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Edition No. 179—July 12, 2021 
Reflections from the Border
A Journey of Faith

Pat Harrington, SSJ Associate
Last Wednesday, I returned from two weeks at the southern border, working among migrants at the Humanitarian Respite Center in McAllen, TX. Two weeks. Only two weeks. Fourteen days. A relatively short time. But those two weeks changed my life.

Prior to this trip, I thought I was fairly in tune with the plight of migrants crossing our borders. Events of these past few years aroused in me a sincere empathy for and curiosity about those fleeing their homes in search of a better life. What horrendous conditions must they be experiencing in their native lands to compel them to make the treacherous journey, on foot, across hundreds of miles. I felt for them. Deeply.

And then I went to McAllen. And the stunning reality of the situation was nothing like I had imagined it would be. Emotional—awe-inspiring—almost paralyzing.

My first few days at HRC were anything but uplifting. I was disappointed in the facility itself. Processing over 1000 migrants each day, it was dark, windowless— a former nightclub I learned. The noise of all these voices, babies crying, children screaming in play was deafening. Rows of folding chairs filled with families waiting to be “processed in”, lines of families awaiting OTC meds from the pharmacy, a separate room with gym mats carpeting the floor, side by side, serving as beds for these weary travelers. Despite the chaos and ambient noise, no matter the time of day, families lay huddled, arms wrapped around each other, sound asleep—exhausted from their long journey. There is a clothing room where new and used donated items of all sorts are distributed. A huge kitchen and eating room lined with long tables. A small sandwich-making room where bags of lunches are packed for those who are “processed out"—leaving the center traveling by train, bus or plane to meet their sponsor family.

The center is manned mostly by volunteers from all over the country, giving up a day, a week, even a month, in some cases, to assist in making this transition a tiny bit less frightening for these your brave families. There is some paid staff and security guards always present.

I want to stop here as I mention security at the center. For the entire length of my presence there, despite the crowded and penurious conditions, I did not hear a single raised voice, did not witness any altercations of any sort. These migrants were soft spoken, loving, sharing and caring young people, who have experienced greater loss and trauma that we can ever imagine. Yet, even in these trying conditions, though sometimes perhaps through tears, their compassionate nature was evident in all their interactions.

My first few days I admit I was overwhelmed by the sheer enormity of this crisis. I thought I was well informed, prepared, ready to roll up my sleeves and jump in. But I was so wrong. Those first days I found myself often randomly reduced to tears—helpless and hopeless. Certainly not doing anyone any measure of good.

But then something happened that turned it all around for me. During one particularly difficult day, I stepped outside the center to refresh, re-energize and re-group. As I stood there, ashamed of my “not-good-enough-ness” with tears in my eyes, a long line of migrants led by a staff member, began to exit the center through a side door. Each family carried only a lunch bag, another small plastic bag containing items received at the center, and a manila envelope containing all their essential papers and documentation. On one side of the envelop, processing agents had recorded all their individual travel arrangements. On the back side, a sheet of paper was stapled reading “Please help me. I do not speak English. This is my travel information.” They were heading to the Greyhound bus terminal and to the airport.

And that’s when it hit me—they were leaving—moving on to the start of a better life. A new journey was beginning for them, one filled with hope and hopefully prosperity and security. The realization of all their dreams was within reach. I found myself jumping up and down, screaming to them—”Adios, Adios!!! Ve con Dios!! Bienvenidos a America todos!” Literally I was lifted—jumping in the air. And they responded with hugs and kisses and fist pumps and our happy tears commingled.

These, my most vulnerable, most exposed, most impoverished brothers and sisters gave me so much that afternoon! They showered me with their hope. Their shared strength empowered me. They restored my faith in our system. They re-ignited in me a spirit that, for a few days, I had lost.

