Recent events in the U.S. have highlighted the plight of migrants, as thousands of families flood our Southern border seeking refuge from the violence and poverty afflicting communities across Central America. We pray for those who make this perilous journey—often with little more than the clothes on their backs—risking everything for the hope of securing asylum.
Reports of overcrowding, unsanitary conditions, and outbreaks of disease inside the processing and detention facilities where migrants, including children as young as two years old are held, have highlighted the desperate situation facing our neighbors along the Mexican/U.S. border.
Pope Francis has urged all who will listen around the world to stand with migrants and against an attitude of indifference. He said:
Migrants are persons . . . . They are the symbol of all those rejected by today’s globalized society . . . . The weakest and most vulnerable must be helped.
As Sisters of St. Joseph, we are called to a life of profound union with God, with each other, and with every other person. Recognizing the brokenness and cruelty of an immigration system that diminishes the humanity of our ‘dear neighbor,’ we are filled with a spirit of resolve to act.
This week, three of our Sisters: Patti Rossi, Janice Vanderneck, and Jeanette Bussen are serving at the Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley Humanitarian Respite Center in McAllen, Texas, working to triage the confusion, anxiety, and exhaustion of migrants who may have been separated from loved ones, not slept or eaten well in days, or even been able to shower or change into clean clothing.
The Humanitarian Respite Center is the first stop for individuals and families released from the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol holding center nearby. Each day, the Respite Center prepares for ICE buses to drop off between 500 and 900 families, many with young children. Inside, migrants are welcomed with a warm meal, clean clothes, and a chance to recover from the first part of their journey.
Humanitarian Center volunteers work to educate parents about their rights and responsibilities as asylum seekers, preparing them to navigate the complicated legal process ahead that will determine whether or not they can remain in the United States. Volunteers pack plastic bags with toiletries, deodorant, and personal hygiene items; sort clothes and new donations; prepare sandwiches and snack bags; measure out formula; clean showers and bathrooms; and spend time caring for children by playing games, doing crafts, or giving English lessons.
Accompanying the Sisters are Maureen Haggarty, former Sister and benefactor, and Carol McCracken, who was inspired by the service and mission work of Sister Patti. Providing quiet, compassionate, “roll up your sleeves” aid to those facing a world of danger and darkness has defined the ministry of Sister Patti, who has worked to bring hope and light to distressed communities from Altoona to Amazonas. Embodying the congregation’s spirit of inclusive love and oneness with God and neighbor, Sister Patti shared her desire to go to the border “with open hands and an open heart” with the Leadership Team, who offered their blessing and full support.
Sister Sharon Costello, Congregational Moderator, expressed profound gratitude to Sisters Patti Rossi, Janice Vanderneck, and Jeanette Bussen for their desire to go to our Southern Border and serve the needs of our immigrant brothers and sisters:
Serving God and every dear neighbor without distinction is at the heart of our mission as Sisters of St. Joseph of Baden. . . .The conditions at the border, that the migrants seeking asylum are subjected to, cry to heaven for justice.
A commitment to caring for immigrants and all those displaced by poverty, violence, and natural disaster has been a foundational part of our Congregation’s past – from offering shelter at the Motherhouse to 32 Cambodian refugees in 1981 to global missions work over decades in Brazil and Haiti, to the creation of Casa San José in 2013 as a resource center for Latino immigrants making their home in the Pittsburgh area.
We must continue the work locally as we respond globally to our immigrant brothers and sisters in crisis, recognizing our shared humanity, and our unity in Christ. “In the gospel of Luke, 10:27,” Sister Sharon explains, “Jesus himself tells us that the greatest and most important commandment is to ‘love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.’ We have a spiritual and moral imperative to love our migrant neighbors in this way (as we love ourselves) and to treat them in humane ways, with the dignity and respect that they deserve. The presence of our sisters at the border represents the commitment of our entire Congregation to stand with our migrant brothers and sisters with care and compassion now and into the future.”
