November 19, 2019, Chicago – Sister Xiomara Méndez-Hernández, OP, was one of more than 34,000 people to become United States citizens in mid-September during 316 Naturalization Ceremonies nationwide in celebration of Constitution Day and Citizenship Day. She participated in the Naturalization Ceremony at the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Field Office in Chicago.
“People were in tears,” Sister Xiomara recalled. “I saw a lot of gratefulness and a lot of accomplishment. For me, it was a commitment.”
Sister Xiomara met the Adrian Dominican Sisters in her home country, the Dominican Republic, and was an Adrian Dominican Associate for three years before she entered the Congregation in 2008. At that time, she had her own fashion design business. She now ministers as a chaplain at Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood, Illinois.
Deciding to become a U.S. citizen was a “discernment,” Sister Xiomara said. She had been a resident of the United States for seven years – that was two years beyond her eligibility for citizenship. “For some reason I was comfortable being a resident.”
“Not many people have the blessing and privilege of going to the next step” of citizenship, Sister Xiomara said. “It was a long process,” Sister Xiomara recalled. “The Congregation had to send a letter saying I’m part of the Congregation and a resident in good faith ... and also proof of work, that I was working full-time and was an asset to this country.”
Sister Xiomara had her fingerprints and picture taken in January and was given information on the test she would take in August. “I had to memorize 100 questions – a lot of history of the United States.” She studied for the test while driving, with the help of a CD and an app. “I could recite every answer,” she said. She received word right after taking the test that she had passed and waited to learn the date of the Naturalization Ceremony.
Sister Xiomara recalled the kindness she received from immigration officials during the process of becoming a citizen. “They greeted me with so much dignity and respect,” she said. “It was a very good experience.”
Being a citizen makes it easier for her to travel overseas, Sister Xiomara said. Before, she had to apply for a special visa every time she traveled to Europe. “If you are a North American citizen, you don’t need a visa for so many places,” she added.
But Sister Xiomara sees an even greater advantage to being a U.S. citizen. “Being a citizen gives me a chance to have a full voice in this country.” She recalled being hesitant to speak out as a resident. “Now I have a voice for the voiceless who don’t have a pathway to citizenship,” she said. “I’m praying so hard and consistently so the [immigrants] don’t have to be afraid any more. This is my hope and my dream.”
“I feel a part of all of you – all of my Sisters who are native citizens,” Sister Xiomara added. “We are united for justice, for peace, and for reverence of life. I see more power to do this now as a citizen.”
October 10, 2019, Chicago – Pastors, parish ministers, and other leaders in church organizations are often well trained in theology, Scripture, and pastoral ministry. But how well trained are they in selecting, hiring, and working with staff members and volunteers?
Carol Fowler, an Adrian Dominican Associate, has written a book, Human Resources: Best Practices in Church Management, to address some of the challenges that church leaders face in leading and working with personnel. Her book, published by Paulist Press and part of a series sponsored by Villanova University, is intended for “the person who finds himself or herself in a leadership position and suddenly has to manage staff,” Carol said.
The book includes a foreword by Sister Donna Markham, OP, PhD, President and CEO of Catholic Charities USA, who encouraged Carol to write the book after she received the invitation from Paulist Press.
Now retired, Carol brought 26 years of experience in human resources work with the Archdiocese of Chicago in writing the book. While serving as Director of Campus Ministry for the Archdiocese, she said, she was invited by Cardinal Bernardin’s office to apply for the job of Director of Personnel Services. Carol was given the position, studied the human relations profession, and became a certified professional in human resources services, she said. Over the years, she has also conducted workshops to help church leaders in matters of human resources.
Because of her professional work with parishes, she said, her work was written “with the perspective of the parish,” but it has applications to leaders of other organizations, including parish business managers, pastoral associates or coordinators, and volunteer coordinators for nonprofit agencies.
“I think fundamentally what I try to help people understand is that all ministry is relational, and so is the ministry we do with the people who work or volunteer with us,” Carol said. “The leader needs to build a culture of relationships. When relationships and communications are good, problems can be avoided most of the time.”
Another key focus for church leaders, Carol said, is choosing the right people to fulfill the mission of the organization effectively. The leaders “need to look at who’s on their staff and whether or not they have the right people to do the mission effectively.” In her book, she said, she tries to help her readers to make good hiring decisions and use the right processes to make those decisions. “Another issue that comes up as soon as you hire someone is how you orient them,” Carol said. “How do you make them effective at what they do?”
Another challenge, Carol said, is performance management. “You have to give feedback to people about what they’re doing well and what they need to improve on,” she said.
But the most difficult situation for any organizational leader to face is terminating an employee, Carol said. “That’s always the most heart-wrenching, the most difficult thing you have to do,” whether because of an employee’s poor performance or misconduct or because of reorganizing and having to cut staff, Carol said. “It should never be easy,” she added. “Somebody’s life is about to be radically changed, and even if they are partly responsible, it’s a difficult change to face.”
Carol’s hope in writing the book is to help church leaders not only to lead their employees to be effective in their mission, but to ensure justice in the church workplace. “I truly believe that if people implement really good human resources policies, there’s a greater chance that there will be justice and fair play in churches. That’s what I’m really after – justice in churches.”
Also a former Adrian Dominican Sister, Carol said her connection to the congregation is core. “I learned what justice means through my connection to the Adrian Dominican Sisters. I learn to be passionate about wanting justice by my continue relationship.”