Sister Diane Donoghue ’54

She Embodied an Unwavering and Fierce Hope for a More Just Society

Sister Diane Donoghue was the founder and executive director of Esperanza Community Housing Corporation, a nationally recognized nonprofit organization striving to achieve equitable development and social justice. The seeds of “fierce hope” that characterized her life were planted in 1953 when, as a member of the UCLA Project India Team, she saw extreme poverty for the first time and resolved to make a difference.  After completing her bachelor’s degree at UCLA in 1954, she joined the Sisters of Social Service, and in 1969, completed her master’s of social welfare at UC Berkeley. Early in her career, Donoghue recognized that housing affordability was the first of many interconnected social determinants of health. In 1980, her work as a community organizer in the South Los Angeles Parish of St. Vincent De Paul Catholic Church brought her face to face with massive displacement; families were being evicted from rental housing to make room for low-wage garment factories. She challenged community leaders to join her in building affordable housing in South Central Los Angeles, and Esperanza Community Housing Corporation was born. Under Donoghue’s leadership, Esperanza provided 165 multibedroom units of quality housing for low-income families. In an act of poetic appropriation, in 2001, Esperanza converted an abandoned garment factory into Esperanza Community Housing’s economic development project, Mercado La Paloma, which is now home to fourteen new family-owned businesses and is a vital cultural and culinary hub celebrating the richness of South Central Los Angeles’s diverse communities. Though low-income communities often experience more defeats than successes, Donoghue shrugged off failure, explaining: “We’re in it for the long haul.” Her powerful and inspiring legacy of fierce hope lives on in the community and in the organization that she so passionately led.

Among her many honors, Donoghue received the UCLA Award for Community Service in 1997 and the UCLA Gold Shield Alumnae Award in 2011.

“We’re in it for the long haul."