We thank you for the privilege of this opportunity to serve our neighbors and look forward to sharing the experience with you upon our return. If you would like to contribute to this mission, please consider donating to help us replenish some of the supplies needed to care for the hundreds of children and families served each day at the Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley Humanitarian Respite Center. The Center is specifically asking for: toiletries, baby supplies, sealed snack food, and phone cards. While we cannot transport donated goods, your prayers and words of encouragement, especially for those we will serve, will travel with us.
Meet the Sisters Serving at the Southern Border
As a teacher, principal, parish social minister, and missionary, the heart of Sister Patti Rossi has always been with children, especially those in communities plagued by poverty.
Beginning in 1957 at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in New Kensington and continuing through her retirement in 2017 as the Associate Director of the Altoona-Johnstown Mission Office, Sister Patti draws strength from the resilience and spirit of children who are able to find joy and hope despite the darkest of circumstances, and carries a resolve to use every tool at her disposal, be it a construction blueprint or a coloring book, to improve the lives of those who are suffering.
Sister Patti knows that the extreme conditions she’s endured while serving in Brazil and Haiti, building playgrounds for orphaned children and constructing mosquito nets to protect pregnant women from disease are nothing compared to the trauma of living through the daily turmoil endemic to developing counties—and often to communities in our own backyard. Sister Patti hopes her fluency in Portuguese and willingness to take on any task, big or small, will help the Humanitarian Center in their work this week and prays for their continued strength as they serve hundreds of families in crisis each day.
A lifelong love for the Spanish language and culture helped Sister Janice Vanderneck use her gifts as an educator, caregiver, counselor, and administrator to aid thousands of immigrants throughout her more than four decades of ministry. She served alongside Sister Patti Rossi as a missionary in Brazil before returning to work as a teacher and later principal at Mt. Gallitzin Academy in Baden, Holy Rosary Catholic Church in Perrine, Florida, and Good Samaritan Parish in Ambridge. Moved by the “strength wrought of faith and suffering and a love of family that is richly powerful” she has observed in Latino immigrant people, Sister Janice’s work—through the Latino Catholic Ministry of the Diocese of Pittsburgh and later through the organization she helped found, Casa San José—reflects the Congregation’s spirit of unity and hospitality. She is passionate about “teaching others the importance of the ‘dear neighbor,’ the immigrant, in our midst and the richness that enters our lives when we welcome the stranger.” Sister Janice prays that with a greater awareness about the desperate situation facing migrant families at our border, a spirit of love will move those who may have been indifferent to act.
The ministry of Sister Jeanette Bussen began more than five decades ago in the small city of Hannibal, Missouri, two hours north of St. Louis.
There, she taught high school before moving to the big city to work as a special education teacher, providing compassionate support and instruction to children with significant physical and intellectual disabilities. The opportunity to study at Duquesne University brought Sister Jeanette to Western Pennsylvania, where she later served as a college campus minister, principal, and MH/MR caseworker at Goodwill Industries before taking on the role with the Greensburg Diocese as Director of Ministry to Persons with Disabilities. Sister Jeanette served on the Congregation’s Leadership Team (1993-1998) before returning to St. Louis as Associate Director of Catholic Community Services. Until recently, she served full-time as our Congregation’s Justice and Peace coordinator, working to transform social, economic, and cultural structures that oppress and diminish the humanity of our ‘dear neighbor.’ Sister Jeanette prays that the Sisters’ presence and compassion will demonstrate to migrants that there are many in our country who welcome them with open arms and see them not just as fully human, but as a blessing and a brother or sister in Christ.
Meet the Friends Who Are Serving with the Sisters
Maureen Haggarty, a former Sister and benefactor of the Congregation, is a newly retired development executive at Milestones Centers, Pittsburgh. “The treatment of Latinos who pursue a better life in America grates against everything I believe in. I responded to this opportunity to serve because it is a way to fight against the message that they are unwelcome,” she says.
Carol McCracken says: “For some time I have been drawn to the suffering at the border and to the cruelty being perpetrated upon immigrants by our country. I began to search for a church group going to the border but had no success.” She then heard Sister Janice Vanderneck speak of the work at the Humanitarian Respite Center in McAllen, TX. Carol expressed her desire to travel to the border, and within weeks, she met Sister Patti Rossi. “I was delighted and encouraged to meet a Sister of St. Joseph who has given her life to mission work.”