Si Señor

3-photos_si-senor_1On the cover, Sister Regina Albers with Jaquelin (left) and her sister Mariela (right) for Baptism in March 2017; left, Sister Regina celebrates with a girl in the northern part of the Cincinnati archdiocese; middle, Sister Regina sings with other participants at the Cincinnati archdiocese’s 2016 farm Mass in Mercer County. The Mass incorporated some Spanish-language elements so that Hispanic farm workers could more fully participate; right, Sister Marita Beumer with youth and adults in the RCIA process. They are also part of the Spanish-speaking community in St. Mary’s Church, Dayton; contributed photos.

Wherever they may be, Sisters of the Precious Blood embrace and embody each value inherent in Precious Blood Spirituality as they work with individuals in Spanish-speaking communities. In sprawling cities or small towns, our Sisters who serve the Hispanic community help to meet a variety of needs, whether those needs are legal, medical, spiritual — or simply a calm presence and listening ear. “I work when the need arises,” Sister Regina Albers said.
As the hymn says, “Digo ‘Si,’ Señor.” I say, “Yes,” my Lord.

When Sister Regina Albers walks into Casa Lupita, a Mexican restaurant in New Bremen, Ohio, she is greeted by the workers with broad grins. One by one, they stop by her table to say hello, ask if she needs anything, and chat with her a while in Spanish. The same thing happens at Xcaret in St. Marys and La Carreta in Celina. The restaurants share similar atmospheres, with lively music and bright colors. Their menus also feature similar dishes — the tacos, burritos, and platters of rice and beans that have become familiar to most Americans. But Sister Regina knows that at each restaurant are teams of workers that also share similar but unique stories that often are marked by struggle and uncertainty.

“My ministry is where there’s a need,” Sister Regina said. “I made up my mind: I’m going to do what I can do and not expect any result. If I see a result, I’ll be happy. Then hopefully, whatever I’ve done will have an effect somewhere in their lives.”

Many Hispanic immigrant families in West Central Ohio come from remote mountain villages in Mexico; some villages are accessible only by horse or mule. The local pastor might be responsible for several towns and dozens of villages, so he arrives to celebrate Mass only once a year. Some children miss out on celebrating milestone sacraments, and families mistakenly believe it’s “too late” to do it later on. So Sister Regina helps them prepare for Baptism, First Communion and Confirmation.

“It just depends on what comes up, and I try to work with them,” she said. Recently she helped prepare a 14-year-old girl for First Communion and her 9-year-old sister for both Baptism and First Communion. One couple — migrant workers who come to St. Henry, Ohio, each summer to work in a canning factory — had been married for 33 years; they asked Sister Regina to help them make arrangements to receive the sacrament of Matrimony. Sister Regina has also helped coordinate parts of the region’s annual farm Mass so that migrant workers could participate.

Sometimes her ministry is even more personal. One young woman at one of the restaurants found out that her father had been killed in a car accident back in Mexico. “They called me from the restaurant and said, ‘Would you please come? We don’t know what to do with Isabel.’ She was just broken up,” Sister Regina explained. “I came and I thought the lake would probably be the most calming place where we could sit. We went to Grand Lake St. Marys and just sat there. She cried for 45 minutes, then we prayed the rosary and we talked, and she calmed down. These are the kinds of things that happen.”

It has taken some time for Sister Regina to build trust with people in the community, and to learn the best ways to reach out to them. Eventually, she found that simply showing up at the restaurants and being present and available to the workers was the best approach. “I come past the rush time and get something to eat, and I eat slow. This is when I do a lot of communication with them,” she said.

A native of Auglaize County, Ohio, Sister Regina returned to this area in 2001 after ministering to Hispanic communities in Michigan and Ohio, and spending over a decade in Chile. While working at the Maria Stein Shrine of the Holy Relics and Maria Stein Heritage Museum, she also began her informal outreach to people working in Mexican restaurants and the area. Initially, she tried to arrange Spanish-language Masses in local parishes, but she discovered that many people didn’t have cars; they lived close enough to the restaurants to bike or walk.

“When I found that out, I thought, ‘Well, if they can’t get there, what would Jesus do?’ That was really my question. And I thought: Go where the people are. Where were the people? In the restaurants. So we have Mass in the restaurant,” she said. For several years, no Spanish-speaking priests were available on Sundays, so Masses were held on weekdays or special occasions such as the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Now, Father Juan Gonzalez — originally from Puerto Rico and living at St. Charles Center in Carthagena, Ohio — is able to celebrate Mass on the first Sunday of the month at Casa Lupita, the second Sunday of the month at Xcaret and the third Sunday of the month at La Carreta. The Masses are held early in the morning so the people can get to work by 9 a.m. A weekly Spanish Mass is also held each Sunday at St. Charles in Carthagena for those who do not work on Sunday.

