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.
July 23, 2019, Adrian, Michigan – Adrian Dominican Sisters and Associates joined people throughout the United States who attended Lights for Liberty – local candlelight rallies in support of the rights of immigrants coming across the U.S. southern border.
“It was important for me to be there because I am so angered, saddened, and repulsed by what is going on with children – for all the immigrants who are seeking a better life,” said Sister Aneesah McNamee, OP. “I can sit home and think about why I don’t agree with it, but if I do not go out and do something, then it is pretty pointless for me to even have an opinion.” An immigrant and naturalized U.S. citizen, Sister Aneesah was one of several Adrian Dominican Sisters who attended the rally in front of the Lenawee County Courthouse in Adrian, Michigan.
Also attending in Adrian was Sister Maria Goretti Browne, OP, who said she was “appalled at the treatment of the immigrants at the border. Though it is difficult, I feel that I need to do something. Rallying with a group seemed to be at least doing something. It also put me in touch with others in this county who felt the same as I.”
Associate Sherry Goff attended the Lights for Liberty rally in Adrian “because I want to be visible and vocal about the inhumane treatment of people and to protest ICE,” the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.
Sister Virginia “Ginny” King, OP, attended the first part of a three-and-a-half-hour rally in Detroit, joining others who were standing in front of the ICE building. “I was amazed at the variety of people who came – about 600,” she said, adding that all faith groups were represented. The crowd received support from drivers passing by, who honked their horns to affirm the rally’s message, Sister Ginny said.
Sister Maureen O’Connell, OP, attended a rally in Houston with local Dominican Friars and Dominican Sisters of Houston. The rally was at the site where last year the groups had rallied against the attempt by SW Key to rent their facility to house unaccompanied minors.
“I am personally appalled by the current climate in this country regarding immigration and the total lack of care for children and families,” Sister Maureen said. “If we stand idle there is no end to the possible inhumane treatment people will receive.”
Sister Rosemary Finnegan, OP, attended the rally in Orlando, Florida, for many reasons. “It was the right thing to do, given the desperate plight of our migrant refugees, the squalid conditions in which they are forced to live, and the urgent need to address a solution immediately,” she said. Sister Rosemary also felt compelled by the Gospel message and the Enactments of the Adrian Dominican Sisters’ 2016 General Chapter “to be in solidarity with those on the margins, with the least of them, with our sisters and brothers in need.”
Finally, Sister Rosemary was encouraged to attend because of her own comfort and freedom, compared to the suffering and oppression of the immigrants. “The least I can do is get in my car on a Friday night and join with others who seek compassion and justice for those who are denied their due,” she said.
Participants had similar hopes for the outcome of their activism on behalf of immigrants.
“The outcome I hope for is that the collective voice of the people all over the country who got out and rallied in their towns and cities will truly make a difference,” Sister Aneesah said. “We are better than this.”
Sister Maria hoped that if people at least try to do something, “perhaps the cruelty at the border will be alleviated."
Read a report on the Lights of Liberty rallies in the National Catholic Reporter.
From left: Sister Maureen O’Connell, OP, front row, right, and other members of the Dominican family in the Houston area attended a local rally. Sister Patricia Erickson, OP, attended a rally in Laredo, Texas. Sister Pat is spending a month in Laredo as a volunteer, serving migrant families who come from detention centers to La Frontera Migrant Center.