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  • Writer's pictureDavid Carlson

395 American sisters have always had the same mission: to work with those on the margins

Day 395 Thursday April 15th, 2021

American sisters have always had the same mission: to work with those on the margins

(Sister Norma Pimentel at the Border)

"We are all gathered around our belief that whatever faiths we have, we are challenged to welcome the stranger, to treat everyone like a child of God, with dignity and respect.”

When it comes to helping immigrants, Catholic sisters are one of the few constants in a tempestuous American landscape often shaped by hostility and division.

"They are invested in the marginalized and dispossessed," said Margaret McGuinness, a religion professor at La Salle University in Philadelphia and author of Called to Serve: A History of Nuns in America. "It's something rooted in their mission." She noted that many sisters were immigrants themselves.

Sisters have been active from coast to coast as national leaders have come and gone and as anti-immigrant sentiment has ebbed and flowed.

Congressional legislation addressing the status and rights of immigrants has passed and, in an increasingly polarized political environment, failed to pass.

The Trump administration was hotly criticized for its draconian policies. But the months-old Biden team has recently struggled to handle the surge, particularly among unaccompanied minors at the southern border.

The work of the sisters continues across geographical boundaries. In Texas, Missionary of Jesus Sr. Norma Pimentel works with new migrants in the Rio Grande Valley. On another side of the country, in New York City's Lower East Side, Cabrini Immigrant Services, founded by the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, provides legal and social services to the city's immigrant community.

Though some are willing to practice civil disobedience or battle hostility one on one to support new arrivals, sisters are more likely in the 21st century to leverage the power of the institutions they themselves founded.

A religion professor at La Salle University, Philadelphia, Margaret McGuinness says that

"American sisters have always had the same mission: to work with those on the margins."

A charism spanning centuries

Nineteenth- and early 20th-century nuns, often immigrants themselves, had to counter anti-Catholic prejudice but were embraced in the end by a country that welcomed the hospitals, orphanages and schools sisters created, often in places where none had previously existed.

Now many sisters offer direct services or human rights advocacy for migrants and refugees who have become targets of suspicion and disdain.

When it comes to supporting immigrants, suggested Sr. Verónica Fajardo, her congregation, the Sisters of the Holy Cross, is just doing what it's been doing since 1875, when the nuns first arrived in Utah. In those days, they opened hospitals and orphanages as well as provided help for miners.

"Here in Utah, the older sisters remind me, we're standing on the shoulders of the women who came before us. The way we provide [services] might be different, but the charism is very much alive in our work," said Fajardo.

She's proud, she said, that even the COVID-19 pandemic hasn't stopped the sisters from providing services to the vulnerable populations they serve, both in Park City, where the population she counsels includes undocumented immigrants, and in Salt Lake City, where Holy Cross Ministries is based.

Her own family came to the United States when she was 8, fleeing Nicaragua because her father had received death threats. A licensed clinical social worker, Fajardo now offers help to those in similar circumstances who have come after her.

Though many associate the Utah town with affluence and the Sundance Film Festival, she said, lots of immigrants work in Park City, while enduring lives in the shadows and the impact of ongoing prejudice. That includes being the object of degrading comments and discrimination.

The result? Immigrant crime victims often don't call the police, and victims of domestic violence sometimes remain silent, she said. She sees clients with high levels of anxiety and depression. "You can only hold it in for so long, then it all falls apart."

Fajardo, who encourages her younger clients to finish high school and not to drop out of college, said she hopes the Biden administration will provide new opportunities for the immigrant population she and her companion sisters serve.

Now, under the new administration, Fajardo wrote in an email, "I think they are hopeful to hear that the DACA program [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals] is continuing and there have been discussions about trying to work on a law to help Dreamers. They were quite nervous before that it would go away and they would be left with nothing."

Apr 15, 2021

by Elizabeth Eisenstadt Evans MinistrySocial Justice

Announcement #1: From Sandy McKeith: A Film about the visionary Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (IHM's)

REBEL HEARTS profiles the pioneering nuns of The Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary who challenged the Catholic patriarchy to advocate for themselves and the community they served. Set in 1960s Los Angeles, shortly after the Catholic Church's shocking modernization of church law in 1959, the sisters leveraged the new doctrine to better answer their community's calls for social reform, racial justice, and gender equity. Their bold participation in activism, cultural arts, and women's empowerment challenged traditional gender norms and religious stereotypes. Yet, the autocratic Cardinal supervising their parish was uninterested in change or reform. Convinced the convent was becoming too modern too quickly, the Cardinal took actions to curtail the sisters' newly found empowerment. Undeterred, the group continued their resistance against oppressive church rules suppressing their fundamental human rights, created to command rigid obedience to church leaders rather than spiritual devotion. This documentary depicts their defiant stance against a patriarchal system that captured national attention and elevated conversations on women's roles in the church and broader American society. — R.R.

Follow the directions on this page to rent and stream it:

Announcement # 2: From Denise Dixon:

Sam Jones Meal on 4/21

from Denise:

I was asked to explain what we need to prepare for each course. I always go on the assumption that there will be between 100 -120 meals served. Sometimes it is as low as 80 but they can always use leftovers. Based on that I look for 3 to 4 people to make 3 dozen desserts.

For salads, I have had 3 people make salads starting with 3 of the $5 mixed salad bins (or equivalent in bags) and then adding whatever they want. For main course my aim has been to have 8-10 people making enough for 10-12 people. I usually fill in for main course by making more (sometimes a triple recipe).

The main course seems always the hardest as most recipes are for 4-6 people. It would help if some of you could double your main course donation. Just let me know. The staff at Sam Jones can always supplement whatever we bring if a bit short. Let me know if you have any other questions.

With that said attached is suggested recipe for chicken rise casserole. As always you are free to come up with your own. Thanks for your help. - Denise.


We've attached the recipe for Chicken and Rice Casserole in both WORD and PDF formats

Chicken Rice Casserole
Download DOCX • 29KB

Chicken Rice Casserole
Download PDF • 68KB

Announcement #3 BLM and Policing in Sonoma County

Hosted by Center for Community Engagement at Sonoma State University

Wednesday, April 28, 2021 at 6:30 PM – 8:30 PM PDT

Details Presented by Sonoma State University Koret Scholars and sponsored by the Center for Community Engagement:

a forum on the Black Lives Matter Movement and Policing in Sonoma County -- free and open to the public. This forum includes a panel of interviewees to discuss Black Lives Matter, policing, and experiences during the Summer 2020 protests in Sonoma County. Registration is required to attend: Sign up using this link: This event will be recorded for later viewing and posted to the @SSUCCE YouTube Channel.

More information on the SSU Facebook Page

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