A Contemporary St. Vincent de Paul
Officially, Kristin Lietz (CSH ’89) has 26 godchildren, but that count doesn’t include dozens of teenage girls for whom Lietz is part mother, part disciplinarian and part counselor. As the director of Casa Isabel, a residential program for impoverished young women in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca, Lietz empowers her niņas to overcome challenges and find success. “The girls are often suspicious and distrustful when they come here,” Lietz says. “They come from poor families where they didn’t get the chance to go to school.” Through Casa Isabel, the women receive financial support to attend school, as well as emotional support to pursue their educational dreams.
From a young age, Lietz knew she wanted to serve others. At DePaul, she was president of the community service club, and her desire to understand and help others led to a degree in psychology. A few years after graduating, Lietz returned to her alma mater for a Spanish course, which ultimately led her to Mexico.
In 2006, Lietz began working with the Center for Sharing, an organization dedicated to servant leadership and faith-based learning. “Our vision was to help young people develop their own mission,” Lietz explains. Casa Isabel, which is located in El Espinal, provides a safe and supportive environment for young women from marginalized Mexican communities. Residents receive free room and board, and their school fees and supplies are also covered. Families contribute toiletries and spending money. The program started with two teenagers and currently serves 15 young women in two homes.
Casa Isabel’s focus on education, personal and spiritual development, and volunteer work helps the women gain confidence and leadership skills. For example, each resident designs her own service project. Two teenagers are building solar ovens, while others tutor elementary school students or spend time with the elderly. One young woman studying for a law degree provides pro bono assistance to the local mediator. “It’s very important to learn that they can give back and influence change in their community,” Lietz says. “We’re trying to plant those seeds.”
The educational aspect of the program is equally critical. Oaxaca is ranked last in educational achievement among all Mexican states, but Casa Isabel’s residents defy the trend. The program boasts two college graduates, eight high school graduates and five middle school graduates. All of the high school graduates are currently attending college, and four of the middle school graduates are enrolled in high school. Furthermore, one of the college graduates is sponsoring her younger sister to go through Lietz’s program.
“It’s been an incredible journey,” reflects Lietz, before turning her attention to the future. “Our next steps are helping these girls get employment after college, and we’d like to take the personal and spiritual development component to the wider community, and we want to bring the girls further afield to expand their horizons.” With Lietz as their advocate, the future looks bright for the young women of Casa Isabel.
Ballistic Missile Defense Strategies and Presidential Briefings:
It’s All in a Day’s Work for Alumnus Malcolm O’Neill
As a young boy growing up in Chicago, Malcolm O’Neill (CSH ’62) never imagined that one day he would be briefing the president of the United States on military matters. O’Neill, a retired three-star general, didn’t intend to enter the Army, but when he tried to sign up for a physical education course as a DePaul undergraduate, an administrator redirected him to the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC). “I didn’t want to take ROTC, and I went into it with a very bad attitude,” O’Neill recalls. “Then I learned to like it.”
O’Neill, who majored in physics at DePaul, ended up at Fort Bragg following graduation. “I was 22 years old, and I had 40 guys working for me,” he remembers.
With so many young men looking to him for leadership and guidance, the young parachutist was grateful that his undergraduate experience had “got me on a proper course in terms of ethics, integrity, doing the best you can and understanding your own limits.”
Like many young men of his generation, O’Neill soon ended up overseas, fighting in the Vietnam War. On his first day of combat, O’Neill was shot in the head by a North Vietnamese soldier hidden in a ditch 10 feet away. South Vietnamese troops came back to get him, putting their own lives at risk, and several were wounded during the rescue.
Later on, O’Neill witnessed the death of his counterpart and friend, who was the leader of a South Vietnamese reconnaissance unit.
O’Neill’s military career progressed quickly. He was promoted to major four years earlier than most officers, achieving this rank in only six years.
The Army sent him to graduate school at Rice University, and O’Neill overcame a rough start to complete a doctorate in atomic physics. “I hadn’t cracked a book in six years,” O’Neill recounts. “I’d been in the jungle!”
In the following years, O’Neill researched high-energy lasers for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency; served as director of the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization, now the Missile Defense Agency; and spent a decade with Lockheed Martin Corp., including six years as chief technical officer. Along the way, he briefed the president of the United States, as well as the prime ministers of both Israel and the United Kingdom. More recently, President Barack Obama nominated O’Neill to serve as assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology, a post he held from March 2010 until June 2011.
When O’Neill considers his rewarding career, he attributes much of his success to the early lessons he learned at DePaul. “I’ve worked for a number of different people at the highest levels,” he says. “Many of these [opportunities] were due to the fact that I had a background at DePaul because people knew they could trust me to be honorable and ethical.”
While O’Neill couldn’t have predicted the path his life would take when he was a student at DePaul, he remains grateful that the university “set the stage” for his meaningful life’s work.