Sister Regina’s own love of the Mass is what continues to motivate her, along with “knowing that God loves all people and His strength is through the Eucharist. My biggest thing in my own spirituality is Eucharist and the Precious Blood. I want this to flow into their lives, too.” ♦

A century ago, the neighborhoods east of downtown Dayton were home to a vibrant community of German immigrants, many of whom were devoted Catholics who founded the city’s first parishes. On Xenia Avenue, St. Mary parish was founded in 1859 — and Sisters of the Precious Blood staffed the parish school for 76 years. The Romanesque Revival church that was built in 1906 is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and it still serves as a spiritual home to a vibrant community including immigrants — though today the immigrants do not come from Germany, but from Mexico, Guatemala and many other countries of the Spanish-speaking world.

For many Spanish-speaking Catholics that come to St. Mary’s, Sister Marita Beumer serves as a teacher and spiritual companion as she works to develop the parish’s RCIA process in Spanish and foster lay leadership. In 2012, she began work with the young adults preparing for the sacrament of Confirmation.

“There’s a student that, every time he comes home, he has to come and say hi to me. He’s in medical school now. He always has to come back and say, ‘I’m just so appreciative of what I learned with you.’ He says he feels he now has greater motivation in his life to live like Jesus,” Sister Marita said of one of her former students. “So, you never know who or how you’re touching them.”

Sister Marita described a recent RCIA session in which she was leading a discussion on Baptism. “What does the sacrament of Baptism do for you?” she had asked; one man responded, “It’s the beginning of a new way of life — the Christian Catholic way.”

“Just with that, you knew he had internalized the meaning of Baptism,” Sister Marita explained. “When those kernels of truth come out, those are beautiful.”

A native of St. Peter parish near Fort Recovery, Sister Marita taught primary school in Burkettsville and Russia before being a missionary in Chile for 11 years. Building on that experience, she then ministered with farm workers in Immaculate Heart of Mary parish in Somerton and San Luis, Arizona, a border town 200 miles southwest of Phoenix. There, she worked to help the Spanish-speaking community “build on their self-dignity and self-respect, and recognize that they are loved and accepted by the Church. And that was really a struggle,” she said.

She then spent over a decade in California in pastoral parish ministry facilitating community life among the people of different cultures and languages. She returned to Dayton in 2007 to serve as a Councilor for the Congregation; following her term, she started volunteering at St. Mary’s. Throughout her ministry, she said the Precious Blood charism has been a constant motivator. “My life is a reconciling, living presence wherever I go. So wherever I am, I try to be a reconciling presence. I try to be the living presence of Christ,” she said. “The idea of reconciliation is very important. And I try to extend that to others so that they can be accepting of one another, respecting the dignity of one another. To me, that’s basic to Precious Blood Spirituality. That we’re all redeemed by the love of God. … That motivates me every day of my life, yes. And hopefully that motivation extends to the people I’m with.”

Sister Marita also acts as a mentor for Carlos, a St. Mary’s parishioner currently participating in the archdiocese Lay Pastoral Ministry Program. “It’s just a joy to see his growth. I marvel that he can speak and write in English at that kind of level without ever formally studying English. And he continues to improve,” Sister Marita said. “His aim is to be a deacon, and in the Spanish-speaking community, that is a great need. He works two jobs, then studies on Saturday, and I think, ‘How do you do it, Carlos?’” Sister Marita said she finds mentoring important as it helps develop more lay leadership within the Church and within the Spanish-speaking community in particular.

In the wake of recent news reports about a woman within the archdiocese who was deported to Mexico, Sister Marita also addressed the question of whether many of the Spanish-speaking St. Mary’s parishioners are in the country legally. “Someone asked me the other day if I work with undocumented people. I said, ‘I have no idea.’ I work with people who have a need,” she said. “I’ve worked with Spanish-speaking people for 30 years, and I’ve never asked them if they’re legal, if they have papers. Sometimes they’ll say it; sometimes by what they say, I can tell. I will support them and help them in their journey, but I’m not going to ask them.” ♦

3-photos_si-senor_2Left, Sister Marita, Carlos and his wife. Sister Marita is a mentor to him, for the archdiocesan Lay Pastoral Ministry Program. They are part of the Spanish-speaking community in St. Mary’s Church, Dayton; contributed photo. Middle, Sister Mary E. Wendeln reviews immigration papers with Lakh Rai; Erin Bruemmer photo. Right, Sister Mary E. receives the Cesar Chavez award from Su Casa Hispanic Center for serving the Hispanic community in greater Cincinnati, May 2012; contributed photo.

Who’s going to take care of my children?
What’s in the bank account?
Who am I going to give power of attorney to?

Those are some of the questions that have become more urgent for many immigrants, in light of recent changes to immigration policy and an increased focus on deportation.

