"Social justice is key to our spiritual life, our faith, and our future." —Liz Canterna Douglass
Her parents instilled generosity and Mercy values in Mary Elizabeth (Liz) Canterna Douglass, PhD, '67 from an early age. And, while a Mount Mercy student, Douglass and more than 20 students and chaperones joined the historic 1965 March on Selma/Montgomery, Alabama—a defining experience in her life.
Today, Douglass helps others in her profession as a clinical psychologist in Tucson, Arizona and through her ministry of playing the harp for hospice patients. In 2016, she established an endowment in gratitude for her upbringing, but what spurred her to give at this time is a personal story of deep abiding love.
In 1986, Douglass was thoroughly prepared, legally and mentally, to become a mother through international adoption. When she met a precious six-month old baby in Nepal, she knew immediately she wanted to adopt her. But government restrictions on the girl named Vandana prevented the adoption from taking place.
Douglass left Nepal childless and feeling a profound sense of loss. She stayed in touch with the Missionaries of Charity in Kathmandu, who were caring for Vandana—the same order founded by Mother Teresa. Douglass continued to feel a mother's love for the baby girl she left in the Sisters’ care, and even returned to Nepal to visit for the child’s
When Vandana was eight years old, a French family adopted her, and Douglass lost touch with the girl. Years later, thanks to communication with the Sisters, social media, and unwavering determination, Douglass found 27-year-old Vandana—now "Anna"—in France.
Pope Francis's Jubilee Year of Mercy in 2016 inspired the two women to reunite in Rome. They celebrated the Vatican's canonization of Mother Teresa and spent some private time with two sisters who had cared for Anna as a baby in Kathmandu.
Douglass returned from Rome having deepened a bond with the girl she mothered "in her soul" for so long. She felt compelled to give back and, in 2017, established the Mary Elizabeth Canterna '67 Endowment for the Social Justices Institutes at Carlow University.
Through the endowment, she leaves her legacy to support future generations of Carlow students and staff to be active at the forefront of social justice, to hold the vision of individual responsibility and respect for human rights, to support personal and professional growth, to foster community development and environmental justice, and to inspire and uphold the promise to represent those who don’t have the words or cannot speak for themselves.
By Ann Lyon Ritchie
Pictured above: Douglass with Vandana in 1986. Left: Douglass visisted Vandana at age five. In 2016, she reunited with "Anna" and two sisters in Rome.
In Liz's Own Words: Why Now?
This endowment is my way of giving back, for all that I have been given. My education allowed me to realize my dreams of doing meaningful work and service. It is my way of giving to other students and faculty to perpetuate the spirit of Mercy.
Once I learned of the Social Justice Institutes, their mission and purpose resonated deeply within me. Early on, my mother instilled the life-giving spirit of charity and community service in me. She did a lot of work for the church, and specifically for the Sisters of Mercy. My father was high school educated and a hard-working laborer for U.S. Steel along the Monongahela River. He depended on the unions to speak for him, and this is why he instilled in me the importance of education and hard work, so that I could learn to speak for myself, stand up for what I believed in, and help others do the same. When it came time for me to apply for college, through the generosity of a benefactor and the Sisters of Mercy, I was offered
a partial scholarship to study at Mount Mercy College.
This legacy of gifts that I was given, I would like to pass on to the lives of students and faculty members who will also be touched by and who will perpetuate the Spirit of Mercy. Many students would like to participate in various types of experiential learning but are unable to afford to do so. It is my hope that this endowment will support their dreams through their Mercy-centered education, and inspire their work for social justice, wherever they are called.
We can't ignore the pain of the world. We can't withdraw to a private isolated spirituality. Social justice is key to our spiritual life, our faith, and our future.
Note: Carlow University welcomes individual contributions to the Mary Elizabeth Canterna '67 Endowment for the Social Justices Institutes. For more information, please visit www.carlow.edu/give.