For one local Catholic school alumna, a solid foundation early in her academic career led to a life passion for working toward resolving complex global issues.
Theresa Rinaldo Sherman, who attended St. John Vianney School in Orchard Park and graduated from Immaculata Academy in Hamburg in 2012, now lives in Jordan and interns at the United Nations Relief and Works Agency Headquarters as part of the Human Rights, Conflict Resolution and Tolerance Programme.
As part of her job, she participates in educating students in local schools on human rights education, such as non-violent conflict resolution, tolerance, respect for the dignity of others, and how to be a positive role model. Many of the students are refugees.
Last month, Rinaldo Sherman, 23, spoke about the importance of her Catholic education and upbringing. She recalled how, from early in life, she was encouraged to follow the Golden Rule and felt she was fortunate her parents chose a Catholic education for her.
"The earliest years of my education really emphasized the concept that in God's eyes, everyone is equal and we are all brothers and sisters whom we should treat the way we would like to be treated," she said. "These early years had a major impact on my world view, which eventually developed into a greater sense of social responsibility and an interest in social justice and conflict resolution when I was older."
Rinaldo Sherman's mother, Charlene Rinaldo, expressed similar sentiments. "Public schools teach you a lot - English and history, but do they teach you how to care about other people, and to have compassion for other people?" she asked. "She's a very compassionate person. I think that combination is what drew her to this."
After being accepted to study at the University of Notre Dame, Rinaldo Sherman majored in peace studies and Arabic. The fact that her two brothers served the U.S. Marines in Iraq and Afghanistan also contributed to her interest in global conflict and world populations.
"As a child and young adult, I caught a glimpse of the human toll that wars exact on communities, and started to wonder why we even fight these wars," Rinaldo Sherman commented. "When I declared my major in peace studies, I learned more about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in one of my classes, which really interested me."
Rinaldo Sherman joined the local chapter of Global Zero, an organization dedicated to eliminating nuclear weapons worldwide, in college. She was invited to attend a conference on this topic in Rome, where she met Pope Francis.
"There's always that conflict going on, and that drew her to it," her mother said. "Her third year in college, she studied abroad in Israel, and then she got a scholarship to study in Jordan for almost a year. I think that's what drew her - there's always so much conflict in the Middle East, and she wanted to see what she could do to help resolve issues."
Eventually, her major led her to continue studying Arabic in Amman, Jordan, leading to her internship and recent marriage, where she married a man from New York state also living in Jordan. When asked to name an aspect of life there that many do not expect, Rinaldo Sherman said people assume Jordan is dangerous since it is in the Middle East.
"That is completely wrong. Jordan is extremely safe, and in my year and a half living here, I have always felt safe and welcome," she added, noting that she and her husband have made many Jordanian friends who are a "huge part of our community and support network here."
In addition to her network of support in Jordan, she continues to enjoy the support of her hometown community. Teresa Siuta, former principal of St. John Vianney School, recalled how Rinaldo Sherman was a model student while there.
"Theresa was a student who always exhibited excellent academics, school spirit and a tremendous amount of Christian attitude. She was a leader in every wonderful sense of the word," Siuta said. "(She) received a full scholarship to Immaculata Academy, where again she excelled in every aspect of high school. After graduating from Immaculata, she received a 90 percent scholarship to the University of Notre Dame."
Throughout her time spent at Catholic institutions of learning, especially a Catholic university, Rinaldo Sherman said she learned a "dignity-centric" approach in working with members of vulnerable populations, one that addresses the issues at hand without dehumanizing those who are different.
"I think it is both easy and common for people to look upon refugees and people who have experienced conflict as powerless victims that need to be 'saved' or 'rescued,' which is just as dehumanizing as the acts of violence committed against them. I believe that the Catholic education I received encouraged me to reject that notion and work in ways that reflect the rights and dignity of people affected by conflict, poverty, discrimination and injustice," she said.
"I am very proud, and someone has to do something," added Rinaldo. "(My daughter's) favorite saying is, 'If not now, when?' That's true, and that has opened our eyes to the fact that somebody has to step up. If enough people step up to do the right thing, it'll have a domino effect and everyone else will start doing it."
To learn more about the Human Rights, Conflict Resolution and Tolerance Programme and what it does, visit https://www.unrwa.org/what-we-do/human-rights-education?program=33.