Diary from the Border: Entry Five

immigration photo

Sister Ida and Sandra (back) are joined by some CSJs from Los Angeles.

by Sister Sandra Straub

I thought I would only have one more story, but God writes in crooked lines using strange media! As soon as we thought the center would be empty we received five more families!  My story today relates to women from El Salvador .

The first was a young mother who traveled several weeks through Mexico. She had a coyote (a person who smuggles immigrants) who tried to rape her, but she escaped. Her sister who lives in Mexico did not want her, because she was traveling with three young girls, 11, 12, and 13. Some gang was after them. Her sister did not want the trouble. The young 22-year-old mother did not know what to do. Eventually she decided to separate from the girls. She is so worried because of the attempted rape on her. In her gut she knows they are in harms way and doesn’t know what to do. She told me the story as she was leaving, comfortable enough but grieving for the loss of these girls. All she could do was cry as I comforted her.

The second is was more criminal and difficult to hear and tell. I will call the Señora Maria to protect her. Her mother died very young when Maria was baby. Sometime in her life her father started raping her. He then sold her to a man. He made her marry him. Her husband was very violent and has scars on her face and other places from being beaten. He sold her or she became a part of a prostitution ring.  She had an abortion.  The man did not want the baby and had her operated on to remove her uterus.

She ran away to the states, and was picked up by immigration twice. The second time she had a court case and missed it. The judge placed her in the detention center where she stayed for 3.5 years waiting to have her case heard. She is now in a center too afraid to go out.  S. Albia, IHM is talking with her. Ida took her to the store to buy crafts. While there S. Ida noticed Maria eyeing frozen pizza and asked her if she would like one, so pizza was her lunch. Afterward she was in the car as we drove her to her center. She talked about liking El Paso. She felt somewhat safe. We were all laughing I saw her with smile and laughter. S. Albia told me she has more to tell…a life of suffering.

I can’t tell you how grateful we are for this privilege and  experience to walk with our neighbor.

Diary from the Border: Entry Four

Maxim 56

The fourth in a continued series written by Sister Sandra Straub about her experiences serving at the border with Sister Ida Berresheim. 

Today is a change day. We are always trying to adapt to the need of the client. We go to work with a perceived thought of what might be the experience and finish the day with WELL, that was not what I thought might happen!  I did not think that within one week I would be so immersed in the life of El Paso and all with whom I have been privileged to know and work with….the volunteers. Yesterday and today all are going back to their homes.  Ida and I are the seasoned ones!  While I am so very happy to have met them, I am also somewhat sad to see them go.  Yesterday as we emptied the house five IHMs from Scranton arrived!  One week of intense work is very stretching.

We also had 90, then 70, then 20 clients on Friday. We accepted no one and every so often said our goodbyes. Yes of course, I had a lump in my throat and misty eyes. One lady choose our  175th  tee shirt that I brought to El Paso to wear for her travel. As I saw her I told her that this community of sisters was praying for her and surrounding her with their care, like this tee shirt she was wearing.  I found the moment inspiring…for me!  Of course I felt her heartfelt expression of gratitude.  I can still feel her smile!

Yesterday we also said good bye to a Guatemalan Mother who is no more than 4 feet 10 weighing 90 pounds, and her son, 9 years old with two deformed legs. The mother carries him on her back!  They are going to Shriners in St. Paul, Minneapolis in hopes of finding some solution.  I told him my story of having polio and not being able to walk in hopes of giving him and the Mother that miracles do happen!  We had lunch together and became soul mates!  Some very generous person gave the Mother an expensive carriage. They came scared, tired, hungry, and left, the child sitting in a carriage with smiles, hope and rested.  More lumps in my throat as I experience such generosity and valor!

I decided to return to St. Louis on Wednesday. The decision was based on the fact that we hear these centers will be phased out. We see this already in our center and experience the departure of volunteers.  At the same time my leaving allows a space for another to experience the border!  I have been working since I came and a break is needed. We, Ida and I, are so grateful for all you give. Ida, our housemother, continues to serve.

Note: Sister Ida will be staying in our name in El Paso and continuing to make the house available for more volunteers. Five more sisters from another community,were arriving today or tomorrow. The St. Louis Province thanks S. Linda Markway who sent down 100 small back pack for the children from the Vocation Office. This will allow the children to carry their few possessions with them on their bus journeys to families or sponsors. Let us keep them all in our prayers.


