Honorary Degree Citation - Sister Donna Markham

Saturday, May 22, 2021
Sister Donna Markham 
Doctor of Social Science


Trailblazing leader. Faith-filled advocate for the poor and vulnerable. Passionate protector of migrant and refugee children and families.

Sister Donna Markham, from improving treatment programs for those living with mental illnesses, to directing the largest social safety net provider in the United States, to advocating on Capitol Hill for policies that uphold dignity for all people, you have made it your life’s work to serve those who have been forgotten, marginalized or denigrated.

You began your career as a clinical psychologist, earning your doctorate from the University of Detroit and being named a Fellow in the American Association of Clinical Psychologists. You served as the founding director of the Dominican Consultation Center in Detroit and you were the first woman to teach courses at St. John’s Provincial Seminary in Plymouth, Michigan. After serving on the general council of the Adrian Dominican Congregation, you were invited to become the first woman executive director of the Southdown Institute, a residential treatment program based in Ontario, Canada, for priests and women and men religious dealing with addictions or other psychological issues. You were called from this position to become the Prioress of the Adrian Dominican Congregation in 2004.

In 2010, you became president of the Behavioral Health Institute for Mercy Health. Here you were charged with transforming the delivery of behavioral health services across the system’s 24 hospitals in Ohio and Kentucky. Drawing on your skills in organizational change management, a topic on which you are a published expert, you redesigned the physical spaces to provide the optimal environment of care for mental health services and ensured that the system’s programs provided a continuum of care by a collaborative and connected network of physicians and specialists.

You served for eight years on the Board of Trustees, two as Board Chair, of Catholic Charities USA, the national office for Catholic Charities agencies nationwide. In 2012 you were asked to become the first woman president in the organization’s 110-year history, leading Catholic Charities USA’s members to provide help and create hope for more than 13 million people a year regardless of religious, social or economic backgrounds. As president, you developed the strategic vision for the organization by turning to the parable of the Good Samaritan, asking, “Who today is lying by the side of the road in need of help?” Your answers drove the organization’s focus on areas such as affordable housing,  integrated health and nutrition, immigration and refugee services, and disaster services.

You continue to speak out on the humanitarian crisis at the border and to advocate for compassionate treatment of refugees and their families. You are engaged in global peace initiatives directed toward building bridges of understanding and collaboration across conflict zones. You serve as a consultant to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in the areas of migration, domestic policy and racism.

That all may know of our great esteem for you and our strong support for your skilled and committed leadership in serving our most vulnerable, suffering or forgotten, the College of the Holy Cross confers upon you this day the degree, Doctor of Social Science, honoris causa