“It’s a very uncertain time,” said Sister Mary E. (Dolores Marie) Wendeln. “There’s a lot of worry.”

Sister Mary E. ministers to the immigrant community in Cincinnati as a BIA-accredited representative — someone who has the legal authority to assist immigrants with information and advice on immigration law and consular processing. Representatives are accredited by the Board of Immigration Appeals and must be affiliated with an organization recognized by the U.S. Department of Justice — such as Catholic Charities Southwestern Ohio, where Sister Mary E. serves as a volunteer in their office of immigration legal services (ILS).

“One of the greatest joys I have is seeing someone get a work permit,” she said, adding that a valid work permit can then lead to gaining a social security card, driver’s license and then perhaps a car. “It’s the initial step for a lot of people to get papers, while before, they were living in the shadows.”

Catholic Charities’ ILS office helps unauthorized immigrants gain legal status in the U.S., provides deportation defense and assists with visa petitions. They also help refugees and asylum seekers, victims of human trafficking and anyone seeking naturalization.

“The Christian tradition calls us to look at people as our brothers and sisters. People are fleeing violence; they are only coming here for a better life. We see people as human beings,” Sister Mary E. said. “Relationships are more important. I know there’s immigration law, but there’s a higher law — a moral law — and we abide by that.”

Sister Mary E. spends much of her time helping people apply for or renew their DACA designation. The landmark immigration policy — Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — was introduced in 2012 and allows some undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as minors to avoid deportation and obtain a work permit. Sister Mary E. points out that DACA “isn’t really a status”; it is not a permanent legal designation. Rather, it protects people from being deported for two years and is renewable. According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, as of December 2016, a total of 1.5 million DACA requests had been approved; 1.1 million of those immigrants came from Mexico. The next largest immigrant group came from El Salvador, with a total of 54,000 approved DACA applications. Over 8,000 of those immigrants with DACA approvals — less than 1 percent — live in Ohio.

Initially, Sister Mary E., a volunteer attorney and one other BIA-accredited representative answered a need and processed DACA cases through the Su Casa Hispanic Center, which assists the Hispanic community in Cincinnati with a broad range of services. Su Casa presented their Organization of the Year award to the Sisters of the Precious Blood in 2014.

Catholic Charities established the ILS office last year, and sets fees on a sliding scale based on clients’ income. Sister Mary E. said it is possible for individuals to apply for DACA and other authorizations online, but most people prefer to get help from legal experts — and immigration attorneys’ fees can be out of reach. The ILS office includes Sister Mary E., another BIA-accredited representative and an immigration attorney. Since 2012, they have filed approximately 300 initial and renewal DACA applications.

“People have to have access to the system,” Sister Mary E. said. “To me, that’s what being a Precious Blood Sister is all about: working with the marginalized, working with those people outside the gates to get them inside the gates. We all have a right to be in the system.” There are an estimated 20,000 unauthorized immigrants in the Cincinnati metro area.

Sister Mary E. has worked with the Latino and undocumented communities since 1980, when she began ministering in Somerton, Arizona. For 15 years, she worked with CASA of Maryland, a Latino and immigration advocacy organization.

She then took what might seem an unrelated turn by joining the Christian Peacemaker Teams organization in Hebron, a divided West Bank city 20 miles south of Jerusalem. One section of Hebron is controlled by the Palestinian Authority; in the other section of the city, the Palestinian majority lives under strict controls enforced by the Israeli military. But after working with the Hispanic community in the U.S. for more than two decades, Sister Mary E. drew many parallels between her experiences.

“The undocumented are demonized a lot; Palestinians are also very demonized,” she explained. “They have some of the same sort of barriers that our undocumented brothers and sisters have,” such as being restricted in their ability to travel and living in mixed-status families. For that reason, she wanted to experience living with the Palestinians, she said.

“It’s important to highlight the plight of our immigrant brothers and sisters, and the only way people’s hearts are changed is to get to know people,” Sister Mary E. said. “We have to use that moral imperative that we have as women religious. We have a lot of power.”♦

3-photos_si-senor_3Left, Sister Margo Young reviews medical information with Olivia Olivares at the Lestonnac Free Clinic in San Bernardino, California; middle, Sister Margo treats patient Olga Zendejas at the Lestonnac Free Clinic; right, Sister Bela Mis (center) and participants at a leadership forum for Hispanic youth at the University of Dayton in 2015; contributed photos.

Sixty miles east of downtown Los Angeles, in the foothills of the San Bernardino Mountains, lies the city of San Bernardino, California — just over an hour’s drive from both Hollywood and Disneyland. The city was home to the world’s first McDonald’s and served as a popular stopping point along Route 66, where iconic diners, fruit stands and motels lined the roadway.