Diary From the Border: Entry Three


Sister Sandra Straub

Sister Sandra Straub’s Updates from the El Paso Border: Thursday, July 17

I want to walk with attitude today!

Ida had a phone call from the Post Dispatch to get her take on the situation here.  Her reply was something like I only cook, plan , shop, do the laundry, drive folks!  What Ida isn’t saying is that she is present, she is heartfelt, she is necessary, she is the “can do attitude” she is the glue of the house that permits me and others to go and come each day to experience the center and the lives of those who enter there.  I want to walk with attitude today!


Yesterday was interesting and the rhythm was okay.  Early in the morning I saw a family trying to get into the emergency door.  I watched as they looked in turned away and tried again.  As they walked away something told me to go after them.  This family was from Colorado and the were looking for “mi hija” and her son.  About 60 feet into the building they saw each other and went running with hugs, kisses, more hugs and kisses and of course tears! Mine align with theirs!   Happy middle to a sad beginning and a unknown future.



Sister Ida Berresheim

We also saw many leave yesterday, mostly by bus going to Virginia, California, Florida, another part of Texas.  Some are traveling with very little money, but that doesn’t deter them nor take away their smile,nor stop them from being grateful to us who shared a very small part of this journey.  Sometimes my heart just breaks for them because I know so many of us don’t want them!  I know the government process will be long and tedious.  I can tell you this, they are great workers!  They helped me clean a large carpet with broom, no sweeper, and mop and sweep some very long hallways.  We sang and talked as we worked.  Not in full voice, but with hum!!


I want to share one more story I have heard too many times!  When they walk across the river and enter McAllen border patrol they are met and detained.  Everything they have is taken and pitched.  They are placed a room ,very…very cold, with 100 others…standing room only for the night and given either a meager meal or glass of milk.  They spend the night standing and in the morning or sometime board a plane not knowing where they are going, spend more time in process,and enter a bus to come to one of our shelters.  Here is the first place they receive some humanitarian kindness. Can you see why I want to walk with Ida’s attitude of service?


So that’s it for one!  Have a good day with attitude! 

Diary from the Border: Entry Two

What happens to their spirit is amazing!  Their posture changes, their burnt faces are oiled and received medicine if needed; their hair is combed and their smile returns and they begin talking to me as we arrange their sleeping stations.

STRAUB,SANDRASister Sandra Straub’s updates from her border work in El Paso: Tuesday, July 15

Tuesday morning!  A great, cloudy, colorful, multiple layered sky is blanketing us this morning.  Kind of the feel I had yesterday meeting so many clients and their small children. We were busy with about sixty new clients.  When they arrive we have them sign in before the next station and they form a single line standing almost in silence.  The mothers looked beat tired but with a bit of relief on their faces.  The children are children!  As I look at their faces most have those beautiful black eyes of liquid stories ready to express what they have seen and experienced.  Their skin is aged and worn beyond their years and for the most part they are small and thin.  Yesterday I had the first smell of this pilgrim walk….not so pleasant!  Some had been on the trek for a month and a half, carrying babies and small child.  Their shoes did not fit and often with no laces, their clothes were worn and dirty.  I also experienced and saw hunger.  Many appeared to be just plain hungry!

After intake they go to a lovely dining room for a hot meal, prepared and donated by volunteers.  Yesterday they had meatball soup, salad, rice, beans, tortillas, dessert, lemonade, milk, tea.  Some ate slowly, others swept down, all appeared to be gaining a sense of calm and maybe we can hope for a better life.  When finished with eating they pick out a set of used, clean clothes, then a shower, and then a space with bed and rest. While they are doing that the center is contacting and working on their travel.

What happens to their spirit is amazing!  Their posture changes, their burnt faces are oiled and received medicine if needed; their hair is combed and their smile returns and they begin talking to me as we arrange their sleeping stations.  I am overcome with a mixture of joy…experiencing their resiliency and care….and sadness to be a part of so much sadness.  I am so blessed and at times unaware of this part of the world.  So, God has gifted me once again with solidarity, wonderful companionship and support.

Need to go.  These are my thoughts from day four.  Amen

Diary from the Border: CSJs serving in El Paso


Sister Ida Berresheim


Sister Sandra Straub

“In our expression of mission, we commit ourselves: To share the stories and faces of those who live in poverty, are kept on the margins and are most affected by broken systems.”  Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet

Two sisters in our St. Louis province have travelled to El Paso to serve the needs of the immigrants at the volunteers at the border. Sisters Ida Berresheim and Sandra Straub left last week and continue to update us on the situation and their experiences. Please follow their journey with us!

