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An Immigrant’s Story: ‘No One Ever Asks’

By Cathy Beckley, SNJM

I met Rudy at the St. Vincent’s food pantry in McMinnville, Ore., where he works. One day while doing some volunteer work filling shelves with food, I asked him to tell me about his life. He said no one ever asks.

When he was 16, his mother told him he needed to leave Nicaragua before he was forced into the military. He would have to travel over 2,000 miles alone, with little money to survive on. Still, the worst part was saying goodbye to his mother and never knowing if they would see each other again.

It was a long and desperate journey. As Rudy’s story unfolded, I learned about the grief, fear and helplessness he faced. On his own, he made it as far as a refugee camp in Honduras, where authorities wouldn’t release him because he was an unaccompanied minor. He had to build his own shelter out of scrap materials. He had no choice but to wait, pray and cling to his faith. Months passed.

Finally, his stepfather tracked him down and got him released from the camp, but his troubles were not over. The two were able to fly to Mexico, then make their way north by train. But crossing the border into the U.S. meant hiring a “coyote” to help them run through the night. Rudy held his stepfather’s hand, slowing his steps for the older man, fighting panic. He didn’t know they had reached their goal until he looked up and noticed signs were written in English instead of Spanish.

Last weekend, the Sisters and Associates of our Mission Centre invited Rudy to tell us his story. He is a middle-aged man now, married and working to support his family. Speaking from his heart, he told us that until he was asked about his earlier life, he had locked the memories away. But once that door was opened, somehow he could face it. He told us he went home and shared his story with his wife, and they cried together.

When our group learned that the cost of applying for U.S. citizenship had been insurmountable for Rudy, we offered to assist him financially. We also plan to help defray the cost of a visit to the family he had to leave behind as a frightened teen-ager. This offer brought tears to his eyes.

Mother Rose says each of us should reach out a hand to others. Our Chapter Acts tell us to help people on the margins, and help with the full development of each human person. What I told Rudy is that God is generous and people want to help. We pray that he is blessed, along with all those who ask for – and listen to – stories like his.

In the photo: Sister Cathy Beckley introduces Rudy to Sisters and Associates gathered for a Mission Centre meeting in Lake Oswego, Ore.

News from the Novice: An Autumn Update from Sister Michelle in Winnipeg

By Michelle Garlinski, SNJM

Hello from warm Winnipeg! It is hard to believe that lately there was only a 2-degree difference in temperature between here and Berkeley. Thank you, God! Flip flops in November in Winnipeg? Definitely global warming! Otherwise, it looks like fall has settled with the trees bare of their leaves and harvest moons. October was also the beginning of my favorite season – turkey and pumpkin! With Canadian Thanksgiving and Sister Cathy’s family visiting from Australia, I had opportunities to perfect the turkey on three different occasions. I am delighted to be in California for U.S. Thanksgiving as it extends the season!

Life in the condo remains quiet while Sister Cathy is gone; she continues to receive medical care and build up her strength. In the meantime, I have tried to “share” the space in the condo by initiating a regular gathering of young adults. Our group is approximately nine women, ages 18-32, who are interested in community, faith and service. At each gathering we rotate the focus between faith-sharing and a common service experience. It is a nice mixture of St. Mary’s Academy alumnae, staff and others connected to SNJM in some way.

The Charism and Mission Office at the academy is unfolding as the timeline to roll out our five-year plan becomes more concrete. We celebrated Mother Marie Rose week in fun and engaging ways Oct. 3-7, including our launch of prayer pals, a basic session on Mother Marie Rose and our SNJM story in 10 of 22 homerooms, and “following” her on social media. I’m experimenting with a new initiative that I call “charism corner.” It’s a weekly piece of information about our charism that is connected to the students’ lives today. Preparing these has also benefited me, as it has helped deepen my understanding of our charism and how to articulate it to our school community.

I am appreciating my ongoing formation, focusing on the General Chapter Acts via regular phone conversations with Sister Beth. I look forward to her visit in mid-November. I meet weekly with Sister Carmen, who lives nearby, for a meal and prayer. I’ve also been invited by Kateri House in Toppenish, WA, to join them in evening prayer by phone when my schedule allows.

