Where are they now?

Catholic Digest shares the latest news on individuals previously featured in this column

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By Julie Rattey

Since February of 2006, Catholic Digest has told narrative stories of individuals whose lives have been changed for the better through their interactions with a Religious Order or organization. For the next two months, we’ll share updates on how some of these individuals are doing now.


In March 2009, we introduced Thorn Khoun, who escaped from war-torn Cambodia in 1978 when she was 19 and, a few years later, came to live in the United States. At age 47, with the help of Sister Rose Garramone at the Pen and Pages Tutorial Center run by the Sisters of St. Francis in Syracuse, New York, she learned to read. At the time of publication, Thorn was preparing to take her citizenship test.

“I was nervous,” says Thorn of how she was feeling on the day of her exam in February (The test had not yet been taken at the time the March issue of Catholic Digest went to press). She was prepared, having studied hard with Sister Rose, but that didn’t stop her from feeling anxious. Her husband and nephew came with her to Buffalo for the event, helping her review questions before her name was called. Then, at last, it was her turn.

Meanwhile, back in Syracuse, Sister Rose was organizing some serious prayer time. About 25 teachers, Sisters, and workers at the center gathered to pray for Thorn at the very time the test administrator would be asking her questions and giving her writing assignments. The hard work of studying had been done. Now all that was left to do was pray… and wait for the phone to ring.

“I was so excited when I heard her voice and she said, ‘I passed,’” says Sister Rose, describing how she felt when Thorn called with the good news later that day. “It was a good thing I was miles away; I probably jumped up and down. It was a wonderful moment. We are very proud of her.”

Sister wasted no time spreading the word, posting a large note in the tutoring center saying, “Thorn passed,” along with an American flag. Within 10 minutes, the news had circulated.

The following month, Thorn, her family, and Sister Rose attended Thorn’s citizenship ceremony, held at the courthouse in Syracuse. After several speeches, the new citizens were called upon to stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Then they were called by name to receive their citizenship papers and an American flag. Thorn felt so happy to finally be a citizen, to finally feel free.

“I couldn’t even keep from crying, I was so happy,” says Sister Rose. “I filled right up. It was overwhelming. I’m just so proud of her and what she worked for.”
But getting her citizenship isn’t the end of the story for Thorn. She and Sister Rose still meet nearly every day to work on Thorn’s reading.

“She’s just doing magnificently well in reading and comprehension,” says Sister Rose.
“She’s a gentle, dignified (person),” she adds, “and while she’s soft-spoken, she’s a very strong woman. And I think this is an example for people like myself, anyone who knows her well. Even when the chips are down, she’s just a great lady, a good friend.”


[Research for this follow-up was conducted with the assistance of Henry Flores, CFCA]

In August 2007 we introduced Santiago, his wife, Estela, and their five children, including their daughter Patricia, who were struggling to make ends meet in El Salvador. Through sponsorship from the Christian Foundation for Children and Aging, the family was able to get a new house and send their children to school.

At the time Catholic Digest told their story, Patricia’s family was living in La Realidad, El Salvador. Since then, the family has relocated because of growing gang problems in the community, leaving their new home behind to rent lodging elsewhere. Although they now have access to water, public transportation, and close proximity to school — services they did not have easy access to in La Realidad — they miss their home.
“We are no longer in the place that we love so much,” says Santiago. “All families (from La Realidad) are sad because of the (gang) situation. We were not feeling safe, especially now that our boys have grown.”

In spite of this, says Henry Flores, the family’s financial situation has significantly improved, and the family is optimistic about their future.

“Some time ago all the household was on my shoulders,” says Santiago, “but recently my wife went through sewing training offered by CFCA and now she is bringing 60 percent of the family income with her work, and my older son and I are bringing the remaining 40 percent by selling (snow cones) on the streets like we did before.”

“I’ve always liked sewing,” says Estela, “but I never had the chance to learn and did not have the equipment. At first, I learned to make skirts and blouses. Then I was able to make my children’s school uniforms, and later, I started working for CFCA making bed sets that will be distributed as benefits for the sponsored children.”

A sewing machine provided by CFCA allows Estela to care for her family’s home and the children while earning income. She and other mothers of sponsored children are also saving about 40 percent of their income (they each make about $200 a month) for future training and equipment.

“This has given me the opportunity to contribute food and cover household expenses,” she says, “and it feels great to contribute to have everything we need in our house.”
Santiago and his family hope to return to their own home when the situation is safer. They also have other plans.

“Our main plan is for our children to finish high school,” says Santiago. “Our daily plan is to work harder and, if possible, help my wife in the sewing job she has. I know I can do that. If that’s not possible, I want to continue with my ice cream business but I want to make my own natural ice cream.”

“I can assure you that our life would not be as good as it is now without CFCA, because we have many children to raise and each member of CFCA has collaborated with us,” he says. “Seventy-five percent of our life as good people, as good citizens, trying to be a good example for the community, is thanks to CFCA.”  CD

Managing Editor Julie Rattey

Julie Rattey is a Boston-based writer and editor. She is the author of If I Grew Up in Nazareth, available from 23rdPublications.com.