It is also the second-poorest city of its size in the country, and 33 percent of its residents live in poverty. In this city of 209,000 people, 60 percent are Hispanic; half speak a language other than English at home. Nearly a quarter of the city’s population does not have health insurance. The Pew Research Center estimates that 250,000 people in the greater metro area are unauthorized immigrants, ranking it in the top 10 in the nation.

This is where Sister Margo Young serves.

For nearly a decade, she has worked in advocacy and outreach to the San Bernardino community, especially the marginalized and vulnerable. Hired as a community physician, she now serves as director of community health for St. Bernardine Medical Center and Community Hospital of San Bernardino, both part of the Dignity Health hospital system. Sister Margo oversees two health education centers that include maternal-child health, support groups and other programs, as well as community health navigators — people who help connect uninsured individuals with medical services and social service agencies.

But Sister Margo says it is her work at the Lestonnac Free Clinic, across the street from St. Bernardine Medical Center, that “probably saves my soul.” She serves as attending physician there every Monday, tending to San Bernardino’s poor, homeless and undocumented residents.

“People are people, and they deserve to be cared for where they are,” she said. “There was a woman at the clinic just yesterday who was homeless, and she’s been on my mind all day — just hoping she’s OK.” The woman had arrived late in the day, Sister Margo said, and refused to leave before being seen by a doctor. She had tried going to a different clinic, but she didn’t feel respected there; the staff had treated her differently from all the other patients. “So, we stayed open for her,” Sister Margo said. “If somebody comes in and they need to be seen, I don’t care who they are or where they’re from. People need to know you’re going to treat them with respect.”

One of several Lestonnac free clinics in Southern California, the San Bernardino branch opened in fall 2015, funded in part by a grant from the Sisters of the Precious Blood. The clinic serves primarily Hispanic clients, Sister Margo said, many of whom are undocumented immigrants. “If we really, truly believe what we say as Christians, we are called to do the same as Jesus. We are called to advocate for those who don’t have a voice or don’t know how to use their voice. That’s beyond politics,” she said.

The clinic receives no federal or state funding and is not affiliated with a major hospital; its doctors, nurses and specialists all volunteer their time. In 2016, the combined Lestonnac Free Clinic branches treated 8,000 patients in 25,000 visits and provided services in cardiology, oncology, diagnostic imaging, and dental, eye, chiropractic and behavioral health care.

“So people are using it, and they’re coming back. It’s a place of hope for people,” Sister Margo said. “Yesterday, I saw 13 patients in four hours. You have to educate people and establish trust. So you don’t do the 15-minute visit.”

Sister Margo’s work with the Hispanic community builds on her background in education and chaplaincy, as well as 13 years in a “little bitty village” in Guatemala, which she now visits annually with a medical mission. She graduated from the Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine in 1990 and is the Congregation’s only physician.

“When I came back from Guatemala, I decided I was going to take care of the poor,” she said. “I love being able to walk with people, which makes my world a whole lot bigger — and makes my own concerns a whole lot smaller.” ♦

While she was living in Dayton and discerning her call to religious life, Sister Bela Mis — who entered the novitiate in January 2016 — learned that Sister Marita Beumer was working with the Hispanic community at St. Mary parish.

“How can I help?” she asked.

It’s a question that seems to guide Sister Bela’s life. At St. Mary’s, she initially helped with the parish youth group, but soon found herself as its leader. She developed relationships with parishioners between the ages of 15 and 21, many of whom were part of Spanish-speaking immigrant families. The youth helped lead the children’s liturgy, held a bake sale to raise money for the Hispanic Festival, discussed various topics each month and went on retreat to Maria Stein. There were nearly 30 young adults in the group.

“I really enjoyed that time there. Every Sunday was something new,” Sister Bela said. “Not only were the youth affected by the activities that we had, but also their families.”

Since January of this year, Sister Bela has volunteered at St. Vincent Charity Medical Center in Cleveland with Sister Mary Ann Mozser; in June, she will begin a three-month ministry experience at the Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation in Chicago.

Throughout her ministry experiences, Sister Bela said she continues to draw inspiration from the Precious Blood charism. “During my canonical year, I thought a lot about Precious Blood Spirituality,” she said. “Something that struck me is to see how we are united in Christ’s suffering, his dying and his resurrection. I see this every day, in people who suffer in body and in soul. I can help take that weight off, by listening, by hearing them and by greeting them. It’s a sign. You can show them you see Christ in them. … Sometimes you don’t need to do anything — only be there and give a word of hope to them. This is a hope that the world needs.”

Sister Bela graduated from the Universidad Mariano Gálvez de Guatemala with a bachelor’s degree in social work, a field that she says also gives her inspiration, energy and motivation.

“As a social worker, you can ask how you are able to help. How can you see things in a different way? Each person is unique, and you can focus on each person,” she said. “Maybe I can help them improve their lives. That gives me happiness.” ♦

Story by Mary Knapke

Comments are closed.