My service experiences continue at two ministries that serve the economically poor. I have also had my official tour and meeting at the Jesuit Gonzaga Middle School (similar to Nativity Schools) and I will begin Nov. 30. I get frustrated sometimes because it is difficult to keep the regular commitments at these agencies given the evolving nature of the new charism office at the academy. What a difference from my canonical year! However, I am confident that a regular rhythm will emerge. In the midst of all of this, I am still finding time to play! Spending time with family and friends proves to be good for the soul, too.

As I follow the news of the presidential election, be assured that the U.S. is in my prayers. This is a very anxious time for your country and we stand with you in prayer and hope. God is always faithful.

I look forward to my visit to Northern California later in November and a blessed Thanksgiving with community, family and friends.

Note: Michelle Garlinski was received as a novice of the Sisters of the Holy Names in July 2015. During her first year living with Sisters at our Province’s welcome house in Berkeley, CA, she began sharing her journey through a series of "News from the Novice" letters. She is spending in her missionary novice year at St. Mary’s Academy in Winnipeg, Manitoba. To learn more about becoming a Sister and the SNJM formation process, please click here.

In the photo: An autumn scene in a Winnipeg neighborhood.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For the Least of These: Welcoming Refugee Children

As part of UN Day on Oct. 26, Gonzaga University in Spokane hosted a talk by Micah Spangler, Deputy Director of Legislative Affairs for the Better World Campaign, on how citizens can help with the global refugee crisis. Three Sisters of the Holy Names participated along with Sally Duffy, Associate, who submitted the article below after attending a separate workshop on resettlement of refugee children.

Images of unaccompanied children riding the infamous “Death Train” through Central America, captured on film by Catholic Relief Services, made a stark backdrop for a recent workshop on a new refugee program in Spokane, WA.

For many of these children – desperate to escape trafficking, drug-related violence, hopelessness and a life of fear – there is no happy ending. But thanks to programs such as the one starting in Spokane, some will find loving homes, new friends and an education.

Sally Duffy, Associate, participated in the workshop to learn about Spokane’s recent designation as one of 23 programs in the U.S. to accept unaccompanied refugee minors. According to workshop leaders, the United States is the only country in the world to offer a resettlement process for unaccompanied refugee youth. 

The Unaccompanied Refugee Minor Program in Spokane is headed up by Lutheran Community Services, which has been a partner in past local SNJM anti-trafficking efforts. Catholic Relief Services is involved in the same program elsewhere, including in Seattle. As Pope Francis has said of such social justice partnerships worldwide, “We walk together.”

A handful of children will be arriving in Spokane next summer. Lutheran Community Services hopes to resettle as many as 30 by fall 2017, says director Lisa Johnson. While the program embraces children from around the world, leaders of the Spokane program hope that about half will come from the Central American nations of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.

Pope Francis focused on migration from Central America during his recent visit to the United States, according to a CRS news release. “Migrants and refugees fleeing through Mexico are very vulnerable to kidnapping, extortion, assault and even death,” said Roberto Rojas, CRS Advisor for Hispanic Outreach.

Not all of the children who survive the hazardous journey to the U.S. are fortunate enough to find their way to welcoming homes. The number of refugees who can be accommodated in Spokane depends on how many local residents find it in their hearts and have the means to become foster parents.

Those who do will undergo recruiting, screening and licensing similar to the process for domestic foster parents, but with additional training. Next, Lutheran Community Services will work to match families with a child waiting for placement. Families will receive a stipend and support from a social worker to assist with adjustment.

At present, two Spokane families have agreed to be foster parents. One is taking two sisters from the East African country of Eritrea and the other is taking a boy from Burma.

Foster parenting is not the only way to support the program, which also welcomes volunteer tutors and drivers. But Johnson hopes to recruit more parents in the region.

“It’s heartbreaking to look at the list and you see child after child after child…who’s been sitting in a refugee camp” with nowhere to go, she said in a recent article. “Let’s get them here.”

For more details about the Unaccompanied Refugee Minor Program, please click here. You can also read more about the program in the Spokane Journal of Business.

For more details about the UN Day presentation at Gonzaga University, please send an email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or read about the UN Foundation's Adopt-A-Future Campaign to raise money for refugee education at www.unausa.org/programs/adopt-a-future.

