by Maryann Agnes Mueller, CSSF
A new chapter in the life of a former Felician Sisters’ Convent began on Monday, April 22, when temporary housing was provided for 50 asylum seekers in Rio Rancho, New Mexico. The asylum seekers, mostly from Central America, entered legally, were processed at the border, and have families sponsoring their entry into this country.
Preparations for their temporary stay here have been in process since mid-March when Catholic Charities asked if it would be possible for the convent to serve as a housing site. Four other sites in the Albuquerque area, about 250 miles north of the border, provide housing to several busloads arriving every week. Felician Sister Jane Mary Gawlik who resides at the convent said, “We were asked to take one of the buses with the prospect of more busloads as the need arises.”
The reality of this operation suddenly hit full speed with the arrival of the Red Cross truck bringing 100 cots and blankets. The truck arrived early, prior to the time volunteers were expected. However, “help calls” went out and soon a swarm of helpers arrived. With all the helping hands, the task of assembling the 100 cots took just about two hours. The former sisters’ care center has taken on a new shade of green as each of the rooms now houses four green cots.
The helping hands and volunteers assisting with the different facets of this operation represent almost every faith denomination in the Rio Rancho and Albuquerque areas. “We are all one church here,” noted Sister Jane, who commented on what a blessing it is to have this ecumenical experience in Holy Week.
Catholic Charities had been making preparations the week before the first bus arrival, transforming the convent to receive the guests, organizing and setting up areas for the different teams.
Sister Jane told about her experience of the first day:
“I was to meet and direct the first bus. I stood watching as each adult or child stepped off the bus … the look of gloom, fear, fatigue, was overwhelming. As they walked to the door, they were escorted by a hospitality person into the building. The basic necessity of using the restrooms was first. A large container of small toys also stood by the door. Each child was allowed to pick a toy to keep … a small way to give comfort and say ‘all will be OK.’ The medical team also quickly checked everyone, trying to spot health issues which would then be taken care of.
“We have learned from groups already working with bus arrivals that hydration is critical, so water and fruit are an initial snack for each guest upon arrival, followed by a meal later.”
In a quiet moment, Sister Jane reflected, “It is very sad that this situation even exists; people fleeing their home countries looking for a safer way to live. But it is also heartwarming to meet so many loving and caring people who give of their time and talents to help with this critical situation.”
“I do believe that our Felician foundress, Blessed Mary Angela, would approve of our efforts. We ask only for your prayerful support for all the many people involved in this humanitarian situation,” she said.
[Maryann Agnes Mueller, CSSF, is a Felician Sister of the North American Province. Prior to her entrance into her congregation she worked as a dietician and research tech in cholesterol metabolism. Later she worked as a certified diabetes educator, and taught science in high school. She now lives in Enfield, Connecticut, serving as the full-time Justice and Peace Coordinator for the Felician Sisters’ North American Province, and edits the Congregational Justice and Peace newsletter.]