IN THE NEWS: See Sister Sandra on KSDK News Channel 5 St. Louis talking about her trip: “Nun heads to Texas to Help Immigrants.”

 Sister Sandra’s Diary, Saturday July 12, 2014

Off to the center we went, Pat and Fred and me.  Ida had many Housemothers chores to do!  And I mean many.  We are currently five here with 2 more coming tomorrow and S. Marsha Allen and companion on Tuesday. The center was very busy with single mothers and children.  They mainly came from El Salvador and Honduras. The center is very well organized with many bi lingual church related volunteers.  Their spirit is contagious and welcoming. I happened to say to someone ..I was free to go.  Quickly, the response was, you are skilled,  blessed and sent!  I am remembering this as I walk the halls and meet the families.  I have the thought that I am giving the ministry of presence to whomever I meet.  Those thoughts ..sent by CSJ and friends, joyful companions, good place to come home to, bubbled up in my gratitude prayer this morning.

Let me share some stories from today:

I talked with a 20-year old mom who came with her one month old baby girl, Victoria.  She is desperate to make something for her baby.  She said when she got to the Mexican border 30 people were clumped together to cross the river.  The water was waste high and filthy. She carried her baby, paid the Mexican and came over to be met by border patrol.  She was processed sent to El Paso.  None are told where they are going…I think that is for protection.  She is off to Houston by bus 12-hour ride to be with her sister. Another mother with her pre teen girl told a similar story. However when she arrived on our border they had her throw everything away.  She got to keep only her bible.  Unfortunately her daughter had a Guadalupe medal and chain in a bag and that was lost when they had to leave their belongings .  She teared up when she talked about leaving her very sick mother with her17 year old daughter.  She will go to New York by bus with very little.

A happy story…Two young women brought craft things for the guests to make.  They spread it all out on the table and the mothers began to make cards and bracelets, using glitz and beads.  One woman said she had nothing and she wanted to make a pretty bracelet to look pretty for her husband who was meeting her at the plane. And she looked radiantly happy and pretty when she left. I have never been hugged so much since Peru!!!!!!  So much more in one day to talk about , but I need to go. Ida is a delight and what a model!

In other words

The Word became a human being and, full of grace and truth, lived among us.

John 1:14 

lonely coupleI hurt my beloved*. It wasn’t intentional and it probably wasn’t even avoidable but in truth it happened. I needed to share my concerns, ideas and wishes with him. And I just couldn’t find the right words. As I shared – with the intention of being honest – all he was able to hear was criticism and words that picked at what we both thought were old wounds healed. And as the conversation unfolded no matter how hard I tried, I could not find the words that he could hear that also expressed my equally valid need. In the end we weren’t able to fully resolve the concern. But we were able to remain in our relationship knowing these concerns were not unearthed to win a point or hurt the other. Sometimes we just can’t find the right words.

Have you ever tried to learn something from an expert? They are so intimate with the subject, the nuances, and the implications of certain interactions that they just can’t explain it to a novice. Their intention is good, they want us to understand, but that one word or turn of phrase that would clear the fuzz, allow for understanding and perhaps agreement alludes us both. And we spiral together into frustration and sometimes accusations of stubbornness, being unwilling to bend or intentionally not understanding just out of spite. Good intentions devolve into a power struggle that never needed to happen.

As children many of us probably chanted Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never harm me. I think most of us know words can be more hurtful than any weapon. They hold power and it’s a power so strong because it burrows deep and becomes part of our narrative, of who we are. Sometimes it’s a power that oppresses, controls and keeps us down, words used to hurt others as they’ve been hurt or worse the fear of being hurt. Yet some of those same words can be liberating, life-giving, invitations of healing as we’ve been healed.

I’m mindful of how words have changed me. When I started this position two years ago, I initially thought of this as an office, with tasks, things to be done. After a few conferences, workshops and encounters with others, it became clear that this is a ministry not just an office.  And I began to ask, what does a social justice ministry look like from a pastoral care lens? Just words – but words that changed everything for me. Living into those words, I am not just ticking off a check-list of meetings, petitions, actions, number of bills passed that we endorse. I change how I am at those meetings and actions; I change how I engage those who make decisions that can either help or hurt others. I feel it is something we take for granted when we are working for peace and justice and right relationship. We forget the power of the word.

