Elizabeth Walters, IHM, was born during World War II, the same week the Pentagon opened its doors. In stark contrast, her life has been dedicated to abolishing war and activating peace.
Sister Elizabeth or “Liz,” as she is known to friends, earned two degrees at Marygrove, 42 years apart. Although she has devoted her life to bringing about social justice, she returned to Marygrove to undertake its formal study. This is at the same time the college began the new Master of Social Justice cohort program, from which she graduated in May 2008. She also earned a master’s degree in Political Science from St. Louis University. She has extensive study from a number of institutions in Computer Science, Catholic Social Teaching, Theology, Secondary School Administration and Management.
According to Kimberly Redigan, who taught with Sister Elizabeth at Holy Redeemer High School in southwest Detroit and was a fellow student in the Social Justice program, “It was an honor for me to share an arrest with Liz on the eve of the U.S. invasion of Iraq and to stand with her against war on other occasions. Liz was and is my inspiration when it comes to putting faith in action.” Sister has been arrested many times on picket lines at various military installations and has served three years in prison for her protests.
As a member of the Michigan Peace Team, Sister Elizabeth became deeply involved in her nonviolent work in the Gaza Strip. Beginning in 2001, she spent several summers in the most ravaged areas of the Gaza Strip and West Bank. She was loved and trusted by families there who were struggling to live under occupation. She lived with Palestinian families to protect them and, at considerable personal danger, stood at check points to see that they were treated fairly. She was a member of the Peace Team in Haiti in 1994 at the time the United Nations was expelled from the country. Sister Elizabeth’s peace work has been interspersed with her work as a dedicated educator.
She joined the staff of the Michigan Peace Team in July of this year. This Lansing-based organization, supported by donations and grants, recruits, trains and sends people into war zones to demonstrate the use of nonviolence in conflict resolution and educates people on the possibilities of peace and justice. Before that, she was the technology teacher at Our Lady of Guadalupe Middle School, which is sponsored by four religious congregations. The school’s mission is to serve economically impoverished families living in southwest Detroit and to provide a Catholic school of excellence for their daughters. With the support of Ford Motor Company, she established computer technology labs and the technology curriculum at Holy Redeemer High School, where she also taught. In the IHM tradition, she has been an educator in one way or another throughout her career.
Hope Takes Root Community Garden, located in the shadow of Tiger Stadium, was the brainchild of Sister Elizabeth, its founder. For 14 years the garden has grown fresh foods for its neighbors and homeless people.
Sister Elizabeth was a member of the planning committee for Detroit Cristo Rey High School and is currently a board member. Cristo Rey opened in August 2008 and is the only coed, college-prep Catholic high school in Detroit, sponsored by the IHM Sisters and the Basilian Fathers. It occupies the former Holy Redeemer school building.
Dr. Brenda Bryant, Dean of Extended Learning at Marygrove, describes Sister Elizabeth’s commitment to social justice as follows: “She lived with the poor at Detroit Catholic Worker Day House, was a working member of the Groundwork for a Just World, organized over 50 churches and 1500 volunteers to create a soup kitchen, and has been a member of the Michigan Peace Team since 1994.”
Sister Elizabeth concludes, “I am most grateful for this award. It is my hope that it will bring honor to my religious congregation and to Marygrove College. I highly value the education offered by Marygrove. In a very real way, Distinguished Alumni Awards demonstrate that the college and the IHM Sisters are doing wonderful, distinguished work. It is my hope that this award will bring encouragement to the peace, justice and sustainability community.”