Franciscans International: Sister Florence Deacon

Monday, October 8, 2012 1:30:00 AM

By Linda Steiner


In an appointment she characterized as the fulfillment of a dream, history Professor Sister Florence Deacon, OSF. Ph.D., has been named the United Nations representative for Franciscans International. She also heads the New York office of the group, which represents 1.2 million lay and religious followers of St. Francis of Assisi in more than 130 nations worldwide.

Franciscans International has Category I status as a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) at the United Nations, which means it is concerned with a wide range of issues and has speaking rights. Those rights are exercised in the UN’s Economic and Social Council and other committees under its authority. The group’s mission is to advocate on issues of peacemaking, care of creation and concern for the poor.

Sister Florence, who has been on the Stritch faculty since 1978, is responsible for administering the New York office under the supervision of the international organization’s executive director, a Brazilian Franciscan priest who oversees it and a second office in Geneva, Switzerland. In her new job, she will speak for Franciscans International at the UN, name Franciscan delegates to UN conferences and meetings, and be responsible for office publications, among other things. The position, which started Feb. 1, is for three years, during which time she is on a leave of absence from Stritch.

The new position is an outgrowth of many years of involvement in the United Nations. Last June, Sister Florence attended a special session of the UN General Assembly entitled  “Women, 2000: Gender Equality, Development and Peace for the 21st Century” as an accredited observer representing Franciscans International. In 1985, she attended a conference in Nairobi, Kenya, that was a follow-up to the1975 UN Conference on Women in Mexico. The Mexico meeting led to a declaration of an “International Decade of Women,” from 1975-85. Sister Florence also attended the world conference held in Beijing, China, in 1995 as an outgrowth of the earlier session.
Since 1978, she has overseen Stritch’s Model United Nations. The educational program introduces students to the UN through yearly simulations, held in New York or St. Louis, at which they debate world topics as a representative of a country. Under her leadership, Stritch students have always represented a Third World country, “to see things through different eyes,” she said.
“I had been thinking about a position like this for about six years,” she said about the new post. It all started with a comment from a friend of hers, a Sister who was her novice director.
“She said, ‘We need someone at the UN, and that someone should be you,’” Sister Florence said. The Stritch Model UN students were representing Rwanda at the time, and civil war had broken out in the African nation. “We were baking here, in the Stritch kitchen, making things to do fundraising for the people of Rwanda when she first made the suggestion to me.

“It seemed like such a wild idea at first,” Sister Florence said with a broad smile.

“But last summer, when I was there, I was thinking how nice it would be to be there full time. And when I found out a job (at Franciscans International) was available, I applied. But I didn’t think there was any way I’d ever get it.”

She applied for the executive director position but knew that the group really wanted a non-U.S. citizen for the post. But the interviewer asked her if she would be interested if another position opened up. She said yes – if it would be at the United Nations.

“I really got what I wanted,” she said.

Sister Florence will oversee a variety of topics linked to social development and justice, and she will be involved in several UN conferences each year. She also is very interested in setting up internships with Stritch students and meeting with any students who might come to New York, to get them to visit the United Nations and see an NGO in operation.

Why is she so passionate about the UN?

“Through my involvement I have become aware of the good it can do. It really can be a positive force for change. My involvement in women’s conferences, for example, has really shown me how simply raising the visibility of women’s issues has put women on the agenda. Things really can be and are changing as far as quality of life for all women.”

“We will certainly miss her at Stritch,” said President Sister Mary Lea Schneider, OSF, Ph.D. “But a wide range of opportunities is opening up for her and for all of us here because of where she will be — opportunities for educational enrichment and experiences, opportunities for sharing information, and opportunities to keep us all mindful that we are all members of a global community and of our responsibility to live and act with a view to the effect our actions have on the lives of others around the world.”