It is with great sadness that we have learned of long-time Board Member Saundra Kennedy. Saundra died on Tuesday, July 28, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Saundra was an Associate of the Sisters of Mercy of the Holy Cross USA Province, Merrill, WI and served as a member of the NACAR board for 9 years, from 2003 to 2012. She was a faithful member of the NACAR Board and did much to help promote NACAR.
Saudra received her Doctor of Education from Columbia University in New York. She had been a Sister of St. Joseph and taught at several Catholic schools in Louisiana and the Chinchuba Institute for the Deaf in Marrero, LA. Later, she worked in Sales in Catholic publishing for 27 years and as National Speaker for William H. Sadlier, Inc.
You may find Saundra's obituary and information about services here.
Here is a video of Saundra explaining the history of the NACAR logo.
It is with great sadness that we share the news that Sister Kate Kuenstler, long time advocate of the laity and the associate movement, passed away. Read more in the Global Sisters Report.
Photo from the Global Sisters Report: Sr. Kate Kuenstler of the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ, left, seen with St. Joseph Sr. Christine Schenk, receives FutureChurch's Rev. Louis J. Trivison Award in fall 2012. (Courtesy of FutureChurch)
I have recently returned from a week of service at the Humanitarian Respite Center (HRC) in McAllen, Texas, run by Sr. Norma Pimentel, MJ, Director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley (CCRGV) [https://www.catholiccharitiesrgv.org/HumanitarianRespiteCenter.shtml]. HRC offers food, shelter, and basic services to refugee families from Central America who have been released from detention by ICE to await an asylum hearing. I was inspired to go after reading the accounts of several SSJ sisters who served there this spring, including my good friend, Rita Woehlcke, SSJ. Talking to Rita after she returned, I felt deeply called to go to the border and welcome my sisters and brothers from Central America as a way to live my commitment to the SSJ mission of unity.
In the past, I’ve served in Trenton, Appalachia, and Uganda, but this was the hardest week of service I have ever experienced. It left my heart broken, but as Rumi once wrote, “The wound is where the light enters.” I returned from Texas filled with the light of love and compassion for the refugee families, yearning to share that light and help others understand that these are not “bad hombres.” They are fathers and mothers fleeing from gang violence, domestic violence, organized crime, human traffickers, and extreme poverty (eg, starvation due to climate-change-provoked crop failures) who come to the US desperately seeking safety, security and a chance to support their family.
The HRC was initiated in June of 2014 as a direct response to the refugee relief crisis in the Rio Grande Valley. The refugees endure a dangerous and grueling trek to reach the US, much of the way on foot, traveling over 1500 to 2000 miles from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, enduring hunger, thirst, and often violence or predation, most with young children in tow. All of the refugees I saw at the HRC had children with them or were pregnant; under the “Flores settlement” they must be released from detention centers within 20 days. Many other refugees that arrive individually are either immediately deported or can be held in detention centers for months to years awaiting an asylum hearing. A common misconception is that the refugees have entered the US “illegally”; however, it is legal under US law to seek asylum. After crossing the border, the refugees quickly surrender to Border Patrol and are brought to one of the ICE detention centers to be processed. If they have someone in the US who will agree to act as their sponsor, they can be released from detention and go to their sponsor to await an asylum hearing, but they have to arrange their own transportation, a daunting task without money or English skills. So the HRC provides a shower and clean clothes, food and shelter for 24 to 48 hours, and help in contacting their sponsor and making transportation arrangements. I met refugees traveling to sponsors in California, Utah, Ohio, Michigan, Nevada, New York, New Jersey, and Florida; virtually all over the US.
I traveled to McAllen from April 27th to May 5th as part of a group of 4 people from the Center for FaithJustice in Lawrenceville, NJ. Even though I had read many reports and had seen news footage describing the Respite Center and the situation at the border, I was still overwhelmed by seeing it firsthand. The HRC in McAllen is currently located in what was once a nursing home. It is small, over-crowded, and very hot and humid. During the week, I saw anywhere from around 200 refugees on the first day I arrived to over 600 men, women and children a day on each of the last 2 days I was there. The unpredictability of each day at the Respite Center makes the work supremely challenging. The staff told us that the numbers of refugees we saw was typical lately, but for a few days in March, ICE dropped off over 1,000 refugees a day with no advance notice. The refugees sleep on “gym mats” on the floor and shower at an outside trailer. They use port-a-potties in the parking lot and eat outside under the trees. I kept finding it hard to believe that this refugee camp was actually in the US, and not in some foreign country. The atmosphere is quiet, mainly because the refugees are exhausted and many are sick, but everyone is very grateful and cooperative.