When I hold something dear – a need, an ideology, a desire for the care and well-being of those being hurt – I know it intimately. And I cannot always find the best way to help others hear and know its importance to me. I cannot always find the right words that clear the fear or discomfort of another in hearing my story. My words may trigger wounds believed healed, long forgotten. And if I spiral into the need of being right, or being “heard” I’ve lost any chance to find the right words.

I don’t think it’s insignificant that we are told in the book of John that the “Word became a human being full of grace and truth, and walked among us”. There is power in words, they shape us, the allow us to catch a glimpse of things unknown. The gospel is good news because it gave us the power, not by might, but by knowing the Word can bring the kindom now by becoming the word as human beings walking with grace and truth.

How do we recognize the power of our words? How do we balance the need to care for another yet still speak our truth? And how do we make amends when our truth has hurt another? How do we live the good news with one another in this unfinished world?

On the path,


*My husband gave me his blessing to share this part of our story.

Where Do You Come From?

Empty yourself continually in honor of the Incarnate Word who emptied himself with so much love for you (Phil 2:7). Make your commitment to live in the practice of the most sincere, true and profound humility possible to you. Do so on all occasions, to everyone but especially to God, from whom must come all the blessings of your institute.

Fr. Jean Pierre Medaille

c.2013 Kimberly V. Schneider

kimberly_webWe are fortunate to have a wonderful guest blogger, Kimberly Schneider.  As I read her reflection, I am reminded of the importance of connections to our past, shared and personal, connections to our present knowing who we are from where we have been and being open to where that takes us on the journey. Kimberly gently reminds me that many have traveled similar paths and sometimes blaze new trails for us to follow. But we are never alone in the journey even if all we see are one set of footprints in the dust.

Five years ago I lost one of my best friends and most enthusiastic cheerleaders: my Dad. As the years have passed and the pain of losing him has softened, I have begun to really honor and celebrate the traces of him and all the ancestors I find within myself.

The first time I went to Ireland, soon after Dad died, I found pieces of him there—in easy laughter, the love of a good story, the propensity to break out in song, the sparkling eyes and the immense hospitality we encountered in so many people.  It was a healing way to remember him, and to rediscover him in the world around me.

One of the questions I hear often when I return to Ireland to facilitate Celtic Spirituality retreats there is some version of “who are your people?” I’m sure the Irish in the tourism industry have caught on to the fact that Americans are searching for their roots, and love talking about their ancestors.  And yet, there’s more to it than that. 

I see it in the way the Irish talk about the history in the landscape and the families who have been there for centuries.  It’s there in the way people work to find some way they are connected with every person they meet.  And in case any doubt remained about the importance of knowing where you come from in the Irish mind, I met one man who said his uncle could list the genealogy of his chickens, going back 14 generations. 

I’ve come to appreciate and revel in the exploration of where I’m from, and who my own people are.  Because understanding how my life experiences and the people whose DNA flows through my body have shaped me (for better and for worse) helps me make more conscious choices about who I want to be.  It reminds me that I owe all of my ancestors a debt of gratitude for just being.  After all, if not for them, I wouldn’t be here. 

Remembering where I’m from deepens my connection to those I’ve lost: my Dad, his brother, and my grandparents—and also to the loved ones who still share life with me: Mom, my brother and my kids, cousins, nephews and nieces and aunts and uncles, all the family and friends I’m lucky enough to know.

Beyond that, contemplating who my people are reminds me that at the deepest level, each one of us is profoundly connected.

Go back far enough and we share the same ancestors.

We’re made of the same star-stuff that created this Universe.

We’re breathing the same material that has given form to every being on this planet.

You and I are family. 

 May the peace of knowing that we are All One be yours today.

Do you know where you come from? And who has helped you walk the path you are on? What would our world look like if we really truly believed we are family, deeply connected and made of the same “star-stuff’? How would you live in practice of the most sincere in this unfinished world?

Thank you Kimberly for reminding us of where we come from. Grateful to be with you all – my beloved family.

On the path,

Kimberly Schneider has studied, taught and written about Celtic spirituality for decades.  She facilitates classes, retreats and ceremonies at sacred spaces in the U.S. and Ireland, helping modern seekers find fresh relevance in the wisdom of the ancient Celts.  This spring, she will be co-facilitating a Celtic Spirituality retreat at the Motherhouse with Irish singing/songwriting brothers Owen and Moley O’Suilleabhain.  For tickets and information, go to:  Brown Paper Tickets online sales visit the event site and click the links on the top of the page. http://togetherinfaithseries.com/2014/01/02/march-7-8-celtic-soul-experience-2/