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Mindful Ministry Series – Maria Cristina Hernandez, MA

Mindful Ministry Series – Maria Cristina Hernandez, MA

Mindful Ministry Series – María Cristina Hernández, MA '24

María Cristina Hernández MA ‘24, speaks about her story, experience, and continuing to make the world a better place through faith using the tools she learned from Santa Clara University’s Graduate Program in Pastoral Ministries in the program’s second Mindful Ministry Series.

María Cristina Hernández, MA ‘24

Master of Arts, Theology & Pastoral Ministries

Concentration: Restorative Justice & Chaplaincy

Director for Life & Justice, Diocese of Oakland

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As the Director for the Office for Life & Justice for the Diocese of Oakland for the last eight years, my journey with the Graduate Program in Pastoral Ministries (GPPM) at Santa Clara University is intimately linked to my faith journey and my identity as an immigrant, Catholic woman. This journey began when I met Dr. Joseph Morris and Lynne Lukenbill at a retreat. They were introducing the concentration on Restorative Justice and Chaplaincy and were interested in reaching out to partner dioceses in California to create learning hubs in local communities.

I was in search of resources that could help parish leaders learn about restorative justice practices and strengthen their understanding of its connection with Catholic Social Teaching.

As I was discerning the best way to partner with the program I started learning more about the different classes, methodology, and financial support.

It was refreshing to see a cohort model and a hybrid modality that made the classes accessible for those also working in ministry full-time, like myself.

After doing this extensive research, I decided that I could also benefit from the program and decided to apply. My first class was in the Summer of 2020, just before we experienced the devastation of the COVID-19 pandemic and had to shelter in place. The program continued uninterrupted and the hybrid modality really proved its value. At the same time, the issues that I was dealing with in the communities that we serve were arriving at unprecedented levels of crisis; lack of access to healthcare, food and housing insecurity, and inability to serve those incarcerated were particularly challenging to manage. 

While everything was happening in my work, it seemed as if the classes in my schooling had been set up with the exact content that I needed to carry on and bring resources, best practices, and solutions to highly impacted areas of work. For instance, the very first class during the beginning of the pandemic was on Chaplaincy. Our professor offered not only the theory and practice of the class but real sacred spaces for discernment and healing that allowed the class to go back to our “day jobs” more resilient and better equipped to accompany those who were suffering. 

A similar experience took place when we collectively experienced the trauma of the murder of George Floyd in the Summer of 2020. At the time, the class that my cohort was taking was on Restorative Justice: Principles, History & Pastoral Ministry. This class taught me the importance of holding “Restorative Circles” in response to crime, how to lead these circles, and how to create sacred spaces of healing to ensure that everyone is heard. I was then able to lead restorative circles with parish leaders who were in a tremendous amount of pain and come to solutions. Out of this process, our Diocesan Racial Taskforce was born, and out of it the new African American Pastoral Center. 

As an immigrant from Quito, Ecuador, I was able to discover a history and theology that was foreign to me, such as the Mexican-American and Puerto Rican Catholic experience in the U.S. I had the privilege of being part of a cohort of students who are fully bicultural and bilingual in English and Spanish and we were able to hold some sessions in Spanish which allowed us to go deeper into our discussions of faith, migration experience, and ministry.

These cohort-based, bilingual experiences allowed for me to be personally seen and heard as the holistic, intersectional person that I am not only in my place of work but also in my place of education.

Our exploration of the religiosity of Our Lady of Guadalupe was particularly healing and inspiring. The graces that came to us by being part of a bilingual/ bicultural class were beyond what we could anticipate and gave us new insights for our work.

As I look back to my journey with the GPPM I can see how God always provides us with what we need to serve his people. In my case, I was able to bring all that I learned in class and put it into practice, but also I was able to listen to that nagging of the heart that awakens a new vocation. Through my time in the GPPM I have discovered a renewed commitment to serve the Latino(a)/ Hispanic community and aim to close gaps in ministry so more people of God are able to access the resources that they need to better serve and transform their communities while living their faith with more pride and joy. 

Beyond my work with the Diocese of Oakland, I have also become a consultant for the Latina/o Theology & Ministry Leadership Network for Santa Clara University’s Jesuit School of Theology which allows me to not only bring what I’ve learned into my own communities but to also give back to the community that shared so much with me. 

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