The refugees I spoke with (through the help of a translator) told me that conditions in the detention center were not good; they were held in jail cells where they had to sit and sleep on the cold concrete floor with only a thin, mylar foil emergency blanket to cover themselves. Some said they’d been held there only 5 days, others 20 days. Meals consisted of a couple of sandwiches and cups of drinking water each day. There were no windows, and no fresh air. All their personal belongings were confiscated, including their shoelaces (presumably because they can be used as a choking weapon). Some tore strips from their mylar blankets to lace their shoes or tie their children’s hair back. I saved one of these that I found on the floor to pray with, and now it is tucked inside my devotional. Many told me, with great shame, that they knew they smelled bad because they hadn’t been allowed to shower in 3, or 4, or 6 days. To see the pain and fear in their eyes, hear the shame and loss of dignity in their voices, and hear the cries of their small, beautiful but frightened children was heartbreaking.
On my first day at HRC, I was put to work in a sweltering hot room about the size of a walk-in closet with a small window preparing toiletry bags, which were red supermarket shopping bags into which I put a small tube of toothpaste, 1 toothbrush, a comb and a small deodorant. I was told that we needed hundreds of these every day, and to work as quickly as I could. Within a few hours, I heard the squeal of brakes outside as Border Patrol delivered the first bus of refugee families of the day. Over 100 men, women and children quietly lined up in the hallway, where a staff member greeted them in Spanish and explained what would happen. She told them that they are in Texas, in the US, because many come out of detention and have no idea where the bus is bringing them, or whether they are being sent back to Mexico.
Working with another volunteer, I made my way down the line of new arrivals, smiling and greeting them Bienvenidos [Welcome] and asking in my limited Spanish Quantos niños? [How many chidren?] so I could add the appropriate number of toothbrushes to their bag. They all smiled and whispered Gracias as I handed them this meager offering, but I think most of all they were responding with relief to seeing a friendly face and hearing bienvenidos perhaps for the first time since they began their journey weeks before. Before long, another bus was pulling up, and then another, and with each bus came a sense of urgency. Would I have enough bags made up in time? We were running out of deodorant, so what should I do? I was told, then make up bags without deodorant; we give what we have. With so few volunteers it was all we could do to try to meet the overwhelming needs of hundreds of men, women, and children arriving with no notice other than the squeal of brakes outside the window. And it broke my heart to not have more to give them.
Distributing clothing was another area I served in, but the donated clothing available was often in poor condition or too large for these small, Central American people. Thankfully, my friends and I had raised funds online before our trip, and were able to go each morning to Walmart, or other local discount stores, to purchase new underwear, socks, shirts and pants to distribute. It was wonderful to be able to offer a mother new clothing for her child, to hear the delighted cry of a young girl as she received new pantalones and a camiseta [pants and a shirt], and to see the pride in her mother’s eyes as a small bit of dignity was returned to her. I was so moved by the obvious love and tender care I saw the mothers and fathers giving to their children. The children were sick, cranky, and tired, but the parents seemed endlessly patient with them, and with us; we always seemed to be making them stand on yet another line for food, or a shower, or clothing, and then had so little to offer them. But they remained gracious and grateful through it all, despite their utter powerlessness. By the end of every day, we would run short of clothing again, and often had to send children away with only new socks and underwear. A little boy of about 7 or 8 years came in wearing only pajamas. No pants, no shirt, no shoes. We could only give him a new shirt, underwear and socks and promise that we'll go buy more pants mañana. We never had shoes to give the refugees, the item they probably needed most after their long journey. Shoelaces to replace those taken away when they entered detention were also in high demand, but not surprisingly, most stores in McAllen were completely sold out. Sometimes the very young mothers would come to the children’s clothing room to try to find pants for themselves because nothing in the adult clothing room would fit them. One mother shyly asked me for pants that were wide at the bottom. I was confused, thinking this was a fashion choice, until she pointed to her ankle, and I saw that she wore an electronic ankle bracelet placed there by ICE to monitor her movements. I’ll never forget the look of shame in her eyes.
Many of the migrants were sick when they arrived from detention. Some were wearing face masks provided by ICE to prevent spreading germs, but so many children had runny noses, terrible coughs, and stomach issues. There is a room designated as a clinic at the Respite Center that is staffed by a volunteer nurse if one is available. One day while I was there, 2 pediatricians volunteered their services for an afternoon and saw hundreds of sick children. They gave out over-the-counter medications; more serious cases are sent to local hospitals, but the refugees are very reluctant to go, out of fear and because they don’t want to miss their bus or plane the next day.
The HRC staff expressed their appreciation to us repeatedly throughout the week, as did some of the residents of McAllen that we encountered in local stores when they saw our multiple shopping carts piled high with clothing. “Thank you for helping our town and the refugees” they often said. One day I wore a T-shirt that said “I Stand with Immigrants and Refugees” as I shopped in the local Walmart. A man approached me, and I braced myself for an argument, but instead he leaned in close and whispered, “I really like your shirt.” We did not hear a single word of animosity during our week of service.
The days were long, as we generally spent all morning shopping for supplies and then worked at HRC from Noon until 8 PM. The heat, the pace of the work, and the emotional burden all began to take a toll on us as the week went on. But on my last afternoon, I began to dread having to leave, knowing that I would be returning to my privileged life in NJ, yet this suffering would continue in my absence. That evening, Border Patrol dropped off over 300 refugees at 7 PM. We scrambled to get them all toiletry bags. As I began to hand them out, I greeted the first 3 women off the first bus; each a young mother holding a newborn infant, still wrapped in pink-and-blue-striped hospital receiving blankets and small crocheted caps on their tiny heads. I had to take a moment to compose myself, as I thought about these frightened young women, the age of my own daughters, going into labor in a detention cell, giving birth, and being sent right back to detention, to lay on a concrete floor as they nursed their newborn infant. How can this be happening in America? I saw the face of Mary, herself a frightened young mother who gave birth to Jesus in abject poverty, and later became a refugee fleeing to protect the life of her son. I was truly encountering Christ and His Mother, in a hot, shabby refugee camp, in McAllen, Texas. It was a deeply sacred moment.
When I left the Respite Center that last night, I cried tears of exhaustion, frustration, anger, sorrow, and yes, gratitude. Gratitude for the opportunity and the privilege to have served Christ in the person of the refugees. Gratitude for the people: their warmth, their courage, their strength, and their stories. Gratitude for the staff who remain dedicated and selfless under impossible working conditions. Gratitude for my Catholic faith and for Catholic Social Teaching, which impels me and my colleagues to go be the hands and feet of Christ on earth in the face of suffering and to speak out against injustice for those who have no voice.
I returned to New Jersey bone tired and sick with a stomach bug I picked up. But I managed to get to Mass on Sunday and heard the Gospel reading that included John 21:15-17. “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” I smiled quietly as I remembered the many ways I had the opportunity to do just that in McAllen. Although I’m physically home in NJ again, my head and my heart seem to still be in McAllen. I keep thinking about the buses I know are still pulling up to the Respite Center and wondering if they have enough deodorant to make up the toiletry bags. I'm worried that the children arriving won't have clean clothes given to them since I remember how empty the clothing bins were when we arrived. I keep wondering what comes next. What can I do now? I know I can't just go back to life here in NJ and not be changed by this experience. Whether it's advocacy with legislators, or sending cases of supplies to the Respite Center, or recruiting more volunteers to come with me when I return to McAllen in the Fall, I must do something. If you feel the same, I’ll be happy to send you ways you can help.
HRC needs the following items (Bold items are most needed):
Deodorant, toothpaste, toothbrushes, combs, washcloths, etc.)
Shoes (sandals, tennis shoes, loafers, etc.) for men, women, children and infants of all sizes
Clothes (pants, t-shirts, blouses, underclothing, socks, etc.) for children and adults of all sizes (Adults need mainly Small and Medium sizes)
Baby supplies for toddlers (Pampers, baby wipes, baby bottles, etc.)
Sealed snack food (single serving granola bars, chips, peanut butter & cheese crackers, etc.)
Gift cards to purchase food items
Plastic bags for families to pack sandwiches, snacks, and water for their trip.
Cash or in kind donations can be sent to:
Catholic Charities RGV Humanitarian Respite Center
209 West Hackberry Ave
McAllen, TX 78501
The Respite Center also has an Amazon Wishlist (although you may find better prices elsewhere):
As part of our 2019 Annual Associate Leadership Meeting, U.S.-Ontario Province SNJM Associates/Sisters viewed and discussed Associate Vocation, a video on the NACAR web site. Sister Carol Zinn challenged us to envision our shared associate future as well as to identify specific steps which can be taken to further our mission and charism through our associate community.
