Advocating for Asylum Seekers
When Bishop John Purcell invited the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur to serve in his growing Cincinnati Dioecese in 1840, he was concerned for the newly arrived immigrants, most of whom came from Germany. Since then, service to immigrants has been a constant in the ministry of the SNDdeN Ohio Province and has flourished for over 50 years in the Phoenix, AZ, Diocese!
In recent years, innumerable individuals and families have sought asylum in the United States to escape violence, extortion, extreme poverty, and political, religious, and sexual persecution. Motivated by the spirit of St. Julie Billiart to serve the most abandoned, we hear today Pope Francis' call urging "the faithful to consider the treatment of immigrants, asking: Do we welcome them as brothers (and sisters) or do we exploit them?" Today, we express God's goodness in our service to asylum seekers.
Asylum Seekers Before Covid
|Sisters Liane Delsuc and Ann Howard unload the food and supplies from the car to be brought into the Welcome Center.|
Before COVID-19 interrupted group activities in Arizona, small churches provided essential services of welcome, food, clothing, and showers. They also helped to arrange Asylee's transportation to family members and sponsors. Sisters Olivia Pacheco and Nancy Wellmeier volunteered at three Protestant churches. Sisters Meg Walsh and Liane Delsuc were doing the same at St. Matthew's Catholic Church and a Methodist Church. At each place, once a week, a Department of Homeland Security bus drops off already vetted asylum-seekers to pursue their claim while sponsored by a relative or friend in the U.S.
In 2019, the International Rescue Committee established the Welcome Center in central Phoenix and enlisted the aid of an interfaith coalition of volunteers. Sisters Nancy, Olivia, Meg, and Liane began volunteering there regularly.
Organizing a Team of Volunteers from Three Provinces
As asylum seekers increased, the need for volunteers at the Welcome Center grew. SNDdeN initiated a project to invite Sisters from across the U.S. to serve for short terms of two to four weeks. Sisters Liane, Meg, and Nancy, along with Sisters Loreta Jordan and Mary Alice McCabe, became the organizing team from our three U.S. Provinces. Given their passion to serve migrating peoples, they presented the project to the Ohio Province Leadership, who supported this expanded immigrant ministry. All three U.S. Provinces endorsed the effort to serve asylum seekers, providing financial support for transportation, room, and board for Sisters who would live in the Habitat for Humanity community in South Phoenix with Sister Meg and Liane. They later extended the invitation for volunteers to Associates, SNDdeN staff members, Sisters of other Congregations, family members, and friends.
Mission to Educate and Advocate
Multiplying hands for the Welcome Center was only one objective: a second was that volunteers would return home with a mission to educate others with accurate facts regarding the "invasion" at the border and to advocate with legislators for comprehensive immigration reform. The reality of global migration has been hopeful at the Welcome Center as people arrive from Russia, Georgia, India, Bangladesh, and Central and South America after harrowing journeys.
December 2021 through 2022
|At Habitat Community, Sister Mary Alice McCabe hangs the washed towels for the Welcome Center.|
Fifteen Sisters of Notre Dame, five former Sisters, two Sisters of another Congregation, and four friends traveled to Phoenix to offer service at the Welcome Center.
- Volunteers joined Sister Nancy as she greeted new asylum seekers and provided sandwiches and drinks for hungry travelers.
- Others guided the asylum seekers as they chose one new set of clothing.
- Sister Liane managed the schedule for the showers.
- Volunteers helped Sister Meg pick up and serve the dinner St. Vincent de Paul Society provided.
- Volunteers also spent mornings at the Habitat Community washing towels to be returned to the Welcome Center the next day.
The Habitat Community provides a "home" for our volunteers and experiences of community with prayer and reflection on the reality of immigration. Volunteers share experiences in monthly newsletters designed by Sister Terry David, SNDdeN. Some Sisters and Associates participate in this mission by sending handmade scarves, hats, and care packages of needed items. Others give financial donations to cover clothing and hygiene items at the showers.
The sense that we are all in this together has been quite inspiring. St. Julie is undoubtedly proud of the Mission of her daughters: As we work for justice and peace today, we hold in our hearts... those people forced to migrate across borders in search of life and hope. (Calls 18th General Chapter 2021 - page 1).
Written by Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur Liane Delsuc, Loreta Jordan, Mary Alice McCabe, Meg Walsh, and Nancy Wellmeier. First published in Good Works, Volume 19 No.1. March 2023