For sharing a small part of their long journey of faith, I will be forever changed. And I will continue to work on their behalf because they deserve that and because of them, I am a better person.
Pictured from left: Pat Harrington, Lisa Neuhauser, Clarisa Vázquez SSJ
and Cecelia J, Cavanaugh SSJ at the Shrine of Our Lady of San Juan
Humanitarian Respite Center
McAllen, Texas 

Sister Cecelia J. Cavanaugh SSJ
Today with Clarisa Vázquez SSJ, Celeste Mokrzycki SSJ, Rosemary Golden SSJ, Associate in Mission Pat Harrington and two friends, Lisa Neuhauser and Gloria Giordano, I volunteered at the Humanitarian Respite Center in McAllen, Texas during the last two weeks of June 2021.  I am so grateful to the Congregation for the opportunity and support to go and I was so edified by the service provided and by the spirit of everyone I encountered—our sister and brother migrants, the HRC staff and so many volunteers from all over the country.

As I reflect on our time at the border, I find myself resorting to ocean imagery. Because of changes in administrative policy, the Center—almost empty last year when I was there—was overflowing with people. “A sea of humanity,” I called it to a friend. “Wave after wave” of dear neighbors got off ICE and Border Patrol busses daily, arriving at the Center to rest, shower, change clothes, eat and begin travel to family, friends and sponsors all over the USA. Standing at the door of the clothing room and watching them fill chairs waiting to receive clothing or tending to them at the hygiene and pharmacy counter, I felt that I was looking out at an ocean and seeing no end to it, only wave after wave coming “ashore” to where we waited to help.

We had arrived bearing donations from many Sisters, family members and friends. We brought our zeal, time and energy. I was hard pressed to name what I was feeling as I entered each morning and saw that day’s dear neighbors and later as I left, pulling myself and my heart out of the HRC, knowing we could have stayed another twelve hours and still not have helped everyone. The sheer numbers were overwhelming in proportion to the supplies at hand. Sometimes this was because we didn’t have the time or help to search the warehouse. Sometimes we simply ran out of specific essentials: toddler clothing, size 5 and 6 diapers, small women’s and men’s shirts and pants. Socks for everyone went quickly. Powdered milk, baby bottles and “sippy cups” were dispersed almost as quickly as we bought them, every day.

About halfway through our time of service, I had a profound experience in prayer. I recalled the story of Saint Augustine walking along the beach and observing a young boy running back and forth from the water to a hole he had dug in the beach. Each time he filled a shell and poured water into the hole, it disappeared. Amused, Augustine told the child that he had no chance to fill the hole with ocean water. The child promptly responded that Augustine’s chances of understanding the mystery of the Trinity were about equal. 

My deep sense is that I need to hold all of this and reverence it as mystery. Abundant generosity, great zeal and love, real, tangible “goods” offered to our dear neighbors all seem, indeed are, inadequate in the light of their need. Every day, as I looked into emptied bins and boxes and sensed my own waning energy, I felt like I was pouring water into a sandy hole. Scientists can explain how the disappearing water flowing into the hole changes the sand at some microscopic level. Only God knows how and where and whom our efforts truly affected. 

In the meantime, I continue to rejoice in changes in policy that allow more dear neighbors to cross our borders legally, in hope of a permanent place with us and to advocate for more policies and laws that will make this the norm. The ‘hole in the sand” is not only in Texas, but everywhere they have traveled. Please God many of us will continue to pour out life, love, support and accompaniment into these dear neighbors.
Pictured left: Rosemary Golden SSJ, Associate Pat Harrington and
Clarisa Vásquez SSJ sort children’s shoes we purchased.
Pictured right: donations
Pictured at the "Wall" from left: Cecelia J. Cavanaugh SSJ, Clarisa Vázquez SSJ, Rosemary Golden SSJ, Gloria Giordano, Celeste Mokrzycki SSJ and Pat Harrington
Pictured from left: Clarisa, Celeste and Ceil enjoying lunch
The Shrine of Our Lady of San Juan at night
St. Leo Convent
Winston-Salem, North Carolina
Tears and Gratitude

Joan Pearson SSJ
The beautiful Southern mansion on Georgia Avenue that housed our sisters since 1943 is now closed. The kitchen door was locked for the last time a week ago today on June 30th. I grew up at St. Leo’s, and attended St. Leo’s Grade School and Bishop Mc Guinness High School. I was taught by a host of wonderfully kind and unforgettable great-hearted women from our Congregation! I so admired their joy and community life that I entered the Congregation shortly after my graduation from “Bishop.” I wanted to devote my life to service just like them! I wanted to be like them. And so, there is a little part of my heart that broke when the door was locked last week. So many of my good memories of growing up, graduating, entering our Congregation, giving my life to God—center around that Convent.
Take a moment to read the names of the sisters who have been missioned at St. Leo’s and Bishop Mc Guinness. These were remarkable women who left the security of the familiar to travel to “mission territory” and selflessly give of themselves in the mission of educating children and youth. The early sisters established many schools in the area. And the sisters who followed them kept the mission flourishing and brought the light of Christ and our Charism to countless families! The Diocesan News Herald referred to them as ‘Faithful Servants’. And indeed, they were.

