"The greater the work the more
important it is to establish it on
a solid foundation. Thus it will
not only be more perfect; it
will also be more lasting.”

St. Louise de Marillac

“Be diligent in serving
the poor. Love the poor,
honor them, my children,
as you would honor
Christ Himself.”

St. Louise de Marillac

 

Walking God’s Path

By S. Patricia Wittberg

S. Sandy Howe (center) celebrated her 25th anniversary with the Sisters of Charity in August with the help of family and Community members.

In reflecting on her 25 years as a Sister of Charity, S. Sandy Howe sees how God’s blessings have been with her at every step of her journey. Her first ministries were in education at St. Albert the Great School (Dayton, Ohio) as a religion teacher for the seventh and eighth grade, and at Seton High School (Cincinnati, Ohio) as campus minister and community service coordinator where she worked with the students in faith formation, retreats and days of reflection, and community service opportunities. She also led mission trips both in and outside of the United States. These were, she said, truly blessed experiences.

After 14 years at Seton, she was blessed with the opportunity to go on a sabbatical and a 30-day retreat. “Although I had no idea what I was going to be called to do for ministry when my sabbatical was over, I did know that God had a plan for me and I just needed to be willing to respond with a ‘YES.’”

God’s plan was soon revealed. The Sisters of Charity Leadership Council asked her if she would be willing to coordinate a new program to welcome asylum seekers to Cincinnati. She would help them get acclimated to living in the United States and find resources for them: English classes, legal services, schools for their children, medical appointments, church services, transportation to shopping, and, eventually, job opportunities. Planning for this “Newcomers Transition Program” involved repairing and furnishing the Farmhouse building on the Motherhouse grounds to ready it for a family to live there. 

(Front, from left) Sisters Marianne Van Vurst, Mary Gallagher and Jean Miller delivered gifts of winter hats, scarves and gloves, diapers, and supplies to families in the Newcomers Transitions program.

In September 2018, a family from the Democratic Republic of the Congo arrived and moved in. Samuel and Marie had fled political persecution in Congo and, with their two young children Samuel and Samuela, had crossed the Atlantic to Brazil and then traveled all the way up South and Central America to the Texas border where they sought asylum. Once settled in their new home, the parents attended daily English classes at Catholic Charities while the children began school. Sandy says that during that time other Sisters and Associates provided invaluable help: driving to classes, offering child care when needed, and other necessary services. Samuel and Marie lived with us for three years. After obtaining employment, they were able to move to their own three-bedroom apartment. Currently, they are looking at buying a house. And this past September, after five years, they finally received their Green Cards and are thrilled to be thriving here!

After Samuel’s and Marie’s family moved, S. Sandy became involved with Catholic Charities of Southwest Ohio in its Refugee Resettlement Program: first as an intern, then as a volunteer and, since October 2021, as a paid employee. In the meantime, the Leadership Council had realized that the house on the Motherhouse campus was not really suitable for our newcomers. So the Community invested in purchasing and renovating a duplex in St. Bernard so that we could house two families. The house was recently transferred to Working In Neighborhoods, which now owns the building.

Unlike our first family, the house would be for refugees at this time, and not for asylum seekers.  The difference between these two official categories is that refugees come here with all their legal documents, sometimes after waiting for years in their home or in another country. They are able to begin working as soon as they arrive, and often have connections here to help them. So they will be able to move and live on their own sooner, and the duplex will be able to shelter more families. The need for transitional shelter is great for both refugees and asylum seekers.

Ibrahim, Hadlah and their four children arrived from Jordan in June.

S. Sandy reports that the first two families have moved into the duplex this year: Amissa and her seven children came to us from Burundi in March, and Ibrahim, Hadlah and their four children arrived from Jordan in June. “They are all learning English as they are adjusting to life in Cincinnati and the United States,” she said. S. Sandy noted again that the help of the Sisters and Associates has been invaluable. Recently, the Sisters in Mother Margaret Hall nursing facility made a collection of winter hats, scarves and gloves, diapers, cleaning supplies and a host of other items for the two families. Sisters Jean Miller, Mary Gallagher, and Marianne Van Vurst delivered what they had collected to the families.

As S. Sandy says, “This line of work, this ministry, has been extremely life-giving and a real joy. It also has its challenges that require patience and perseverance. Things tend to take a long time, so waiting on paperwork, return calls, and appointments can get frustrating. The language barrier also has its challenges, but it has been a real learning experience finding ways to communicate.” Many times, she said, it also brings much laughter.

There are also many rewards. Watching the children grow and learn new things over the years, rejoicing with the adults as they learn English, gain employment, and get driver’s licenses and cars is a joy. S. Sandy also says that she could not do what she does with the families without the SC Community. “The Sisters and Associates have been a part of this program since the beginning. Their love, prayers, support, and interest have made all the difference.”

But coordinating the Newcomers Program and working with the Refugee Resettlement Program at Catholic Charities is not all that S. Sandy is involved in! She is also on the boards of two local nonprofits: currently chairing the Board for Price Hill Will, and serving on the Santa Maria Community Services Board. The Sisters of Charity have a long history with both of these organizations, which serve those in need on the West Side of Cincinnati. Santa Maria was, in fact, started by Sisters Blandina and Justina Segale back in 1897. S. Sandy also co-chairs the Justice Circle on Immigration and Ending Human Trafficking, in which Sisters and Associates advocate and provide services for immigrants to our city.

As S. Sandy says, “Being involved in so many opportunities as a Sister of Charity is truly what makes me so happy, joy-filled, and peace-filled, knowing that God has called me to this. Yes, it at times can be overwhelming, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I am so very blessed to be celebrating 25 years as a Sister of Charity and couldn’t be happier. I look forward to my next 25 years!”

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