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Helping the Vulnerable in the Spirit of Catherine

July 20, 2017
By Deb Daley

Molly Elston ‘07 lives across the world in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and is using her talents to support Catholic Relief Services. There she has been working on a health systems strengthening project. Her years at Mercy led her to this calling.

“Mercy’s emphasis on serving others and on social justice, is something that was very powerful for me. I think that the legacy of Catherine McAuley, who took girls and women off the streets and educated and cared for them, speaks very strongly to Mercy’s values of social justice. Her story is still something that is very inspiring to me – ‘a rebel with a cause’ (I remember this was the title of one of the Mercy Day plays while I was at Mercy),” she added.

She chose Mercy because it seemed like a well-rounded school with strengths in many areas such as academics, the arts, service and more.

Mercy Represents all of Omaha

“Mercy seems to draw students from all over Omaha with a wide variety of socioeconomic backgrounds,” she said.

While at Mercy she played softball and soccer. She also started the “MESS” club, “Monarchs Encouraging School Spirit” with her classmate Anne Lavelle to encourage students to attend more Mercy games and support the teams. Molly was also Senior Class President, a member of Student Council and student government.

“These activities, sports and leadership opportunities, taught me how to motivate and organize people and events. It helped me to prepare for leadership roles in college and in my future career,” she said.

She also feels that the traditions like P.A., Mercy Day, and more helped form strong bonds with other women and friendships that continue today.

“Just in my class alone, I can think of some amazing examples of strong, confident, smart and successful women who are changing the world. Here are just seven examples (there are so many more both in my class and in other classes) of what the amazing women from the class of 2007 are doing or have already done: principal for Red Cloud High School (on Pine Ridge reservation); special education teacher; OB/GYN nurse; Applied Behavioral Analyst working with kids with autism; volunteer with Mercy Corps in Detroit, Michigan; and student researcher studying unmet needs in cervical cancer screening in Tanzania,” she said.

Service emphasis

Molly believes that Mercy’s focus on social justice is probably one of the most long-lasting effects of Mercy. Service was something that was an integral part of a Mercy education. She recalls Sr. Jeanne coming around to the lunch tables, asking the students to sign up for different service opportunities, or raising money and doing can drives for Operations Others and a number of other community projects.

“I think that the most important class for me, though, was the Social Justice class. I distinctly remember learning about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and learning about different social inequalities in the United States and the world. This really opened my eyes to my privilege – living in the United States, getting a top-rate education, etc., and helped me to see some of the challenges faced by the poor and vulnerable in the world. This, coupled with Mercy’s focus on service (through service hours, Day of Sharing, etc.) and with Mother McAuley’s legacy of helping the poor and vulnerable, really created a lasting impact on me,” she added.

This understanding inspired her to pursue her current career. Earning a degree in Biology from Rockhurst University, she eventually went to Notre Dame and received a master’s degree in Global Health. Part of her master’s research led her to Ecuador and Peru to work with community health workers. She eventually worked at the American Cancer Society as a Community Health Manager and eventually got her job with Catholic Relief Services.

In Haiti she has worked to improve services at a number of hospitals. For example, she coordinated with a biomedical equipment company for training and support of key biomedical equipment such as a mammogram machine. She also spearheaded efforts to coordinate emergency health services in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew. Now, she is working part-time as a consultant and part-time on advance classes to deepen her expertise in the health field.

“Mercy gave me a strong sense that not everyone in the world is getting his or her fair share, and that we have a duty to do something about it,” she said.

Although she lives half way around the world she keeps connected to alumnae friends. When in town she tries to attend Mercy events. Two sisters and a cousin have also attended Mercy.

“Mercy alumnae inspire me with the amazing things they are doing,” she added.

Molly, you inspire us with your commitment to help others in the truest sense of Catherine McAuley.