The last sisters to live in St. Leo Convent were honored all through the month of June in a marathon of Remembrance and Farewell celebrations in the schools and the parish. Sisters Emma Yondura, John Christopher Tate and Anne Thomas Taylor, who have a combined 80 years of service in the Diocese of Charlotte, were celebrated in fine fashion with a healthy mix of hilarious stories and tears. But then again, they are characters—as we who have lived with them well know! The three of them deserved every affirmation they received! Sister Maureen G. Erdlen SSJ, Congregational President  and Sister Mary Lindsay SSJ joined in the fun and listened to countless tales of these three Sisters and the others before them whose presence had a profound impact on the lives of so many people here!  As Sister Maureen told the congregation at Sister Emma’s Mass, “The Sisters who were missioned to North Carolina found it hard to come so far south, far from their families and the Community, but when they returned to the north after their years of service, every one of them admitted to having left a part of their hearts here!”

There are three of us who will remain serving the faithful in the Charlotte diocese: Sister Geri Rogers SSJ at Our Lady of Mercy School and Parish in Winston-Salem, Sister Janis McQuade SSJ at St. Stephen Church in Elkin, and Sister Joan Pearson SSJ with the Diocesan Hispanic Ministry. 
Sisters Missioned to St.Leo's and
Bishop Mc Guinness High School
To read the article in the Diocesan New Herald, click here:
Pictured standing from left: Maureen G. Erdlen SSJ, Geri Rogers SSJ,
Joan Pearson SSJ, Mary Lindsay SSJ and Janis McQuade
Pictured seated from left: John Christopher Tate SSJ and Emma Yondura SSJ
Emma Yondura SSJ and some former first-graders
Farewell Dinner
Villa Zoom—A Tall Order

by Julie Gabell, SSJ Associate
In his encyclical Fratelli Tutti Pope Francis emphasizes again and again our need for a “culture of encounter.” When we really stop to think about those words, we realize what a tall order has been given us. It means that, regardless of race, color, creed, background or cultural differences, we must believe that no one in society is useless or expendable. Sounds easy, doesn’t it?

It‘s not, for to truly embrace a “culture of encounter,” we must stand open to lifestyles and thought processes that may be totally foreign to our own. Only when society buys into this culture and only when we ourselves, as leaders in society, make it an integral part our own lives, will we begin to spread the high ideals that Jesus placed before us. 

To the best of their ability, Villa Zoomers remain on the front line of social justice efforts. By praying, signing petitions, writing letters to politicians, and making phone calls, they take a stand on current issues. Most recently, they’ve zeroed in on immigration, a hot topic in today’s news. Sister Sharon White SSJ, moderator of the group, recently returned from  McAllen, Texas and keeps Zoomers apprised of the injustices at the border.

In our mixed-up world of partisan divides and contentious interactions, society seems to be moving backwards. Liberty, equality, and fraternity remain lofty ideals basking on the steps of Independence Hall and limited to those who hold economic and political power. Pope Francis’ “culture of encounter” demands more. It’s easy to say, “One in love”—a tall order to live it.
The African Sisters Education Collaborative (ASEC)
Recent Updates
[Cameroon] Catholic nuns in Cameroon, Africa are using their financial and leadership training to help those displaced by war and violence. 
[Uganda] As head teacher, Sr. Betty is using her HESA program education to provide a stable yet constantly improving learning environment for kids in Uganda. 
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"With the help of God's grace and in fidelity to our founder's expressed wish, we live and work lovingly among all persons with a special preference for those who are poor, which calls us wherever we are to be in union with them."
                         — SSJ Constitutions #21
Editor, Sister Carole Pollock SSJ | 215.248.7269 | |