant women.”
Adding insult to the bishops, the sisters declared that theirs “is the real pro-life stance.” Subsequently, their claims have been proven false by revelations of abortion coverage in Obamacare-funded plans.
Also while Sr. Markham was prioress, the Vatican launched its investigation of dissent and other concerns in the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) and its member congregations. Sr. Markham has publicly expressed concern about the investigation and, in a presentation at the College of the Holy Cross in 2013, she took issue with criticisms of the LCWR as “radical feminists” and for hosting dissenting speakers at the conference’s annual assemblies.
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“Investigate the speaker!” she said, denying that the LCWR should be tainted for inviting known dissidents. Sr. Markham also dismissed the Vatican’s subsequent decree on women religious as “suppressive” for “telling us how to think, telling us how to pray.”
Sr. Markham herself was president of the LCWR in 1991, the same year that Donna Steichen published Ungodly Rage, a devastating exposé of problems in the LCWR and its member congregations. It was also the year when several faithful women’s congregations broke from LCWR and formed the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious, which was recognized by the Vatican in 1992.
Reprinted with permission from The Cardinal Newman Society.