Dubuque Sister Maura McCarthy Providing Assistance to Immigrants

Above, Sisters Clarice, Myra and Maura

Reflection by Sister Maura McCarthy

The city of El Paso has struck us as being the city of “a thousand welcomes.” It seems to be overwhelmingly a Latin city. One store clerk said that 95 percent of the inhabitants are bilingual. Most of the persons that we meet in church or in the stores look so beautifully Latin.

Our neighbors from the South are arriving from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras to the city of El Paso, Texas, “the passage” to the North. They are turning themselves over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) seeking asylum. Their experience in the ICE facilities is not always so positive. One man from Honduras spoke of being treated like animals.

There are over 2,000 persons a week being released from the ICE facilities in El Paso to be reunited with family all over the United States previous to their “court date.” It is absolutely essential that centers of hospitality like those sponsored by Annunciation House, Nazareth House and several other welcome hostels provide shelter, food and facilitation of bus and plane tickets provided by family members.

Our presence came about when the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) received an urgent request for economic help and for volunteers to give hands-on ministry to the immigrants in these hospitality centers. The Aberdeen and Dubuque Presentation Sisters along with the Yankton Benedictines responded by sending Sisters Myra Remily, Maura McCarthy and Clarice Korger on December 6, to El Paso, Texas. These three became a volunteer team at Nazareth House, one of the several immigrant hospitality centers sponsored by Annunciation House in El Paso. The sisters live at the former Loretto Sisters Convent, part of which is a center of social services for the city of El Paso.

The volunteer sisters who live in the Loretto Convent have come from all over the United States.  Several are seniors and one sister humorously remarked that she would like to write a book about the “over 80” group of volunteers. Most are bilingual, but several are not. The volunteers provide services such as recording basic information when the immigrants arrive, assigning rooms and providing bedding, making phone calls to the families, distributing clothing, packing lunches for those traveling, providing basic medicines, cooking and serving meals, driving immigrants to the airport or bus station as well as being a welcoming presence.

Sister Maura McCarthy helps immigrants at the United States-Mexico border.

For nearly three days, Sisters Myra, Maura and Clarice were asked to prepare breakfast, dinner and supper for the immigrants. This was in response to a pressing and dire need. All were grateful that Sister Myra had some past experience in food service management for large numbers of persons. Sister Clarice was a practicing LPN before becoming a Benedictine. This skill was frequently needed by persons suffering from colds or upset stomachs.

The volunteer endeavor is a rich interchange with the courageous and risk-taking immigrants from Central America; an opportunity to share mission with many volunteers from El Paso; and an invitation to share community with religious sisters from all over the United States. Sisters Myra and Maura are especially enjoying being in mission together after a hiatus of some 12 years. The insightful and entertaining sharing of happenings with sister volunteers in the evenings is a rich and bonding experience.

Sister Maura will be volunteering until January 1. Other Dubuque Presentation Sisters are responding to these unmet needs in various locations. We are grateful for their willingness and commitment to serve when and where needed most.

More from Maura:

Reuben Garcia, founder of Annunciation House, which has now extended its refugee hospitality to approximately a dozen centers throughout the city of El Paso, Texas, provided conceptual and practical orientation to the Religious Sisters arriving to offer services to the migrants there.  Reuben explained that the refugees are offered a shower, a complete change of clothing, beds with clean sheets and blankets, and meals until contact is made by the volunteers with relatives and friends who sponsor the migrants’ travel to towns and cities across the United States.

He stressed that the volunteers were required for any and every necessary service: reception of the immigrants with intake, explication of the logistics of the center of hospitality, assignation of rooms, house cleaning, laundry of bedding and towels, distribution of clothing, preparation and serving of meals, telephone contacts with the sponsors, preparation of travel packs with sandwiches, snacks, and liquids, driving and/or obtaining rides to the bus station or airport, among other tasks.

Reuben’s perspective on the mission to the migrants was especially notable.  Poverty, he stressed, is to be without options. The migrants are here because they have no other option.  They are not here for adventure or because they like to travel. They are here because they have no other choice.

He spoke recently at a conference of pastors about the massive calamity happening in El Paso and other areas along the border. The pastors asked what they could do to help down there.  He responded with great passion: “You must understand that this is not just a problem ‘down there’.  This is a massive human problemthat is befalling ‘nuestragente’, our family–my family. We need to do something about what is happening to our brothers and sisters!