Sister Mary Genino, RSHM, always had a desire to give her life to serve God and persons marginalized by society.
After being named “Person of the Year” by the South Central Los Angeles Ministry Project (SC LAMP), where she is co-founder, Sister Mary said she always felt called to do something for the poor, particularly undocumented women and their families.
“In my heart I knew I wanted to help people, do good things for the love of God,” she said. “I made this commitment when I was young.”
Born on Nov. 13, 1948, in Los Angeles to Elizabeth and Arthur Genino, Sister Mary grew up in Montebello with her brothers and sisters Kathleen, Patricia, Thomas and Paul. She graduated from Sacred Heart of Mary High School in 1966 and entered the novitiate of the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary located in Santa Barbara. She professed her first vows on Aug. 22, 1969. She was not yet 21, but determined to take to heart the words of Jesus, “I come so that all may have life.”
In 1978, RSHM asked Sister Mary to begin rural ministry in an economically depressed area of North Carolina. With two other sisters, she developed the Neighborhood Center to meet the needs of the local people in coordinating programs for energy assistance, food distribution, transportation to medical facilities and literacy/GED programs.
Sister Mary served on the board of trustees of Loyola Marymount University and Marymount High School. It was during that time of leadership that Sister Mary and seven other communities of sisters came together in response to the uprising after the Rodney King verdict. They wanted to make a difference in the lives of the people living in the inner city of Los Angeles.
In addition, Sister Mary worked with the Archdiocese of Los Angeles in developing a program for professional Lay Ecclesial Ministers and directed the department for pastoral associates. She has been an advocate for immigrants and worker’s rights and for the end of human trafficking. She has been active in promoting the works of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, Clergy & Laity for Economic Justice and the Coalition to Abolish Slavery (CAST), serving as CAST’s board chair from 2012-14.
“Since its foundation, SC LAMP was characterized as a collaborative effort,” Sister Mary said. It was the view of several communities of Catholic sisters that working together, “we could support and help in the rebuilding process.”
The titanic work started and Sister Mary received the invaluable help of the Daughters of Charity, Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary, Sisters of the Holy Faith-California Province, Sisters of the Holy Family, Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, Sisters of St. Louis, Sisters of Notre Dame, Sisters of Social Service and Sisters of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus.
They canvassed the devastated neighborhood and asked how they could better support the community as it struggled to rebuild and survive. And beyond the first impressions of the residents of South Central Los Angeles, the religious women found not a community plagued by problems, but a group of human beings full of hope to overcome obstacles and lack of opportunities.
“We went door to door to the homes of residents,” Sister Mary said. “We asked them directly about their concerns and needs, what services and resources could serve to heal and advance their community.”
As a result, LAMP programs started focusing on educating and empowering families, helping women to feel confident about themselves and their ability to be the first teachers and advocates for their children.
The key points in the mission of SC LAMP are: Empowering families through education, empowering women to advocate for themselves, their children and their families, providing English-language tools to integrate effectively in the community, inspiring positive parenting and interaction with their children, promotion of early literacy and school readiness for children and their families.
“We’re thrilled to honor our Sister Mary who’s been a leader,” said Margaret Graf, SC LAMP board chair. “She is an example among religious women and supports women of God beautifully in Los Angeles.”
South Central LAMP has served more than 2,000 families (moms and children combined) since 1992.
“I’m just an ordinary person,” Sister Mary said. “Those who deserve the recognition are the tireless immigrant mothers who have struggled in life.”
Vanessa Alvarez, 26, a single mother with two children, is one of them.
“I want to get my GED and become a pharmacist,” she said. “The program has helped me to break barriers. I learned English and only with God’s help I will go forward.”