MARCH 2018
Jennifer Crusco
Communications Assistant

Group Encounters Anguish and Beauty at the Mexican Border

Demarest, NJ: A Winter Break trip to Douglas, Arizona, provided five students from the Academy of the Holy Angels with an intense look at life at the Mexican border. AHA Director of Campus Ministry Kathy Sylvester and AHA Religious Studies Department Chair Carol Fay led the team as they assisted a group of School Sisters of Notre Dame who work with migrants who are seeking a better life.

Kyra Cseh of Ramsey, Rianna LeHane of Pearl River (NY), Katerina Poulos of Englewood, Melina Tidwell Torres of North Arlington, and Katelyn Spinks of Stony Point (NY) prepared for the trip by meeting regularly to view videos and discuss articles about immigration and border issues. When they began to work with SSNDs Helen Jones, Lucy Nigh, Patricia Ferrick, and Judy Bourg, they soon realized that daily life in Douglas is an emotional experience.

“I expected to learn a lot about the wall and the migrants, which I did. However, along with that, I was able to discuss those problems with educated and experienced people and I was able to see the issues regarding the border from both perspectives,” said Spinks, a member of the Class of 2019.

Poulos, who is also in her junior year, said, “I thought I had a good idea of what to expect on the trip, but my thoughts were nowhere close to how amazing it truly was. I was informed about the lack of human rights people were receiving and the political issues dealing with the wall and migration. As soon as I got home, I told all my friends and family what I had learned while I was in Arizona. I think the most important thing people should know about is the opposite effect of the border wall. The wall was meant to stop migration and drugs, but it has been doing more damage than good.”

As part of the Healing Our Borders vigil, the group from AHA prayed at the wall that was built to separate Agua Prieta, Mexico, from Douglas, Arizona. S. Pat explained that, despite the imposing physical barrier between them, Agua Prieta and Douglas consider themselves sister cities, and hold mutual events, including concerts, at the wall.

People along the border also hold cross plantings and vigils to remember those who have died trying to enter the United States of America. The AHA students participated in a cross planting at Highway 80 to honor the life of an unidentified migrant who perished in the desert. The moving ceremony combined Native American spirituality with Catholic ritual. Participants were asked to imagine the person’s family gathered at their kitchen table, being overcome with the feeling of their lost loved one.

This Mission Awareness Process journey to Arizona is part of a series of “MAP” experiences the SSNDs offer to allow others to get a closer look at their ministries in various part of the country. Visitors to Douglas immerse themselves in the immigration process as they learn about the people who risk their lives trying to cross the border, the work of people who enforce immigration law, those who assist the migrants who are returned to Mexico, and projects within Mexico that offer people viable opportunities to earn a living. One of those projects is a carpentry workshop that was established with the support of the SSND community. The SSNDs who work in Douglas also run a migrant shelter in Aqua Prieta, and teach life and job skills.

“For me personally, the trip was much more than I expected,” Sylvester reflected. “It was educational in that we learned so much about the various issues at the border. It was emotional in that, once one comes to realize the great human suffering that occurs at the border, one cannot help but be moved. Making the connections through prayer gives it even deeper meaning, for prayer does unite us all.”

S. Judy said she prays the AHA students will share the truth about the “anguish and beauty” at the international border.

The Angels seem ready to take on that mission.

“I hope to teach students that this issue is so much more than a political issue, but still can be helped through the youth,” Spinks stated. “Many teenagers believe that they cannot contribute to the cause because they are too young, but I hope that we can change that.”

Founded by the School Sisters of Notre Dame in 1879, the Academy of the Holy Angels is the oldest private girls’ school in Bergen County. While AHA is steeped in Catholic tradition, this prestigious high school serves young women from a broad spectrum of cultural and religious backgrounds. Over time, thousands of women have passed through AHA’s portals. Many go on to study at some of the nation’s best universities, earning high-ranking positions in medicine, government, law, education, public service, business, arts, and athletics. The Academy’s current leaders continue to further the SSND mission to provide each student with the tools she needs to reach the fullness of her potential—spiritually, intellectually, socially, and physically, by offering a first-rate education in a nurturing environment where equal importance is placed on academic excellence, character development, moral integrity, and service to others.

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