Inside USD

Inspired Law Student Wins Bernardin Award

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Rosibel Mancillas Lopez doesn’t have to think too much about finding her purpose in life. She’s too busy living it on a daily basis.

Whether it’s working as an executive assistant and inspiring current students entering the University of San Diego’s University Ministry office by day, attending USD’s School of Law at night in pursuit of her J.D. in international law, working at the Legal Aid Society of San Diego, offering to mentor a USD student or serving as a Big Sister to a 15-year-old, Mancillas Lopez inspires all who come in contact with her.

So when the 2009 USD alumna learned this week she’d been selected as the national recipient of the Cardinal Bernardin New Leadership Award, given annually to a young Catholic who demonstrates leadership that embodies the commitment of late Cardinal Bernardin to fulfill the church’s option for the poor and work to end poverty and injustice, her reaction was not a surprise.

She humbly accepted the accolade and deflected the praise that’s sure to continue when she’s honored at a U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops meeting in Baltimore on Nov. 14.

“I don’t do it for the recognition. I feel there are a lot of people more deserving than I am. I feel I’ve been granted a lot of opportunities to get involved and carry out what I consider to be my passion. I do what I do to help others, but I also do it because it’s so life-giving to me every time somebody smiles or somebody gives me a hug.”

Michael Lovette-Colyer, director of University Ministry, nominated her for the honor, given by the bishops’ Catholic Campaign for Human Development, and said she fit the description perfectly.

“The nomination invitation made it clear there are a lot of young people who do direct service, but this award is about those working on systemic issues or are interested in pursuing a life that will challenge the systems of poverty and oppression. That’s Rosy,” he said. “That’s why she entered law school; her desire is to work in the immigration system and to help people navigate the system in as humane a way as possible. She’s doing direct and volunteer service, but she’s always learning more about policy and eventually she’s going to work on the shaping of it.”

A native of Tijuana, Mexico but a legal U.S. resident since age 6, the now 24-year-old’s advocacy for justice and immigration reform is motivated by her own family’s struggles with the immigration process.

“Being an immigrant, our family went through a lot of lawyers to help us get the legalization papers and figure it out,” she said in a May 2009 Inside USD story. “The lawyer who finally helped us, when I saw how amazing he was, made me want to become a lawyer.”

Her involvement includes participation in University Ministry’s monthly student day trips to Tijuana’s La Morita community and week-long Spring Breakthrough immersion in March; volunteering with the San Diego Organizing Project’s immigration ministry; and traveling to Chiapas, Mexico on multiple occasions to observe, learn from and support indigenous people in Mexico’s Mayan community.

“There’s no doubt that Rosy’s call to work in immigration law flows from and is a reflection of her faith and her deep conviction to the Gospel values of justice, compassion and mercy,” Lovette-Colyer said.

Mancillas Lopez, who majored in political science and economics as an undergraduate, admits that the first year of law school was a struggle for her. She credits taking the job with University Ministry for helping shape her passion.

“Working here opened my eyes to a lot of these communities, a lot of people living in poverty daily and struggling; it opened my eyes to a group of wonderful students who go out and give their time and give their love to help others. I was enamored by it. I went through a process of whether law school was the best approach for what I wanted to do with my life or if being a minister was what I wanted to pursue. After much research and debate, I’ve stayed with law school. Receiving this award based on the nomination Michael gave me and on my work with immigrants and immigration reaffirmed that God’s telling me ‘yes, you’re on the right path and to keep going on this same path.”

Her work at the Legal Aid Society of San Diego enables her to assist potential clients for an immigration attorney. The experience she’s gaining deepens her knowledge of the career path she desires. But there’s something else at work that motivates her.

“What’s so perfect is that the location where I’m volunteering is the exact location where for 17 years of my life I delivered newspapers and the first place where my parents worked. It’s down the street from where I took the trolley to get to USD. It’s across the street from the first church we went to after we arrived in the United States. There’s such huge symbolism. And then, a few weeks later, I receive this award based on my work in immigration. It’s a strong affirmation for me. I’ve definitely discovered and taken to Michael’s meaning of vocation: ‘Where your greatest happiness intersects with the world’s greatest need.’ I find myself extremely happy doing what I’m doing and I know, at the same time, my work is impacting the lives of others.”

— Ryan T. Blystone

Rosibel Mancillas Lopez’s dedication to her education while overcoming many challenges as an undergraduate was spotlighted in a 2009 NBC Nightly News video clip.

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