April 4, 2019, Chicago – Every month, passersby at the corner of Belmont and Milwaukee in Chicago can observe a stirring sight: a group of Catholic women and men, vowed religious and lay people, standing on the corner with signs bearing witness to the dignity of immigrants and calling for a just immigration policy.
Many of the participants are members of Sisters and Brothers of Immigrants (SBI), a nonprofit Catholic organization that advocates for immigrants in the United States. SBI members, along with other advocates gather for this public witness for an hour before the organization’s monthly meeting.
The monthly demonstration “is to raise awareness about immigration and immigrants,” explained Sister JoAnn Fleischaker, OP, a member of SBI. “The mission is to have a collective voice seeking justice for immigrants. We respond to the Gospel mandate to uphold the dignity of each person.”
Sister JoAnn is among many Adrian Dominican Sisters from the Dominican Midwest Mission Chapter, based in Chicago, who participate in the public witness and in various other events to call for a just and compassionate immigration policy.
“We support anything that has to do with immigration,” Sister JoAnn said. Several Sisters and lay people gather at 7:15 a.m. every Friday outside of a detention facility in Broadview, north of Chicago, to pray the rosary and offer assurance and presence to immigrants who are being deported from there. The group is often joined by visiting college students who come to Chicago from other parts of the country.
Sister JoAnn and several other Adrian Dominican Sisters have also been involved in one-on-one English as a Second Language tutoring of immigrants at Aquinas Literacy Center in Chicago, one of seven literacy centers sponsored by the Adrian Dominican Sisters. The literacy centers typically offer tutoring to adult learners who are native English speakers, as well as to those for whom English is a second language.
Sister JoAnn moved to Chicago about four years ago, after ministering at Las Casas, a Dominican ministry based in Oklahoma that seeks justice in the lives of Native Americans. Two years before her move, she transferred to the Dominican Midwest Mission Chapter and learned about the Chapter’s immigration initiative.
As an activist for immigrants and compassionate immigration reform, Sister JoAnn said her biggest challenge is “listening to the news about what’s happening at the border,” and particularly the government’s response to immigration. “The reform of our immigration policy just does not get to the table,” she said. “It needs compassionate and comprehensive immigration reform, and it just is not coming. This gets discouraging, but you try to educate and build up awareness so people will call their legislators” on behalf of immigrants.
Sister JoAnn is encouraged by her personal encounters with Dreamers – young adult immigrants who came to the United States as children with undocumented parents – as well as with people facing deportation and dedicated immigration advocates. “The people pushing for [immigration reform] are great people, and that’s encouraging – but when you listen to the news, that’s the part that hurts your heart,” she said. “But we keep on keeping on.”
Feature photo (top): From left, Sisters Cathy Fedewa, CSFN, Jean Keeley, OP, and Benita Coffey, OSB, give public witness in Chicago on behalf of immigrants.
October 26, 2018, Chicago – More than a year after her death on September 7, 2017, Sister Mary Rita McSweeney, OP, received the St. Louise de Marillac Award for her 25 years of dedicated ministry to the senior citizens through Marillac St. Vincent Services. The award and Sister Mary Rita’s former ministry site are named for St. Louise de Marillac, co-founder with St. Vincent de Paul of the Daughters of Charity in France.
Among those attending the October 12, 2018, Beacon of Hope Luncheon were Adrian Dominican Sisters Norine Burns, OP, Nancy Murray, OP, Cyrilla Zarek, OP, and Jane Zimmerman, OP. Also attending in Sister Mary Rita’s honor were her nephew Michael McSweeney of Louisville, Kentucky; nieces, Diana McSweeney of Scottsdale, Arizona, and Mary McSweeney of Canton, Michigan; and five seniors with whom Sister Mary Rita had ministered.
Marillac St. Vincent Services is the result of a 2002 merger between two independent organizations run for more than 100 years by the Daughters of Charity: Marillac Social Center and St. Vincent de Paul Center. Marillac offers services to people in need in Chicago, from early childhood programs for newborns through 5-year-olds, to youth services, programs for pregnant teens, adult employment programs, to food pantries and other programs for senior citizens.
After teaching for 40 years, Sister Mary Rita retired from Catholic education and began 25 years of ministry with Marillac’s senior programs. Her ministry included visiting and calling homebound seniors and working with the Take Charge senior group, which grew to more than 80 participants.
“The meetings were social and informational,” explained Maureen Hallagan, MSW, Chief Operating Officer of Marillac St. Vincent Services. “Sister cooked meals for each group meeting and sent everyone home with the leftovers.” Maureen described Sister Rita as a “mentor, teacher, and friend” to the Marillac community. “She taught us all that it is important to have faith in everyone you meet, that there is good in everyone. She demonstrated that a smile goes a long way in making people feel special and, most importantly, that you never know when a good deed might make a difference in someone’s life.”
The awards luncheon was “a nice tribute to [Sister Mary Rita] and a nice way to keep her memory alive and to let us know that her good works continue at Marillac,” said Sister Norine Burns, who lived with Sister Mary Rita for 25 years. “A lot of people came up to us and old us about what Mary Rita meant to them.”
Sister Norine especially remembers the joy that Sister Mary Rita found in her ministry at Marillac. “She would always say, ‘I have the best job in the world,’” she recalled. “She never minded going to work … and she loved working with the poor, and especially the seniors.”
Sister Norine also described her friend as prayerful. “She trusted in God,” she said. “I think that’s why she loved the seniors so much, because seniors are religious people – and especially the African American people. They saw that in her they recognized that quality and they loved her for it.”
A very balanced person, Sister Mary Rita “knew how to have a good time and when it was time to work,” Sister Norine recalled. “She was a wonderful friend and a wonderful person to live with. She brought a lot of life and laughter into our time together.”
Read a profile of Sister Mary Rita McSweeney and watch a video of the luncheon.
Feature photo (top): Robert Christopher, Director of Development of Marillac St. Vincent Services, presents the St. Louise D’Marillac Award to family members of Sister Mary Rita McSweeney, OP, from left, nieces Mary McSweeney and Diana McSweeney and nephew Michael McSweeney.
Clockwise, from left: Volunteer Mary Sue McDonald, left, with Sister Norine Burns, OP. Sister Cyrilla Zarek, OP, left, and Diana McSweeney, niece of Sister Mary Rita. Irene Knox, left, one of Sister Mary Rita’s seniors, with Sister Jane Zimmerman, OP. Photos by Sister Jane Zimmerman