TO DO SOMETHING”
SISTERS OF MERCY JOANN Persch and Pat Murphy werepatted down, handcuffed, andhauled away, much like the immigrants they were praying for.
It was the Catholic Day of Actionfor Immigrant Children on July
18, 2019, in Washington, D.C. Thesisters—aged 85 and 90, respectively—were sanguine about it.
“You have to do something,”
Persch told the Chicago Tribune
after their release. “The little bit
of discomfort we felt that day
is so minimal to what the immi-
These two Mercy Sisters
know plenty about what immi-
grants go through. Back home
in Chicago, they have been
involved in immigrant outreach
and activism for years. Although
most people in their 80s and 90s
are retired, Persch and Murphy
volunteer at a homeless shelter,
visit detained immigrants, par-
ticipate in weekly prayer vigils,
and do political advocacy. Being
handcuffed and taken into cus-
tody was not a new experience
for the two sisters.
“We are brothers and sisters,and it doesn’t make any difference the color of our skin or ourreligion or the country we comefrom,” Murphy told the Tribune.“We are our brothers’ and sisters’keepers. It’s a human family.”
MEETING MIGRANTS IN REAL LIFE
THE LUNCH TABLE grew quiet as a young mother shared details of her dangerous journey north. She had left her home in Honduras, with her three little boys in tow, hoping to reach safety in the UnitedStates. They had arrived in Juarez, Mexico—just shy of the border—whenthe children were kidnapped.
The crowd at the table included guests of the Encuentro Project, a border immersion program. The project allows guests to meet migrants andlearn their stories while helping in shelters. One of the project’s founders,Marist Brother Todd Patenaude, F.M.S., remembers one guest well.
“This man had called himself a ‘very conservative judge from a veryconservative state,’ ” Patenaude remembers. “But he was open. He wasprofoundly affected by her experience.” The family was reunited whentheir U.S. sponsors paid the $8,000 ransom.
“I really believe encounter opens people’s eyes,” Patenaude says. “One
woman said, ‘It’s hard to hate up close.’ It is. You see migrant families and
you realize they’re just like you.”
Patenaude says he’s grateful to have been given the time and re-
sources by the Marist Brothers to study and respond to the problem. “Our
charism is about serving the ‘least favored.’ I couldn’t have done it alone.”
The project—a collaboration of the Marist Brothers, Jesuits, the Sis-
ters of St. Francis of the Holy Family, and Archdiocese of El Paso—began
BROTHER TODD Patenaude,
F.M.S. (right) takes people
from the United States to
the Mexican border for
an immersion program
that helps participants
better understand the
issues affecting refugees,
immigrants, and migrants.
Mexican and U.S. Marist
Brothers work together to
offer the learning experience.
COUR TES Y OF THE ENCUENTRO PROJEC T
SISTER JOANN Persch, R.S.M. (left) and
Sister Pat Murphy, R.S.M. (in purple
shirts) are interviewed before taking
part in a civil-disobedience action.