Home » Features » Loretto’s Justice Fellowship: a bold, innovative leap of faith

Loretto’s Justice Fellowship: a bold, innovative leap of faith

Posted on February 20, 2024, by Annie Rosenkranz

Seven latina women smile for a group photo in a row.
Justice Fellows gather in El Paso in October 2023. From left, back row, Brenda Varela, Jessica Garcia, Karemy Cruz, Arantza de Jesus, Anabel Theriault, Larissa Meza; in front, Alicia Villareal
Photo courtesy of Annie Rosenkranz

The Loretto Justice Fellowship has taught me about community and how I can utilize my personal strengths to seek for justice in every way in my life.

Larissa Meza, Loretto Justice Fellow

As so often has been the case in over 200 years of working for justice and acting for peace, Loretto is at the leading edge in responding to the calls of our times. The Community launched the 2023-24 pilot year of the Loretto Justice Fellowship program in El Paso, Texas, after an intentional process of deep listening and stakeholder engagement. Faith-based service programs across the globe are pausing, closing, consolidating and facing tough decisions at a time of uncertainty for these programs and for their sponsoring faith communities. Faced with these same challenges, Loretto took a bold and innovative leap of faith.

The Loretto Justice Fellowship program, like the Loretto Volunteer Program from which it evolved, offers a transformative year of service, connecting young justice leaders to Loretto, to impactful service work with Loretto-aligned justice organizations and to intentional community. Our new model centers local community impact — responding to the needs of the placement organizations and connecting with young leaders within the communities they serve — while prioritizing inclusivity. Our hope is to expand and cultivate the sustaining and sustainable community of justice-seekers that is core to Loretto’s practice and pursuit of justice. By investing in and supporting the fellows during their fellowship year, it is likely that many lives will be meaningfully impacted now and well into the future, starting with the fellows themselves and those they are serving. The launch was met with great interest because of the intentional inclusion of stakeholders to orient this new model toward impact. Twenty-five students applied to join the inaugural Loretto Justice Fellowship cohort; six placement partners — El Paso service organizations active in the community — submitted seven positions that they hoped Loretto Justice Fellows would fill. With the support of the Loretto Community and Loretto Link, the Justice Fellowship was able to respond by expanding our pilot cohort from five to seven fellowships — filling all positions identified by the local placement organizations.

Together this year, our Loretto Justice Fellows will contribute over 3,300 service hours to organizations at the U.S./Mexico border, while connecting with each other and Loretto Community members during monthly community meals, regular retreats and Zoom sessions. There is opportunity for exchange, collaborative learning and connection between Loretto Community members and emerging justice leaders. The opportunity to engage in social justice work in community drew many of the Fellows to our program. As Loretto well knows, our individual journeys in justice are enhanced, bolstered and strengthened in community.

The Loretto Justice Fellows participated in a presentation at the Loretto Link meeting in January. Watch on YouTube here. Visit the Loretto Link website to learn about Link.

Karemy Cruz
Placement: Center Against Sexual and Family Violence

A woman with long black hair and a plaid button up shirt smiles softly and looks directly at the camera.
Photo courtesy of Larissa Meza

I’m the Loretto Justice Fellow at the Center Against Sexual and Family Violence (CASFV). CASFV helps those who consider themselves victims of sexual assault or domestic violence. The center offers legal aid, immigration assistance, English as a second language and GED programs, therapy, support groups, assistance with rent and many other services.

The opportunity to do my social justice internship here has helped me to learn how to work collaboratively with different agencies and be able to provide effective support to clients by promoting trauma-informed practice. The plans I have set for this fellowship year are to participate in community service events and learn about all the services that are available in order to expand my knowledge and provide better service to the clients or anyone in general. The Loretto Fellowship is the stepping stone of my social work career as it allows me to experience inclusion and equity in order to promote social justice within the El Paso community.

Arantza de Jesus
Placement: Diocesan Migrant and Refugee Services

A woman with wavy brown hair, chunky stud earrings and a black shirt smiling.
Photo courtesy of Larissa Meza

The funds from this fellowship have made my start in this field possible. Without them I wouldn’t be able to participate. The funds give people like me an opportunity to start their career path.

My internship has made me realize how help can come in different ways and forms. It has made me grateful for all the small tasks that other people have done for me. I have discovered the importance of community, communication and helping each other.

Even when we think they don’t, small actions create big outcomes.

Two women with glasses and dark brown hair sit close together on a wooden bench as they smile softly for the camera.
Finding a quiet moment for connection, Larissa Meza and Jessica Garcia enjoy one another’s company during the Justice Fellowship retreat in El Paso in November 2023.
Photo by Annie Rosenkranz

Jessica Garcia
Placement: Villa Maria

A woman with black hair and a white shirt smiles softly. She is wearing gold eyeliner, black mascara and reddish pink lipstick.
Photo courtesy of Jessica Garcia

These funds help students who will become advocates for social justice and practitioners in the mental health field.

