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Sister Mary Boys, dean of academic affairs and professor at Union Theological Seminary, joined Holy Names University as a Visiting Sister Fellow in March. Sr. Mary is the first participant in HNU’s fellowship program for Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, which promotes the mission and charism of the SNJM on campus. Her visit is supported by a Lowell Berry Foundation grant.
During her visit, Sr. Mary moderated a panel about the influence of Vatican II on Catholic higher education, participated in a meet and greet with the campus community, and lectured students on a variety of topics, including troubling biblical texts, Christianity and women, and racial discrimination and the Holocaust.
A noted theologian on Jewish-Christian relations, Sr. Mary also presented “Redeeming Our Sacred Story: The Death of Jesus and Relations Between Christians and Jews” at a
public event held in McLean Chapel. She argued that Catholics have an ethical obligation to acknowledge their historical role in promoting anti-Semitism, and that this hostility can be tied to how the New Testament has been interpreted by Christians.
“I am going to step back and ask what the consequences have been over time,” Sr. Mary said at the March 19 event. “I am going to suggest that the way that the New Testament tells the story about Jesus . . . has provided us with raw materials for hostility to Jews. It doesn’t mean that the New Testament itself is the great problem; it is what is done with the raw materials.”
She suggested that Catholics consider Jesus’ crucifixion in the context of that time period, when the Roman Empire crucified many as a way to assert their power and to inspire fear in slaves and peasants.
Sr. Mary has published more than 80 articles, and is the author of five books including
Christians and Jews in Dialogue: Learning in the Presence of the Other (Skylight Paths Publishing, 2006), with Sara S. Lee. Her forthcoming book, Redeeming Our Sacred Story: The Death of Jesus and Relations between Jews and Christians, will be published this year.
She earned her master’s and doctoral degrees from Columbia University in a joint program with Union Theological Seminary. Sr. Mary has received honorary doctorates from the Hebrew College-Jewish Institute of Religion, the Catholic Theological Union, the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, and Gratz College, and was the recipient of the Sternberg Award from the International Council of Christians and Jews in 2005.
Dr. Kitty Kelly Epstein, an associate professor of education at Holy Names University, is the 2013 recipient of the UAA-SAGE Marilyn Gittell Activist Scholar Lecture Series and Award. Epstein’s courses include Multicultural Education, Issues in Urban Education, and a senior colloquium on Oakland.
The award, which was presented to Epstein at the annual conference of the Urban Affairs Association in April, recognizes an urban scholar who has engaged in field-based research that incorporates direct engagement with local residents and organizations. The Urban Affairs Association is a professional organization for urban scholars and researchers. SAGE publishes academic and professional journals, books, and electronic media.
“Organizing and analyzing with the other folks who live in my city is a great privilege,” Epstein said. “If we all do a lot more organizing, we might eventually be able to end the racial wealth gap and sustain humanity in joyous, equitable cities all over the world.”
Epstein served as director of educational policy and resident engagement for former Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums. Her publications include Organizing to Change a City (Peter Lang Publishing, 2012) and A Different View of Urban Schools (Peter Lang Publishing, revised edition 2012). She also hosts the biweekly KPFA radio program Education Today, which regularly features Holy Names University students.
Menbere Aklilu, East Bay community leader, recipient of 2009’s Contra Costa Woman-Owned Business of the Year Award, and owner of Salute e Vita Ristorante in Richmond, Calif., will deliver the keynote address at Holy Names University’s (HNU) 87th commencement on Saturday, May 18.
Born in Ethiopia, Aklilu has demonstrated resilience, determination, and courage in building her successful career. She has faced many hardships on her journey to becoming a restaurant owner. As a child, she witnessed and survived the murder of her mother. She lived with her brother in high school, and after graduation she pursued an acting career. Aklilu married and moved to Italy with her husband to continue pursuing her dreams of acting. She endured an abusive relationship with her husband until she found sanction and gave birth to her son in a women’s shelter in Rome.
In Italy, Aklilu worked as a maid and in restaurants to support her son. Ten years later she visited her nieces in the United States. “I saw my nieces, what they are doing here and I said, ‘Wait a minute, you know if I came to America I am sure that I could be somebody.’ I didn’t expect it to be like this but a little different than Italy,” Aklilu said.
One week after moving to the U.S. in 1995, Aklilu visited Salute e Vita and impressed the owners with her ability to speak Italian. Although she didn’t have a car and couldn’t speak English, she began working at Salute e Vita as a hostess. Through her hard work, Aklilu became the assistant manager in eight months and later became the manager and general manager. When the owners of Salute e Vita decided to sell the restaurant in 2002, a regular customer approached Aklilu with the offer of a loan to purchase the restaurant. Aklilu accepted the offer and purchased Salute e Vita.
Recently she said to herself, “OK, I paid my loan. My son he (was) born homeless, but now he is at NYU getting his doctorate . . . and now I have to give back.”
In 2011, Aklilu opened her restaurant to 300 homeless individuals for a Thanksgiving lunch. Last Thanksgiving, she served 600 homeless, and this year she plans to close the restaurant completely and serve 900 people. She has also helped pay for the purchase of a local church and has supported girls in the community by hosting etiquette dinners and financing tuition for Northern Lights School.
Her life story will soon be a book and her keynote address will be filmed during graduation for an upcoming movie of her life. HNU President William J. Hynes said, “Menbere’s personal story is one of successive conquering of tragedy, deprivation, and loss—by faith, industry, and courage. When she spoke at the Durbin Entrepreneurship Speaker Series, there was not a heart that had not been warmed nor an eye that had not been moistened. Her story is quite amazing.”
The more than 200 graduates of 2013 will also hear from student speakers Thomas Davies ’13 and Priscilla Elendu ’13. Eribert Tan Cayaba, who is graduating from the Master of Science in Nursing program, will deliver the invocation.