Sr. Joanna Okereke, HHCJ, a 2013 Ph.D. graduate of the Graduate Theological Foundation, will be delivering the 2018 Graduation Address. Dr. Okereke is a Catholic Nun and a member of the Congregation of the Handmaids of the Holy Child Jesus, from Nigeria. She is an educator and a pastoral caregiver. She holds a National Certificate in Education from College of Education (Awka, Nigeria); a Bachelor’s Degree in General Studies from Northwestern State University (Louisiana, USA); a Master of Arts in Instructional Technology from Edgewood College (Wisconsin, USA); and also a Master’s Degree in Pastoral Theology from St. Joseph’s College of Maine (USA). Sr. Joanna has a wide range of professional work experience in pastoral care, teaching, administration, formation, office and secretarial management. In 1996, she was commissioned to join in the work of her congregation in the United States. She first served as a pastoral assistant and later as the director of the Kuumba Center, a creative center at St. James and St. Juliana Catholic Church in Alexandria, Louisiana. After that, she became an administrative assistant at the Pastoral Center of the Catholic Diocese of Madison, Wisconsin, as well as the financial administrator of her religious order. In 2002 she was elected the Mission Superior of her congregation here in the United States and served in this capacity until 2005.
Currently, Sr. Joanna is the Program Coordinator for the Secretariat of Cultural Diversity in the Church at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, DC. As the Program Coordinator, she is charged with the pastoral care of migrants and refugees arriving from foreign lands; three major groups within this area of pastoral care are immigrants from Europe, Africa, and the Caribbean Islands. She facilitates programs for their pastoral wellbeing as well as helps to provide a voice for the hopes, dreams, and struggles that arise from their efforts to achieve full integration into, and active participation in, the life of both the local Church and of society. Part of this effort includes raising awareness of the challenges and opportunities that face immigrants in the United States. She provides assistance, support, counseling and spiritual care, and she initiates, coordinates programs and holds annual gatherings for the various African, Caribbean and European ethnic communities. She assists and supports dioceses, national organizations, and movements in the pastoral care of migrants, refugees and travelers. Throughout her journey in life, Sr. Joanna has developed a deeper love and faith in God, a stronger commitment to religious life, as well as shared and brought God’s love to all people irrespective of race or nationality.
Sr. Joanna serves as the National President of the African Women Religious Conference (AWRC) in the United States as well as the President of the African Conference of Catholic Clergy and Religious in the United States, Washington, DC Metropolitan Area Local Chapter. She is the Founder of the National Association of African Catholics in the United States. Her professional and work experiences have always been the major source of inspiration, spiritual growth, and social involvement in her life and community.