Stritch highlights Catholic Relief Services work in Ethiopia

Monday, September 9, 2013 5:45:00 PM

Cardinal Stritch University hosted a reception and dinner Sept. 8 to honor Catholic Relief Services’ Ethiopia Pilot Program started by Stritch trustee Art Wigchers and his wife, Mary Ann, and supported by many Stritch faculty and other community members. 

This pilot program provides support for establishing schools for adolescent girls and training teachers in Ethiopia.   

The event included special guest Carolyn Woo, who is president of Catholic Relief Services and is formerly the Martin J. Gillen dean of the University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business. 


In early 2012, Wigchers assembled a team of Wisconsin educators to travel and work with him to support efforts to improve life and educational opportunities for girls in the Meki region of Ethiopia. Supported by Catholic Relief Services and guided by the Meki bishop and director of education, Dr. Linda Gordy, Stritch’s associate dean of the School of Urban Initiatives, joined with colleagues from Marquette University and Alverno College in May 2012 to provide two-hour professional development workshops for Ethiopian teachers at several schools.

This trip led to the bishop discussing his and the community elders’ desire to empower adolescent girls and stop harmful cultural practices through education.

A second trip occurred in January 2013. Feeling a deep sense of connection to Ethiopia, Gordy not only made plans to return with Wigchers, his wife Mary Ann, and Marquette colleague Dr. Madeline Wake, but helped inspire other Stritch colleagues to join her. 

Dr. Molly Shiffler, Dr. Deb Heiss, Ruth Hoenick, and Dr. Rose Coppins readily agreed to pay their own expenses for the opportunity to teach English to Ethiopian teachers. While teaching, the Stritch instructors also modeled interactive teaching strategies and shared essential information on sanitation and nutrition to deepen the lessons and to lead into topics on the most harmful practices that impede the progress of girls and families. 

Another trip took place in May 2013, which will start a cycle of trips every January and May with hopes of reaching out to more teachers and additional schools. The goal is to pass on lessons to the teachers that ultimately filter down to the children, specifically the girls in the community who face the greatest barriers to education and opportunities.

Future trips will focus on local formal and informal school programs and on the expansion of local teacher and community involvement to assure sustainability. 

Read a guest essay by Wigchers about his Catholic Relief Services work, which appears in Stritch Magazine online.