In the photo, L-R: Mary Ann O'Mara, SNJM, Sally Duffy, Associate, Anne Bosserman, SNJM and Karen Conlin, SNJM at Gonzaga University’s UN Day program. 

I Was a Stranger and You Welcomed Me

By Deb Shannon, Associate

Immigration – and confusion worldwide over what to do about it – is headline news these days. But if you’re an Associate or Sister, how might you live the message of Matthew 25:35: “I was hungry and you gave me food... a stranger and you welcomed me...”?

That was the focus of the autumn Oregon Associate retreat on Oct. 8. Three dozen Associates and Sisters attended.

Participants shared stories of their families’ arrival in the U.S. As one Associate said, it was shocking to look at a multi-generational family photo and see the beat-up hands of farmers. The photo had an impact, she said: “I’ve ridden piggyback on the backs of people who suffered greatly.”

Realizing that, what individual actions can we take regarding immigration? Sister Guadalupe Guajardo of the Province Leadership Team, one of the retreat speakers, rejected taking action based on guilt. Instead, she urged retreatants to come up with “SMART” actions: ones that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and timely.

Sister Mary Rita Rohde said to look around you to see what the needs are, then collaborate with others to meet the needs.

Both speakers urged participants to educate themselves. Resources with accurate information on immigration are available through the Intercommunity Peace and Justice Center, SNJM Mission Centres, UNANIMA International and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

In the picture: Sisters Mary Rita Rohde and Guadalupe Guajardo help lead the SNJM Associate retreat in Marylhurst, Oregon. Photo courtesy of Sister Virginia Schroeder.

News from the Novice: Thoughts About Community and Charism

By Michelle Garlinski, SNJM

Well, it has been anything but boring since my return from retreat. Unfortunately, Sr. Cathy was admitted to hospital in August and she continues to struggle with health concerns. I try to visit her each day after work as the walk is good for me.  We had our first death in over three years in the Manitoba Province last week. When in a smaller province, we certainly feel the pulls on the community resources in particular ways. God is always faithful!

Cathy being in the hospital has left me holding down the fort. So far, so good. I have had plenty of experience living on my own and so this has been easy enough to adjust to, although not my preference. It has forced me to confront some of the concerns I named before returning from California. It takes more effort and commitment from me to seek out opportunities to pray and gather with others in community. However, I believe this is an example of how we will have to live into being as a smaller congregation as the 34th Acts of General Chapter identified. An adventure in the Spirit, indeed!

My new position as Director of Charism and Mission is slowly unfolding. There are some projects on the horizon. One being the development and implementation of the Charism into each year (grades 7-12) of the Religion curriculum. This will include a foundational dimension (what do they need to know) and a functional dimension (how can they live it). It is nice to have someone in the department with me (the Coordinator of Campus Ministry) as we actually have department meetings! The meetings with the Boards will begin soon and I am sure there will of other projects coming. I have also started a ministry experience at a local agency called Oak Table. They are located just down the street in the basement of the neighborhood United Church. They offer lunch and community to those who are struggling with economic poverty, living with physical or mental illnesses or recently out of prison. This will hopefully be a weekly commitment for me, once some of the community realities settle.  

I have enjoyed reconnecting with family, friends and my parish community since I have returned. It has been fun to enjoy some of the day-to-day experiences again. I am amazed at how people can carry such heavy burdens daily and still be so present to others. I really feel blessed to have such people in my life who model service and humility. We also had a community day a few weeks ago, which was a nice opportunity to see most of our Sisters and many Associates and celebrate a few 60th jubilees.     

I continue to think of you often and hold you in prayer. I’m sure the fall routines are in full speed for you as well. I appreciate the regular connection with Sr. Beth and Sr. Carol. I was also delighted to hear that Angela has joined them on Arch Street. In case I haven’t mentioned it before – it is a great living community!

Until next time, I pray that our journey through this Year of Mercy may continue to be a sign of hope and love in a broken world.

Note: Michelle Garlinski was received as a novice of the Sisters of the Holy Names in July 2015. She spent her first year living and learning with Sisters at our Province’s welcome house in Berkeley, CA. This fall she began her missionary novice year at St. Mary’s Academy in Winnipeg, Manitoba. To learn more about becoming a Sister and the SNJM formation process, please click here.

In the photo: Novice reception ceremony for Michelle Garlinski in July 2015.