October 20, 2017, Juarez, Mexico – In some ways, Sister Maureen Gallagher, OP, might be described as a saleswoman, helping the women from the Las Mujeres de Esperanza y Fe co-op to sell their hand-sewn products to people in the United States. But at a deeper level, Sister Maureen is helping the women to have confidence in their own abilities to earn a living for their families.
Sister Maureen ministers at Centro Santa Catalina in Juarez, Mexico. In a city known for its violence and poverty, Centro Santa Catalina provides residents with a place for spiritual enrichment, leadership programs, homework help, organic gardens, and the women’s sewing cooperative. The center was established in 1996 with the help of Adrian Dominican Sisters Donna Kustusch, OP, and Eleanor Stech, OP.
The services offered help to support and empower families who are economically poor, living in many cases in hand-made shacks in Colonia Panfilo Natera – a section in Juarez where people moved from small villages to find work. Many of the families survive on what the women earn through their sewing co-op.
In the co-op’s 20 years of existence, women have learned not only how to make clothes and other products, but also how to run the co-op and sell the products themselves.
Sister Maureen’s role is to set up sites in the United States where the women can sell their products. “We go to parishes and pre-Christmas sales,” Sister Maureen explained. “I ask the pastor if we can sell the products as a social justice outreach program. Most of their responses are very positive.”
Because of the conditions set forth in their visas, the women of the co-op are only permitted to travel within 40 miles of the U.S. border to sell their products. As a result, Sister Maureen said, they have only worked with parishes in portions of New Mexico and Texas. But Sister Maureen also sells the women’s products – shawls, purses, scarves, tablecloths, dolls, pot holders, aprons, bookmarks, and prayer flags – through retreat centers run by women religious – including Weber Center Shop in Adrian. The products are also available online.
Sister Maureen takes great satisfaction from seeing the progress in the women’s confidence and ability to sell their products. One of her special joys is “seeing the women grow. I go to the sales with the women, and in the beginning, I would help sell. Now we bring two women and they run everything. I just help if they need a translator.”
The women have also taken over the administration of the co-op, serving as its officers and in general running the operation. “I only step in once in a while,” Sister Maureen said. “I mostly do fundraising and bring in volunteers.”
Sister Maureen is working on securing grants to help families get the medical attention they need and to provide scholarships for children to complete their education. Overall, she said, the purpose of Centro Santa Catalina is to build community among the people of the colonia and to help them to live well. “Our focus is to give people the skills they need so they don’t have to migrate,” she explained.