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Gracia Maria Shiffrin

Class of 1996
Vice President, Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago; Chief Operating Officer, Catholic Charities Housing Development Corporation

In the summer of 1993, I got married, put my architecture career on hold, left California, moved to Chicago and started law school at DePaul. As an architect specializing in the design of schools, I became interested in the financing of real estate development. Going to law school to build upon my prior experience made sense to me—and to DePaul, which offered me a generous Dean’s Scholarship as a full-time student.

My years at DePaul allowed me to go through doors I never envisioned possible. In my third year, I served an externship in the finance division of the City of Chicago Law Department. The externship showed me how the city funds important projects such as affordable housing, historic preservation and other civic endeavors. Upon graduation, I spent five years as assistant corporation counsel, representing the departments of housing, planning and development, budget and human services, providing financial assistance to developers for the creation of jobs, affordable housing and community development projects in the neighborhoods of Chicago.

I then had the opportunity to serve as assistant commissioner for the Chicago Landmarks Commission and was in charge of economic incentives for the preservation of historic Chicago landmarks. In the city that gave birth to the skyscraper, it was an honor to help preserve such an American architectural legacy. And, I got to meet and work with a young female attorney who served on the commission in those days—she is now our First Lady Michelle Obama.

I also spent two years as deputy chief of staff for Mayor Richard M. Daley, assisting him in planning and development matters such as the relocation of the Joffrey Ballet in the Loop, the preservation of historic water tanks, and the completion and opening of Millennium Park in 2003. I met Renzo Piano, Thom Mayne and Santiago Calatrava, three of the top contemporary architects in the world—all with architectural proposals in Chicago. I also met presidents and dignitaries from other countries who came to learn from Chicago. There were days I could not believe I was getting paid to do this job. And it was all because of the skills I learned at the College of Law, allowing me to navigate new areas and cut through issues for the betterment of the city of Chicago and its residents.

As a DePaul grad, I’ve embraced the Vincentian mission to use my professional talents to serve others. After I left the Mayor’s Office, I joined Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago to assist in its mission to create affordable housing for the elderly, veterans and the disabled. I put real estate development deals together by working with attorneys, architects, contractors, government officials, community leaders, funders and foundations. In six years there, I have been able to develop several large housing projects. I find my job to be an extremely rewarding experience. None of this would have happened without DePaul’s generosity and the doors opened by the externship program. Thank you, DePaul.