Sisters Advocate for Asylum Seekers

Apr 18, 2023 | News & Events

By Sisters Liane Delsuc, Loreta Jordan, Mary Alice McCabe, Meg Walsh, and Nancy Wellmeier, SNDdeN

                                                                Asylum Seekers arrive at the borders.

When Bishop John Purcell invited the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur (SNDdeN) to serve in his growing Cincinnati Diocese in 1840, it was because of his concern for the newly arrived immigrants, most of whom came from Germany. Since then service to immigrants has been a constant in the ministry of the SNDdeN Ohio Province and has flourished for over 50 years in the Phoenix, AZ Diocese!

In recent years, innumerable individuals and families have sought asylum in the United States to escape violence, extortion, extreme poverty, political, religious and sexual persecution. Motivated by the spirit of St. Julie Billiart to serve the most abandoned, we hear today Pope Francis’s call urging “the faithful to consider the treatment of migrants, asking: Do we welcome them as brothers [and sisters], or do we exploit them?” Today, we do express the goodness of God in our service with asylum seekers.

Asylum Seekers Before Covid

Sr. Nancy Wellmeir organized and taught English for many years to immigrants in Arizona. Her ability and experience have been valuable at the Welcome Center.

In Arizona, before Covid interrupted group activities, small churches provided basic services of welcome, food, clothing and showers. They also helped to arrange Asylee’s transportation to their family members or sponsors. Sisters Olivia Pacheco and Nancy Wellmeier volunteered at three Protestant churches. Sisters Meg Walsh and Liane Delsuc were doing the same at St. Matthew’s Catholic Church and at a Methodist Church. At each place, once a week, a Department of Homeland Security bus drops off already vetted asylum-seekers to pursue their claim, while being sponsored by a relative or friend in the U.S.

In 2019, the International Rescue Committee established the Welcome Center in central Phoenix and enlisted the aid of an interfaith coalition of volunteers. Sisters Nancy, Olivia, Meg and Liane began volunteering there regularly.

Organizing Team for Volunteers from Three Provinces

Sisters Liane Delsuc and Anne Howard unload the food and supplies from the car to be brought into the Welcome Center.

As numbers of asylum seekers increased, the need for volunteers at the Welcome Center also grew. SNDdeN initiated a project to invite Sisters from across the U.S. to serve for short terms of two to four weeks. Sisters Liane, Meg and Nancy along with Sisters Loreta Jordan and Mary Alice McCabe became the organizing team from our three U.S. Provinces. Given their passion to serve migrating peoples, they presented the project to the Ohio Province Leadership who were very supportive of this expanded immigrant ministry. In fact, all three U.S. Provinces supported the effort to serve asylum seekers, providing together the financial support for transportation, room and board for Sisters who would live in the Habitat for Humanity community in South Phoenix with Sisters Meg and Liane. They later extended the invitation for volunteers to Associates, SNDdeN staff members, Sisters of other Congregations, family members and friends.

Mission to Educate and Advocate

Multiplying hands for the Welcome Center was only one objective: a second was that volunteers would return home with a mission to educate others with accurate facts regarding the “invasion” at the border and to advocate with legislators for comprehensive immigration reform. The reality of global migration has been hopeful at the Welcome Center as people arrive from Russia, Georgia, India, Bangladesh, Central and South America after harrowing journeys.

Sisters Liane Delsuc and Anne Howard (right) assist Sr. Meg Walsh (left) in loading the car with food, clothing and supplies which she will drive to the border.

December 2021 through 2022

Fifteen Sisters of Notre Dame, five former Sisters, two Sisters of another Congregation and four friends travelled to Phoenix to offer service at the Welcome Center.

• Volunteers joined Sister Nancy as she greeted new asylum seekers and provided sandwiches and drinks for hungry travelers.
• Others guided the asylum seekers as they chose one new set of clothing.
• Liane managed the schedule for the showers.
• Volunteers helped Sister Meg pick up and serve the dinner provided by St. Vincent de Paul Society.
• Volunteers also spent mornings at the Habitat Community in washing towels to be returned the next day to the Welcome Center.

Habitat Community

The Habitat Community provides a “home” for our volunteers, and experience of community with prayer and reflection on the reality of immigration. Volunteers share experiences in monthly newsletters, designed by Sr. Terry Davis. Some Sisters and Associates participate in this mission by sending handmade scarves and hats as well as care packages of needed items. Others give financial donations to cover clothing and hygiene items provided at the showers.

Sr. Anne Howard cuts the oranges for the food supply at the Welcome Center.

The sense that we are all in this together has been quite inspiring! St. Julie is surely proud of the Mission of her daughters: As we work for justice and peace today, we hold in our hearts… those peoples forced to migrate across borders in search of life and hope. (CALLS 18th General Chapter 2021 ~ page 1)

We invite you to volunteer or to contribute in any way to this ministry and by contacting: