News & Events


IHMs Collaborate at the US-Mexico Border

Observations from El Centro by Terri Jordan, IHM

I had the privilege of spending one week in El Centro, CA to minister with Catholic Charities. We were providing support for asylum seekers upon release from U.S. Border Patrol. A lot of time was not spent with the people as they were there for a short period of time while flights were arranged by sponsoring families. While I am still reflecting on the experience, I have the following observations.

The people have great humility. Basic life supplies that are taken for granted needed to be requested. Daily hygiene items were supplied automatically but sometimes nature dictates the need for something extra: the man who needed to come back to the main area seeking sanitary supplies for his wife; the humility of the wife who needed to ask her husband to do this. This was the same couple who had a baby around two months of age with them. Their very first request was for clean clothes, diapers, and diaper rash cream for their baby, who had not had a change of clothes in days.

“The eyes are the window to the soul” is a Shakespearean quote. However, there are many biblical passages regarding the eye. The eye can communicate emotions. Most of the people coming through El Centro were from Brazil and spoke Portuguese. While there was a translator app on my phone that converted the words, the emotions were coming through the eyes. The emotions I saw were relief, joy, happiness, peace, and gratitude. These emotions were coming from people whose life possessions were in a plastic grocery bag.

One day, Donna and I took about 4 families to the Yuma airport. There were approximately 7 children in this group. Seven unruly children. The kind where you would normally try to communicate to the parents with your eyes, “You need to do something about your children.” I typed out on my translator, “Please don’t leave the little cars out in the hallway where people would trip.” They read it and continue to play. Donna stumbled over one of the matchbox cars. Donna asked me if I thought it would do any good if she asked the parents to quiet the children down. I said no. Why were the children unruly? Was it a lack of discipline? Was it their expression of being able to play without worry? Was it the first time the parents did not need to be hypervigilant about the safety of their children?

In the desert setting one can readily think of Mary’s and Joseph’s flight into Egypt. They fled to protect the life of their son. Parents are fleeing to protect the lives of their children so that their children might grow up to be of service to humankind. How would life as we know it have been if Mary and Joseph had not fled to Egypt? How will life in the future be if parents don’t flee with their children? How long will parents need to flee?

Sister Terri Jordan (S)

by Mary Elaine Anderson, IHM

“Informed by global needs and congregation
realities, we will explore the future of our ministerial
outreach… while reimagining how we might live all
aspects of religious life into the future.”
(Direction Statement 2018-2022)

At Chapter 2018, we, Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary from Scranton, PA, expressed the desire to explore the future ministerial outreach of our congregation. Hidden within this desire was an acknowledgement of our diminishing and aging membership and a concern for the continuation of the mission and our role in bringing about God’s dream for our beautiful, yet wounded, world. As so often happens when we write a direction statement at chapter, we commit ourselves to something that we sense is an invitation from God and then have to listen attentively and respond to the reality before us to see how it might unfold in the future.

I believe that the plight of our brothers and sisters at the US-Mexico border is one of those invitations from God that IHMs would find difficult to ignore. Our charism and our Alphonsian spirituality impel us to respond passionately with unconditional love to the broken and vulnerable in our world. This legacy does not belong only to IHMs from Scranton but is a gift inherited and embodied by all IHMs—Monroe, Immaculata and Scranton.

Since April 24th, IHMs from the three congregations have been collaborating with Catholic Charities of the Diocese of San Diego and volunteering at their respite centers in El Centro and Holtville, CA. Over the course of the next few months, more than 30 IHMs will be a presence of love for our brothers and sisters seeking asylum at the southern border.

I am humbled to serve with these women religious from our three congregations. They are on fire with the passion to love unconditionally and they come to the border with a sense of urgency to be in the midst of the pain of our world. Each day brings new challenges and requires imagination, creativity, and fresh thinking to meet the needs of the people. Our desire is to respond with joyful, loving, self-emptying and hospitable service—the IHM spirit that we inherited from Mother Theresa Maxis and the sisters who have gone before us.

We have all made the journey to the border with the conviction that we have been called by God and that we have been SENT by our congregations. The support of our IHM sisters back home has been overwhelming! We join together with IHM sisters ministering all over the United States and beyond to bring the redeeming and healing love of God to our wounded world.

I cannot help but wonder how this current collaboration of the three IHM congregations might be related to the re-imagination of our Scranton IHM ministerial outreach in the future. Is this the first of many initiatives, ministerially or otherwise, that we will take with our IHM sisters in Monroe and Immaculata as well as with other women religious across the United States and perhaps internationally? God invites and places the opportunities before us. We only need to become more conscious of our interconnectedness and be willing to respond collectively to the needs of all of God’s creation.

Welcome signs 1 (002)
Sisters Kathy Benham (I), Margaret Chapman (M) and
Mary Elaine Anderson (S)

Five sisters in El Centro (002)
Sisters Constance Touey (I), Mary Elaine Anderson (S),
Jeannette Lucey (I), Margaret Chapman (M) and
Margaret Joseph Pavluchuk (I)

Greetings from El Centro, California—my home for the next 2 ½ months! Located in the desert of southern California, El Centro is also the temporary respite center for hundreds of our immigrant brothers and sisters who are crossing the US-Mexican border in search of a new and more dignified life for themselves and their families. It is in this remote and poor area of our country that thirty-two or more IHMs from Monroe, Immaculata and Scranton will join together to welcome and accompany men, women and children who are seeking asylum in the US.

On April 26, Sister Kathy Benham (Immaculata) and I met with local personnel from Catholic Charities of San Diego at the hotel in El Centro, which is serving as a temporary shelter for asylum seekers. We tried to familiarize ourselves as quickly as possible with the operation underway, so that we could be of service. I am still sorting out all the information and details involved—how to do an intake with new arrivals, assign hotel rooms, provide food and clothing, organize transportation to nearby airports and meet the unexpected needs of the guests.

Later in the morning, Nadine Toppozada, the Director of Immigrant Services for Catholic Charities, escorted Kathy and me to a second shelter/hotel located in Holtville, about 20 minutes away from El Centro. It is here that Catholic Charities receives families arriving in vans driven by the Customs Border Patrol. Kathy and I watched as vans were unloaded and men, women and children lined up to undergo testing for Covid. We were informed that those who tested positive would remain in quarantine for 10 days at the hotel in Holtville. Those with negative results would be transferred to the hotel in El Centro where they would stay temporarily while they waited for family members already in the US to arrange transportation for them to different places in the US.

On April 27, Kathy and I will begin our day at the hotel in Holtville. We will be driving those persons with flights purchased by their families to the Yuma International Airport in Arizona. I am leaving the driving of the van to Kathy! I opted to accompany the passengers to their airlines and help them get through TSA. Afterwards, Kathy and I will be on call at the hotel in Holtville and will shadow personnel there to learn first-hand how to respond to the needs that arise.

The IHM Border Team asks for your prayer for our immigrant brothers and sisters, for Catholic Charities of San Diego and for us. We believe that wherever one IHM is in ministry, we are all present! Together, let us embody the redeeming love of Jesus and bring God’s unconditional love to all those we encounter at the border!

Holtville - Ramada
Sisters Kathy Benham (Immaculata) and Mary Elaine Anderson (Scranton) join with Catholic Charities of San Diego to serve at the border