The Glenmary Sisters give new hope for José

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José (in red) and parish friends take part in an Epiphany celebration at St. Bernadette's.
Lupita, Minerva, and José

By Julie Rattey


*Based on the story of the Hernandez family. Information for this feature was provided by Sister Aida Badillo of the Glenmary Sisters.

 

 

“Papá...!”

 

Minerva’s lips choked out the word as she sank into her chair after hanging up the phone. José put his arms around his wife’s shoulders, which were jerking with sobs. Minerva’s beloved father in Mexico was dead, and Minerva would not be able to go to the funeral or be with her family.

 

“Why…?” Minerva wept helplessly.

 

José rubbed her shoulders in lieu of a reply, his brow furrowed with sorrow and frustration. It was his marriage to Minerva that had brought her as an undocumented immigrant from Mexico to the United States, where he, a documented immigrant, was seeking a better life. José had been working hard to secure documentation for Minerva, and for their daughter, Lupita. Once his family had eventually settled in Georgia and found a supportive community and a parish, St. Bernadette’s, they had started the application process. They were so grateful to their local Catholic pastor, a Glenmary priest who had sat with them for hours, explaining difficult words on page after page of the application. Without that, his family might never have even had a chance.

 

Minerva wanted to be, like her husband, a documented immigrant in this country. Like José, she wanted to one day become a citizen of the United States. So they had filled out the paperwork, sent in their money, and waited… and waited. First it was months, then a year. Meanwhile, Minerva could not work without risking the whole family. She kept busy running the household and making tamales for the neighbors. But she could not get a driver’s license. And she could not safely go home.

 

Querida. Dear,” José said, gently taking his wife’s tearstained face in his hands and looking into her dark eyes, eyes that were still those of the young woman he had first met all those years ago in their village in Mexico, “I will go for you. I will go mourn with your family.”

 

Minerva’s lips trembled, and she buried her face in José’s shoulder. Her sobs gradually subsided, and her breathing grew more and more regular against his chest. José squeezed his eyes shut in prayer.

 

Por favor, Santa Maria, he pleaded, please give us an answer soon. You left your own home with your husband and child in secret to another country, Egypt, for a safer, better life. Give our family your strength.


José opened his eyes, which fell upon the small pile of mail — all of it inconsequential — spread out on the kitchen table. Maybe tomorrow there will be news, he thought. Maybe tomorrow.


***

 

“They’re on year what?” José asked in disbelief.

 

Sister Aida sighed. As the Glenmary Sister in charge of Hispanic ministry at St. Bernadette Parish, she had been working with José to find out why his family’s documentation request was taking so long. About two weeks ago, they had gone to visit an immigration lawyer, a Catholic, who had been recommended to her. He had been very kind, very polite. He had taken the papers they had brought to show their documentation efforts and had promised to call them when he had news. Today, he had called, and now Sister Aida had the task of relaying this news to José. It was not encouraging.

 

“There is a backlog of documentation requests,” Sister Aida explained apologetically. “They go by the year you apply. You applied for your family in 2005. Right now they are working on… 1998.”

 

There was silence on the other end of the phone. Sister Aida’s heart ached. She knew José and his family were trying hard to do things the right way from here on in, to follow the rules. And José was such a pillar of the parish community, so involved. He was an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion, he gave classes to prepare parents and godparents for their children’s baptisms, he taught religious education for whatever grade was needed. Minerva, too, was so hospitable — helping new parishioners feel at home. Their family had even taken in newcomers until they had a place to stay. They were truly living out the Gospel in their daily lives. Sister Aida wished she could do something more for them.

 

“Is there anything we can do?” José asked at last, one small note of hope ringing in his voice.

 

“I’m afraid not,” Sister Aida said. “All we can do is be patient. And pray.”

 

Now it was José’s turn to sigh. But he kept his frustration out of his voice. As he had been grateful to his former pastor who had helped his family start this process, he was grateful to Sister Aida who was helping them finish it.

 

“All right, Sister,” he said. “Thank you for your help. We’ll see you on Sunday.”

 

***

 

“Papá!”

 

Lupita, her dark hair streaming out behind her, burst out of the house and ran up to her father as he returned from his day’s work at the dairy farm. She was waving a piece of paper triumphantly, her eyes bright with excitement. Minerva stood in the doorway, her eyes equally bright, almost mischievous.

 

José looked from his wife to his daughter, love expanding in his chest. He smiled down at Lupita’s arms wrapped around him in a hug. They reached further around his waist than they had last year. Already it was 2007, and she was 9 years old. Where did the time go?

 

“What is it, Lupita?” he asked.

 

Lupita pulled back and held the paper up to his face. It danced in her excited hands; he had to take it from her to read it properly.

 

He scanned the first few lines of English as quickly as he could. Then his eyes grew wide. His shoulders lifted, releasing a pressure that had become so familiar he had forgotten it didn’t belong there. Relief coursed through all his veins and threatened to spill from his eyes. He blinked. They were all documented now. New doors would open up for them, new possibilities.

 

Minerva was walking toward him. She looked as he felt. Her stride was purposeful and light, her smile broad, her eyes clear.

 

“Come inside, mi querido,” she said, taking his hand. “Let’s make a call. We have some good news to share with Sister Aida.” CD

 

  

Who are the Glenmary Sisters?

The Glenmary Sisters are a mobile Order whose charism is to “implant the Church in those areas of the United States where it is not yet present in its fullness,” and to “gather the Church community, especially in the rural and small town areas of the southern United States and Appalachia.” They provide social services and spiritual support to the poor and marginalized, regardless of their beliefs. For more information, or to help, visit glenmarysisters.org or call 270-686-8401.

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.