Human Rights Activist and Sister of Charity Gemma R. Del Duca ‘62 Receives Distinguished Alumni Award

Sister Gemma R. Del Duca’s 90 years have taken her around the world in the pursuit of knowledge, but brought her back to her birthplace of Greensburg, Pa. After graduating from high school, she entered the Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill. Sister Gemma studied Theology in Rome at Regina Mundi, an international school for the theological training of religious women; completed her degree in History and Philosophy at Seton Hill; and earned her doctorate in Ibero-American Studies at the University of New Mexico. 

She taught for a time at local schools around Greensburg and at Seton Hill from 1966 through 1972, during which time she helped to found SOUL, an organization to encourage leadership among African-American students. From 1972 to 1975, Sister Gemma served as Campus Minister at the University of Virginia and Old Dominion University. She went to Israel to study Hebrew and the Jewish roots of Christianity in 1975, a trip that began a lifelong journey to promote Jewish-Christian relations. In 1977, she joined with Father Isaac Jacob of Saint Vincent College to establish a center for Jewish-Catholic understanding in Israel, leading to the foundation of Tel Gamaliel in Bet Shemesh.

For more than three decades, she resided in Israel and collaborated with Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem. With the support of then Seton Hill President Dr. JoAnne Boyle, Sister Mary Noel Kernan, Sister Lois Sculco, and others, Sister Gemma founded the National Catholic Center for Holocaust Education (NCCHE) at Seton Hill in 1987 to promote the teaching of the Holocaust at all levels of education and to enhance Catholic-Jewish relations. During her tenure, the Center established the triennial Ethel LeFrak Holocaust Education Conference, which brings luminaries in the field to Seton Hill's campus. 

She continues her work with the Center today as Director Emerita even after officially retiring in 2015. Sister Gemma has been recognized by various Israeli and Jewish organizations for the impact of her work. She has received the Spirit of Anne Frank Award from the United Jewish Federation Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh and was the first non-Israeli to receive the Yad Vashem Excellence in Holocaust Education Award. 

The Distinguished Alumni Leadership Award is one of the highest honors given to a Seton Hill graduate. Since establishing the award in 1987, Seton Hill has honored more than 300 Setonians as distinguished alumni. The award recognizes leadership in education, business, science and technology, the arts, volunteerism and philanthropy.