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February 2, 2021, Detroit – The week of January 18, 2021, was a turning point not only for the United States as its new President and Vice President, Joseph Biden and Kamala Harris, were inaugurated. It was also a turning point for Sister Racquel Rones, OP, who became a new U.S. citizen the next day, January 21, at the Detroit District Office of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Sister Racquel took her oath of citizenship with about 25 other people who came from a variety of countries. Because of COVID-19 protocols, she said, the new citizens were encouraged to leave after they received the certificate and could not participate in the tradition of shaking the judge’s hand. Still, she said, she celebrated with her local community from Adrian who had accompanied her to Detroit: Sisters Jo Gaugier, OP, Tarianne DeYonker, OP, and Attracta Kelly, OP.
“I am so happy,” said Sister Racquel, a native of the Philippines and a member of the Adrian Dominican Sisters’ Our Lady of Remedies Mission Chapter, based in Pampanga, the Philippines. She was inspired by the welcoming words of the judge who presided over her Naturalization ceremony. “He told us, ‘Don’t forget January 21, 2021 – you’re celebrating your second birthday,” she recalled. “He encouraged us, when we’re able to travel, to discover the United States, our new country, with many mountains and beaches.”
Sister Racquel entered the Dominican Congregation of Our Lady of Remedies in 2000 and made her final profession of vows in April 2009. When the Remedies Congregation merged with the Adrian Dominican Sisters in 2011, she said, she was encouraged to consider applying for U.S. citizenship because of her youth and the possibility that one day she might minister in the United States.
Her ministries have included managing the Dominican Religious Store in San Fernando, Pampanga; serving as teacher, librarian, and bookkeeper at Dominican School of Apalit in Apalit, Pampanga; and serving as school treasurer at Holy Rosary College Foundation in Tala, Caloocan, and at Immaculate Conception Academy in Guagua, Pampanga. In addition, she served as pastoral minister at St. Eystein Menighet Parish in BodØ, Norway.
Sister Racquel is no stranger to the United States. Shortly after the two congregations merged, she spent a year with her sister in California.
Before coming to Adrian in January 2020, Sister Racquel received a letter from Sister Attracta, Director of the Adrian Dominican Sisters’ Office of Immigration Assistance, listing the documents she would need to prepare to apply for U.S. citizenship. Her application was filed the second week of March.
“The hardest part [of becoming a citizen] was preparing for the interview and the exam,” Sister Racquel said. “Living with the community, watching the news, and being immersed in the culture really helped me, but what was really the hardest part was studying for the civics questions.”
She found support from her local community; from Sister Patricia Siemen, OP, Prioress, and members of the General Council; and from the Sisters at the Motherhouse, who encouraged her and prayed for her. In addition, Sister Corinne Sanders, OP, helped her to study for the exam and Sister Carleen Maly, OP, Director of the Adrian Rea Literacy Center, helped her improve her pronunciation of English.
In the end, Sister Racquel said, she was surprised by the easiness of the questions. “I didn’t find it hard,” she said. “If you’re open and ready, just challenge yourself. I was expecting the worst [of the exam], but my experience was not bad…. Prayers really work. Trust God.”
The new citizen also received informal education about the U.S. culture from her life with her local community in Adrian and from watching the news. She was particularly struck by the continuing efforts of African Americans – with the help of other Americans – to achieve racial equality through the Black Lives Matter movement. “It’s really enriching my history,” she said. “I’m so touched by their experience and how resilient they are, to be still fighting for their rights in this country.”
Sister Racquel also felt the shock of the Sisters in her community over the insurrection that took place at the Capitol on January 6 – and the excitement at watching the Inauguration. “We watched all day,” she said.
Once she receives her U.S. passport and visits her sister in California, Sister Racquel anticipates resuming ministry in the Philippines or Norway. But, she said, part of her will remain in her new country.
“I’m ready to embrace the future as an Adrian Dominican Sister,” Sister Racquel said. “I am so happy to know our Sisters, to share stories and life with them. … I will look back when I’m in my ministry, wherever that is. Now I have confidence.”
Feature photo: Sister Racquel Rones, OP, proudly displays her citizenship certificate and the U.S. flag on the day she became a naturalized U.S. citizen.
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.”