July 30, 2019, Washington, D.C. – Four representatives of the Adrian Dominican Congregation participated in a campaign by a coalition of Catholic organizations to end the abuse of immigrant children and families at the border of the United States and Mexico.
Phase One – the Catholic Day of Action for Immigrant Children – was a prayerful direct action in Washington, D.C., on July 18, 2019, in which more than 300 people participated. The event included a rally on the south lawn of the U.S. Capitol with a prayer service and speakers. About 70 people then participated in a public action in the Rotunda of the Russell Senate Office Building. In a peaceful protest, five formed a living, human cross on the Rotunda floor while the others prayed before all were arrested.
Representing the Adrian Dominican Congregation were Sister Kathleen Nolan, OP, Director of the Congregation’s Office of Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation; Sisters Susan Van Baalen, OP, and Maurine Barzantni, OP; and Lisa Boris, Campus Minister at Regina Dominican High School, an all-girls school in Wilmette, Illinois, sponsored by the Congregation. None of the Adrian Dominican contingent was arrested.
Among the Catholic organizations involved in planning the event were NETWORK, a Catholic Social Justice Lobby; the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), an organization of the elected leadership of about 80 percent of the Catholic Sisters in the United States; and Pax Christi, a Catholic organization working toward peace.
Dominican Sisters attending the Catholic Action in Washington, D.C. were: back row, from left, Sisters Susan Van Baalen, OP, and Maurine Barzantni, OP, Adrian; Sisters Quincey Howard, OP, and Peggy Ryan, OP, Sinsinawa; Sister Kathleen Nolan, Adrian; Sister Mary Feigen, OP, Hope; and Sister Ellenrita Purcaro, OP, Blauvelt; and front row, from left, Sisters Reg McKillip, OP, Sinsinawa; Sisters Carol Gilbert, OP, and Ardeth Platte, OP, Grand Rapids; and Sister Didi Madden, OP, Blauvelt.
“The purpose was to take a stand – to be visible and to make public the Catholic social document on immigration, Welcoming the Stranger,” Sister Maurine said.
Sister Susan spoke of making a statement by attending the rally and of being a source of support for those who had chosen to take direct action and be arrested. “It was clear that the people who made that decision couldn’t have done it without support – the support I was able to give by my presence,” she said.
Lisa said many of her friends are first- or second-generation immigrants. “To support my friends and strangers in this way was huge,” she added. “These are real people, and decisions made here in Washington are impacting and ending their lives.”
The prayer service included quotes from immigrant children in the detention centers who spoke of not being able to shower and of being afraid to ask for food. “These were kids who tried to escape a horrible situation [in their home countries] and wound up in a situation as bad or worse,” Lisa said. She hopes that by taking this action, she will inspire the students at Regina Dominican to become involved in justice and peace work.
The three Adrian Dominican Sisters traveled to Washington, D.C., on July 17, 2019, and spent that evening at the Stuart Center, a facility founded by a religious congregation, the Society of the Sacred Heart. There, they met Lisa and other Sisters and lay people who were involved in the event.
“The highlight was having a chance to share with other people who are committed to Catholic social teachings,” Sister Maurine said. They had the opportunity to share their experiences of the immigration issue the day before the event, as well as during a meeting afterwards.
For Sister Susan, the highlight was “the opportunity to share with other people and to hear from them how deep their concerns were and what a global issue it is.” The witnesses of the people who had been to the border and seen the conditions of the detention centers were also impressive, she said.
Lisa commented on how humbling it was to be surrounded by people who care about the immigration issue and allowed themselves to be arrested in their efforts for justice. She said the July 17 action and others that follow are being organized “until they close the detention camps and they’re not holding people without food and water and freedom.” The hope that the practice of detaining immigrants, especially children, “seems like an unrealistic hope, but educating the people and helping them to see what’s going on so they close the camps” is key, she added.
Sister Susan said that “in unity there is strength, and I hope that groups coming together to offer this kind of support will inspire others to join them. The churches, I believe, do have a Gospel mandate to be present and to respond. … It might not be through physical presence but it might be through the ballot box or funding.”
In the meantime, the Catholic organizations plan to continue their efforts on behalf of the immigrant families at the border. Sister Kathleen said the Catholic Action on July 18 is only phase one in the Catholic coalition’s efforts to persuade the government to not detain immigrant children in such inhumane conditions. “The organizers made it clear that there would be at least two more events – maybe one in August and one in September,” she said.
Read more about Catholic Action for Immigrants in recent articles from The Washington Post and The Catholic News Service.
April 4, 2019, Chicago – Every month, passersby at the corner of Belmont and Milwaukee in Chicago can observe a stirring sight: a group of Catholic women and men, vowed religious and lay people, standing on the corner with signs bearing witness to the dignity of immigrants and calling for a just immigration policy.
Many of the participants are members of Sisters and Brothers of Immigrants (SBI), a nonprofit Catholic organization that advocates for immigrants in the United States. SBI members, along with other advocates gather for this public witness for an hour before the organization’s monthly meeting.
The monthly demonstration “is to raise awareness about immigration and immigrants,” explained Sister JoAnn Fleischaker, OP, a member of SBI. “The mission is to have a collective voice seeking justice for immigrants. We respond to the Gospel mandate to uphold the dignity of each person.”
Sister JoAnn is among many Adrian Dominican Sisters from the Dominican Midwest Mission Chapter, based in Chicago, who participate in the public witness and in various other events to call for a just and compassionate immigration policy.
“We support anything that has to do with immigration,” Sister JoAnn said. Several Sisters and lay people gather at 7:15 a.m. every Friday outside of a detention facility in Broadview, north of Chicago, to pray the rosary and offer assurance and presence to immigrants who are being deported from there. The group is often joined by visiting college students who come to Chicago from other parts of the country.
Sister JoAnn and several other Adrian Dominican Sisters have also been involved in one-on-one English as a Second Language tutoring of immigrants at Aquinas Literacy Center in Chicago, one of seven literacy centers sponsored by the Adrian Dominican Sisters. The literacy centers typically offer tutoring to adult learners who are native English speakers, as well as to those for whom English is a second language.
Sister JoAnn moved to Chicago about four years ago, after ministering at Las Casas, a Dominican ministry based in Oklahoma that seeks justice in the lives of Native Americans. Two years before her move, she transferred to the Dominican Midwest Mission Chapter and learned about the Chapter’s immigration initiative.
As an activist for immigrants and compassionate immigration reform, Sister JoAnn said her biggest challenge is “listening to the news about what’s happening at the border,” and particularly the government’s response to immigration. “The reform of our immigration policy just does not get to the table,” she said. “It needs compassionate and comprehensive immigration reform, and it just is not coming. This gets discouraging, but you try to educate and build up awareness so people will call their legislators” on behalf of immigrants.
Sister JoAnn is encouraged by her personal encounters with Dreamers – young adult immigrants who came to the United States as children with undocumented parents – as well as with people facing deportation and dedicated immigration advocates. “The people pushing for [immigration reform] are great people, and that’s encouraging – but when you listen to the news, that’s the part that hurts your heart,” she said. “But we keep on keeping on.”
Feature photo (top): From left, Sisters Cathy Fedewa, CSFN, Jean Keeley, OP, and Benita Coffey, OSB, give public witness in Chicago on behalf of immigrants.