In response to a request for volunteers from the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, Sister Cathy Olds, OP, served from January 26, 2019, to February 10, 2019, at Nazareth Center, one of nine sites of Annunciation House in El Paso, Texas. The sites offer hospitality for refugees who are released from detention and are on their way to sponsored homes within the United States. Other Adrian Dominican Sisters had answered the call and served at Annunciation House and at the McAllen Respite Center in McAllen, Texas. They share their experiences here.
March 2, 2019, El Paso, Texas – How can one explain a journey that can truly only be understood if personally experienced, a journey of the heart, yet a journey that needs to be shared? It was a journey of exhausting, long days of simply meeting the needs of people struggling for life, seeking asylum from the oppressions of their home countries, and leaving all in hope of a new life for themselves and their children.
From January 26, 2019, to February 10, 2019, I made this journey of the heart when I served at Nazareth Center, one of nine sites of Annunciation House in El Paso, Texas. I joined Sisters from several religious communities from across the United States who were volunteering at these sites.
Nazareth Center is across the alley from where the Sisters of Loretto offered overnight hospitality for Sister volunteers. One of the unexpected gifts I received was the brief opportunity to live and share in an inter-community setting. This proved very important for our evening sharing, and support of each other sustained us in all we were experiencing.
Sisters Mary Ondreyco, SNJM, and Mary Becker, SNJM, had arrived the week before and introduced me to all the tasks I would find myself doing for the two weeks. Our role was to welcome 50 to 100 refugee guests each day; help with the intake process; assist with plans for the next part of the guests’ journey; prepare meals; and distribute personal items such as towels and sheets, toothbrushes and toothpaste, and new sets of clothing. We also prepared bedrooms daily, figuring out who was leaving and who was coming.
We volunteer Sisters were a small part of those involved in Annunciation House: the full-time daily coordinators, out-of-town volunteers and local El Paso volunteers who provided meals, picked up and laundered bedding and towels, drove people to bus stations and airports, and made donations.
The Nazareth Center caters to families who come from various parts of Latin America. They arrive with the clothes on their backs and worn shoes and are hungry and thirsty, often with young children prone to illness. Through all this, they arrive with inner strength and hope.
I do not speak Spanish, which was a disadvantage. I was unable to listen to the stories of the guests. However, through a variety of ways, I found that I could indeed communicate while handing out towels and sheets, serving meals, and mopping floors alongside the refugee guests. We had many moments of laughter, and I found the refugees so willing to assist wherever they could. As Sisters, we came with experience, many of us in administration. However, we quickly learned that the only skill we really needed was compassion and a willingness to do whatever was needed at the moment. We set aside our desire to organize and became one with the chaotic and seemingly impossible task of meeting the present needs of those arriving day in and day out.
What does one need to be a volunteer at these hospitality centers? An open heart and mind are essential, as well as health, the ability to be on one’s feet for eight hours a day, and a willingness to “hang loose” and just enter into the moment. We volunteers were exhausted at the end of each eight-hour-plus day and indeed slept well.
I am most grateful to have had this experience of being with the refugees and those serving them. How will this experience affect or change my life? This is my discernment at this time, for one cannot have such an experience and not be touched deeply.
By Sister Cathy Olds, OP
Feature photo (top): From left, a kitchen volunteer, Sister Mary Ondreyco, SNJM, Sister Mary Becker, SNJM, and Sister Cathy Olds, OP, prepare to serve refugees at the Nazareth Center of Annunciation House.
January 31, 2019, Washington, D.C. – Adrian Dominican Sisters joined thousands of other women across the United States in the 2019 Women’s March, participating in the main march in Washington, D.C., and in sister marches in other parts of the U.S.
Among the participants were Sisters Maurine Barzantni, OP, Joan Baustian, OP, Leonor Esnard, OP, and Kathleen Nolan, OP, who participated in the March in Washington, D.C., and Sisters Marian Castelluccio, OP, Corinne Florek, OP, and Evelyn Montez, OP, who marched in Oakland, California.
Sister Kathleen, Director of the Congregation’s Office of Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation, coordinated the efforts of the Adrian-based Sisters who attended the march in Washington, D.C. She said traveling together and sharing the experience was a benefit. The Sisters drove 10 hours and stayed at a hotel in McLean, Virginia. They then traveled to the march with the aid of the hotel’s shuttle and public transportation. The Sisters spent five hours at the rally and march.
“I just wanted to stand up and be counted as one who is really dissatisfied with the way the country is being run by our leaders,” Sister Kathleen said. Still, she added, she didn’t see the march as a political rally. “What [march organizers] continue to do is connect the dots,” she explained. “They talked about intersectionality and how all the issues are connected.”
Sister Maurine said several issues were represented, from immigration to gun violence. “Our issues should be to care for each other,” she said. “That should be the issue for the whole country. Let’s care about each other. … Basically [the March] was about government – the government has to care about everybody.”
Sister Leonor recalled that a person at the march had had a sign listing issues. “The sign was not large enough to contain them all,” she said. “One of the dearest issues to my heart is women’s and children’s rights – equality: equality in pay, respect in relationships.”
The Sisters also saw some gaps in the issues that were represented. “One thing I don’t think they stressed enough through the speakers and the rally was the poverty issue, and especially single moms, many of whom are black and Latino,” Sister Joan said. “They didn’t talk about the thousands of American kids who go to bed hungry every night. You don’t hear that explicitly.”
Sister Kathleen explained there is still a feeling that marchers don’t fully welcome pro-life women. “That seems to be a gap. I’m strong on right to life, but I see it as a seamless garment – right to all life. The Bishops Conference said all people deserve respect.”
Overall, the Sisters found the Women’s March to be inclusive and peaceful. Sister Leonor especially remembered being welcomed to the march after the Sisters disembarked from the train. “It was like a welcoming before we integrated with the group,” she said. “With all those people, everyone was polite and respectful. … You had a sense of safety and solidarity.” She was also impressed with the efforts by some to greet the police officers and military who were in attendance. “We just wanted to thank them for being there,” she said.
The Sisters who participated in the march in Oakland, California were also impressed by the inclusivity and diversity in the rally at Lake Merritt and the 1-mile march to the Frank Ogawa Plaza, where city offices are located. “The beauty of it was the diversity of people: families with young children in strollers, a variety of families – two moms or two dads with their kids – and diverse ethnicities and cultures,” Sister Marian said.
“It was wonderful to be with such a diversity of people and see the many posters asking for inclusion of all,” Sister Corinne said. “The grandmothers were there singing their hearts out on one corner and a group of young women were chanting on another – a real people's party!”
The Sisters also emphasized the energy they experienced – and the sense of hope from the unity among the participants, even among those who focused on different issues. “Just being with a lot of people is energizing,” Sister Joan said. “It makes you think that you’re going in the right direction.”
Sister Kathleen emphasized “women are here to stay. They’re going to be heard and they’ll stay in the struggle. Another world is possible and the women are important in bringing that about.”