The Loretto Justice Fellowship Education Award funds have tremendously impacted my experience. Thanks to these funds, I will be able to pay a big part of my tuition for completing my master’s degree in social work next year in the advanced standing program, which means getting my master’s in one year! I am so grateful for this; this fund played a big role in my decision to pursue a master’s degree.

These funds are extremely helpful and personally life-changing. I can focus more on my learning at school and practicum and have access to future studies. This funding helps me be less stressed and worried about how I will pay my tuition, while opening the door to multiple growth opportunities.

Larissa Meza
Placement: Diocesan Migrant and Refugee Services

A woman with long brown wavy hair smiles without teeth for a headshot. She is wearing square brown glasses, small gold hoop earrings and a blue puffy jacket.
Photo courtesy of Larissa Meza

Everyone deserves a chance, maybe once, maybe twice,
But we all deserve a chance.
Social Justice for all!
So far this year has passed, and I am rich
In knowledge, in service and in God.
Thank you Loretto for having me on your side.
I have learned about you, your values.
I’m still interested in how I can help.
Tell me what time? What place?
I will be there …

This experience
Has got me moving, learning
And running.
I will keep running …
Not for money, not for power
Not for prestige,
For people, Pasoans.

Anabel Theriault
Placement: Ciudad Nueva

Close up headshot of a woman with dark brown hair with highlights smiling. She is wearing black eyeliner, black mascara, a red lip gloss and a silver chain necklace.
Photo courtesy of Anabel Theriault

I am involved in several programs, including Zona de Desestres, a group for older adults to share space, socialize and craft. I have begun training to help with the food co-op. I am also working with Kids Create, a middle school program that offers spiritual growth opportunities, life skills and mentoring. I am involved in the high school program, which includes spiritual development; social-emotional learning and regulation; civic engagement and social justice lessons; and a college and career readiness training program. Working with these populations has allowed me to appreciate the need for community in all stages of life.

It’s not about charity but community organizing — listening to what the community wants and needs. This insight has led me to appreciate the strengths within the community and recognize that sustainable change is rooted in the community’s own efforts.
(Please note: In the original published magazine, Anabel’s placement organization was incorrect.)

It’s incredible how much we can learn and contribute when we actively engage with our communities.

Alicia Villareal, Loretto Justice Fellow

Brenda Varela
Placement: Ciudad Nueva

A woman with curly black hair smiles for a selfie. She is wearing a black shirt, grey cardigan and a gold cross necklace.
Photo courtesy of Brenda Varela.

I am currently an intern at Ciudad Nueva. My responsibilities are completing demographic intakes for the people who come into the food co-op and assisting in the elementary after-school program.

One of the most formative experiences of my internship so far has been getting the opportunity to teach kids about life skills and finding creative hands-on activities that can help with mental health.

Working with kids has always been something I enjoyed doing, and I’ve also had an interest in mental health. Being able to do both has been my favorite part, thus far, of being part of Ciudad Nueva. I truly feel like I’m in a position to make a difference in these kids’ lives, whether it’s by simply listening to them talk to me about their day, helping them with their homework or teaching them about mental health and ways to cope with different emotions.

Alicia Villareal
Placement: Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center

A headshot of a woman with long wavy black hair smiles softly. She is wearing a white shirt with a detailed colorful embroidered pattern at the top.
Photo courtesy of Alicia Villareal

Serving as the Loretto Justice Fellow with Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center (LAIAC) has been an incredible opportunity to grow as a social worker and person. Immigration has always been a great interest of mine; I am grateful that I have the opportunity to contribute to this field with the guidance and support of committed individuals who tirelessly advocate for the well-being of our communities.

The Loretto Justice Fellowship has provided me with training in trauma-informed practice that allows me to practice as a social worker in different settings, including dehumanizing environments such as immigration detention centers.

My community life experience with LAIAC and Loretto has reinforced my commitment to serve and advocate for human rights and policy change surrounding immigration. I have been immersed in this unique environment where I am beginning to understand the complexities of immigration policy, including the challenges and strengths that exist in this dynamic region.

Our Fellows are changemakers from within the communities in which they serve; they are also mothers, caretakers of parents/siblings/families, first-generation college students, first-generation American citizens and community leaders.

Annie Rosenkranz, Loretto Justice Fellowship director

To read all the articles in the Winter 2024 issue of Loretto Magazine, click here.


Annie Rosenkranz

Annie is the Director of the Loretto Volunteer Program. She joins the Loretto Volunteer Program after spending the previous 7+ years working in international initiatives and student services at Saint Louis University in St. Louis, MO. Annie's passions lie in travel, all things food, camping, adventure and nature. Her approach to work and life is rooted in solidarity, growing in community, seeking justice and nurturing relationships.
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