This reflection was published in the Fall 2019 issue of InFormation, a publication of the Religious Formation Conference (RFC) for its congregational members. As part of the ongoing collaboration between NACAR, the Religious Formation Conference invited a reflection from an Associate perspective. The theme of the Fall 2019 issue was Being Signs of Courageous Hope. This reflection is posted here with permission.
Courageous is not a word that I would have initially applied to the Associate-Religious relationship until I appreciated that it requires a deep commitment and that all commitments of the heart require courage.
Researcher and author Brené Brown defines courage as “To speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.” She states, “Ordinary courage is about putting our vulnerability on the line. In today’s world, that’s pretty extraordinary.”*
Associates who seek this Gospel way of life make a formal commitment to share in and live out the charism and mission of a religious congregation. It is a heart commitment that is made within the context of the Associates’ other life commitments. It is a continuous balancing act that takes fortitude and a belief in community and the greater good.
To make and honor a heart commitment, such as marriage, profession of vows, ordination, or a commitment to the Associate way of life, requires profound love and extraordinary vulnerability. Heart commitments require stepping into the unknown and unforeseeable. It is opening one’s heart to another. It is risking rejection, not having expectations met or dreams come true. Authentic heart commitments are strong. They may be shaken but cannot be not broken through the tests of time or the trials of life. Authentic heart commitments exemplify a love that is grounded in hope and faith and in the knowledge that WE are stronger together.
A commitment to the Associate way of life grows in strength because it is a call from God to live out the gift (the charism) that God placed in one’s heart. The courage of the Associate commitment requires not only stepping into the unknown, but a willingness to stay there while navigating a future with hope. Like our vowed sisters and brothers, the givens we may have assumed when we made our initial commitment are changing. There are fewer sisters and brothers to “associate” with. Vowed communities, facing their own uncertainty, may or may not include the Associate relationship as they discern their own future.
What do you do with a passion for the charism and mission when the bedrock shifts under your feet? Who do you “associate” with if your vowed community comes to completion? What do you do with a heart commitment to a Gospel way of life and to the charism of a religious congregation? You stay, gather, and pray just as the early Christian communities did 2000 years ago. You give voice to justice and commit to community values. You become a witness to the “ordinary courage” of a heart commitment that is indeed extraordinary. You remain grounded in the Gospel and in the knowledge that WE are stronger together.
*Brown, Brené. The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are (p. 12). Hazelden Publishing. Kindle Edition.
Jeanne Connolly is the President of the North American Conference of Associations and Religious (NACAR) and a Staff Member and Covenant Companion with the Wheaton Franciscans.
This year’s annual North American Conference of Associate Leadership Retreat took place May 13-16, in Houston, Texas, at the Holy Name Passionist Retreat Center. It was attended by 23 congregations. Janet Mock, CSJ, facilitated the three-day retreat.
Her theme for our gathering was “Living the Charism in Turbulent Times.”
Over these days, she invited us to explore through prayer, reflection, as well as small and large group sharing, the context in which we find ourselves as associate leaders: the reality, grief, and hope of bearing and sharing a Charism at this time in the world and in the Church.
We also reflected about the call to self-acceptance, inviting us to share significant stepping stones in each of our lives which was a profoundly sacred experience.
As we reflected in prayer on our Earth, we asked ourselves how to embrace present realities in our world and at the same time what helps us to be aware of and move into local and global solidarity with others, with Earth, and with the Cosmos? I heard the question beckoning us to ponder what is mine and what is ours to do?
In our large group sharing, we also talked about engaging with others into the energy of future possibilities.
And yes, we had time to enjoy the warm Texas sun, the beautiful retreat grounds, and getting to know one another.
Particularly special for me was meeting and spending time in conversations with Jane O’Neill, IHM Scranton Associate Leader.
In one of our prayers, titled, “Carriers of a New Vision,” Christa Henrich, SLW (ad.), wrote, “We are carriers of a new vision that is the Trinity’s dream for us-to be creative, loving, and free as we reflect and affirm the Word in the world and live our Charism in Turbulent Times.”
In this video published by the OLVM Sisters on their YouTube channel, Sr. Carol Zinn, SSJ, speaks to Sisters and Associates in the Our Lady of Victory Missionary Community on April 3, 2017 about the associate vocation.
Dr. Carol Zinn, a Sister of St. Joseph from Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia, PA serves as a professional consultant with the Saint John Vianney Center providing workshops for Women Religious on topics of community health & transition. She has ministered in the formal and non-formal education profession and has taught on all levels.
© 2019 North American Conference of Associates and Religious.