Serving the Needs of the Times: Border Ministry

Sister Patrice Coolick received this picture as a gift from a girl in the San Diego shelter. It says, “Here we are loved and received with open arms.”

Since November, the humanitarian crisis at the U.S. border has heated up, with thousands of Central American refugees seeking asylum to escape the poverty and violence of their homeland. Families are coming to the states after arduous journeys to find an overloaded immigration system that cannot handle the influx.

After being held in stark detention centers, ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) is releasing these migrants on the streets without resources  while they wait in the states for asylum hearings, resulting in hundreds of people per day needing temporary shelter while arrangements are made for them to reach family members already in the states.  

Once again, the Sisters of St. Joseph and associates have stepped up to respond to the needs of the times by supporting the cause in a number of ways from hands-on help to monetary support.

Annunciation House
We continue our relationship with Annunciation House in El Paso, Texas, where the collaborative efforts of local and national volunteers, including many women religious, have served to “welcome the stranger” with kind faces, helping hands and pastoral hearts.

Sisters Theresa Horn-Bostel, Rosario Bobadilla and Fran Voivedich went to El Paso in November while Sisters Pat vanden Bergh, Jo Ann Geary and Mary Ann Figlino went in January. Associate Laura Rossmann, accompanied by a friend, also went in January.

In addition, the St. Louis province is donating a van to the cause. Sister Teresa Horn-Bostel and Candidate Kristina DeNeve will be driving it down to El Paso in  and they will  stay for two weeks to serve.

And, working from home in St. Louis, Sister Ida Berresheim, who has a long-time history of work with Annunciation House, has secured four grants for them.

Laura says her “heart was broken and rejoicing at the same time,” when she drove two families to the airport one evening. Neither of these families had ever flown or been in an airport and they had to spend the night there until their flight left very early in the morning. After communicating using Google Translate as best she could, she found an “angel” named Tony who helped explain to the families they needed to find chairs to rest in for the night.

“My heart was broken having to leave them at the airport on their own all night,” Laura says. “I prayed that the security wouldn’t give them any trouble about sleeping on the chairs.” She adds, “Tony was a godsend. He was so welcoming and friendly and played with the kids and made them smile.”

Much of the volunteer work is laborious – cleaning, laundry, driving – but the compassion and hope that the sisters offer is what is most impactful.

“The contrast of faces from when they come into the shelter and when they leave is dramatic,” says S. Jo Ann. “They are immediately welcomed and told that this is not a detention center but that they are ‘free’ in this shelter before going to their destination.”

Sister Patrice Coolick
Sister Patrice Coolick is ministering at the San Diego Rapid Response Network, a coalition of organizations aiding immigrants at the largest land border crossing in the world. S. Patrice, a registered nurse, was part of a night-shift team providing medical evaluations of the asylum seekers as they come to the shelter.

She shares the story of a “Christmas family,” a young couple from Honduras with a three-month old that was in acute respiratory distress and taken to the children’s hospital where he stayed for several days. Afterwards they were to travel to Kentucky by bus, but volunteers came to the rescue.

“It was not a good plan for the baby, so we all pitched in and got them plane tickets,” she says. “Off they went on a jet plane instead of a donkey.”

This work also took S. Patrice to Tijuana with an interfaith group, going to several shelters. She was shocked by the dirt and garbage and children begging in the streets, but there was more to come.

S. Patrice says, “When we arrived at the first shelter there was an old, very sick looking man in a broken down wheelchair. I wondered about him. When we walked out of the shelter, he had died and a blanket was thrown over him and the police were there. One of the volunteers said that was not unusual”

“How, what and who can change this?” she asks.

The CSJ community has been a generous supporters of this border ministry. Sisters and associates and other donors have made contributions, totaling more than $8,400 for the cause. Make a gift online - note "border ministry" in the comments.