In the Name of Love
By S. Regina Kusnir
Vacations often include travel to a foreign country where we encounter different cultures, languages, foods, music, etc. We delight in these experiences, even if we hold an English/French/Spanish dictionary close at hand. When someone befriends us as we look questionably at something, we might recall the words of Hebrews 13:2: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.”
Hospitality is one of the hallmarks of the Sisters of Charity. We recognize that our call is to “meet the needs that God lets us see,” as St. Vincent de Paul said. We identify with others in the manner stated in our Charism: “As pilgrims we pray for the wisdom to know the needs of our sisters and brothers and we dare to risk a caring response.”
It was July 2018 when Jennifer Long from Casa Marianella in Austin, Texas contacted the Sisters in search of those who could welcome and assist families seeking asylum. The Congregation decided to risk that caring response. At the time S. Sandy Howe was making a 30-day retreat and was asked to consider this ministry. A life guided by trust in God found S. Sandy reflecting on the request: “Live simply so others can simply live has guided me my entire life. I believe God calls us, through our baptismal call, to love and serve others.” Prayer, conversations and trust in God led S. Sandy to say ‘yes’ to becoming the Newcomers Transitions Program Coordinator. There were a few guidelines, but the ministry would unfold daily as situations arose. Blessings in abundance continue to shower the journey.
S. Sandy was asked to receive a family of four, mom, dad and two children, and meet them at the bus station on Sept. 24, 2018 in Cincinnati. The farmhouse on the Motherhouse property was prepared to receive the Community’s first family from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). S. Sandy was expecting mom, dad and two boys ages 3 and 7. “Well, what we had was a mom and dad, a little girl and a little boy,” she said. “The dad is Samuel, mom is Marie, the 7-year-old son is Samuel and the 3-year-old daughter is Samuela. I felt bad. I had little boy toys at the home on our property but nothing pink for the little girl. It didn’t take me long to get that corrected.”
Samuel, Marie and their children fled the DRC due to political unrest and persecution of their heritage. Samuel was also tortured, having his feet burned and cut with machetes. With no other choice, they trekked through 11 countries until they entered the U.S. through Eagle Pass, Texas, and expressed their intent to apply for asylum.
It Takes a Community
Everything was new: country, language, culture, food, ways of doing things. Resources were tapped by S. Sandy to help in the transition. Catholic Charities of Southwestern Ohio has English as a Second Language (ESL) and job readiness classes, access to an immigration lawyer and knowledge of others coming from similar backgrounds. A variety of Sisters and Associates chipped in where possible to assist S. Sandy with the myriad efforts needed during this time of adjustment.
The family spoke Lingala along with some French, Portuguese, Spanish and a “hi” or “hello” in English. S. Sandy recalls, “I contacted some Sisters and Associates that knew French and could help us communicate. We also signed the parents up for ESL classes in the morning and job readiness classes in the afternoon with interpreters in Lingala.
“We were able to find a church they felt comfortable in,” she continued. “St. Leo’s has a diverse population including many from Burundi and the Congo as well as Spanish-speaking countries; there is a translator for the readings and homily. Due to COVID-19 we haven’t been able to be there since spring of 2020; we all are looking forward to when we can go back.”
All Manner of Needs
Transportation to and from school for both the children and their parents was an issue as was a babysitter. Sisters and Associates were able to help out. Associate Patricia Plogmann was hired as an administrative assistant for the office, and Sisters Pat Malarkey, Pat Wittberg, Nancy Bramlage, Martha Glockner, Annette Paveglio and Associates Christa Bauke and Mary Ellen Williams assisted with transportation either to school or to church, speaking French and childcare. “I signed the children up for school,” said S. Sandy. “We arranged for medical, spiritual, grocery, clothing, legal, and social needs taking it one day at a time. The family was introduced to parks, libraries, museums, parish festivals, etc.”
The Asylum Process
S. Sandy and the family met with Catholic Charities’ immigration law department in early 2019 and spent several months of meetings and appointments to get the information and build a case for the family. In late summer 2019, the case was submitted and an appointment was made to go to Chicago for the interview in December of that year. S. Sandy said a lot of praying took place as they waited month after month after month for a decision. They received word Dec. 1, 2020 that their case was approved and they could stay in the U.S. indefinitely.
Work permits came in the fall of 2020. Samuel works in the Sisters of Charity maintenance department and Marie is employed at Amazon. The children are thriving. The family anticipates moving into their own place, obtaining drivers’ licenses and a car.
Samuel said, “I am happy in the way the Sisters of Charity and Catholic Charities helped us with everything. … We are so thankful for everything they did, how God helps us and we help each other.” Marie added, “Me and my family, we now feel good … we have jobs … our kids go to school. We want to say we have a good life now.”
S. Sandy is grateful for the energy, the passion, the patience, the innumerable relationships, and the blessings of this ministry. The love and the gifts she and the family have exchanged are many. “Trust in God!” she says. “Pray always; I know I am never alone. God is always with me!”
The Sisters of Charity and the Associates are graced for their willingness to envision and support this ministry. “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it” Heb. 13:2. The family certainly found an angel in S. Sandy and those who continue to assist her