The October 2017 Ministry Stories are features about the St. Joseph Worker Program. A fast growing community, the St. Joseph Worker Program empowers women committed to social change to respond to the needs of the times.
Just. Showing. Up.
Below is the speech given by Anna Zaros at A Taste of Thanksgiving 2016. She was in the St. Joseph Worker Program in 2008-09 and the following describes her experience in the program.
It was just day four at my placement site at Civil Society, just week three of the program, and I found myself in an Aldi parking lot, helping two police officers move the contents of their unmarked van into my car. Bedding, kid’s toys, a few clothes and cherished family items. From the back of the van peeked a set of eyes – watching me. Mai, with her toddler and newborn baby in tow, was escaping her trafficker. I was her new case manager, here to take her to a safe shelter.
Most of the time I wasn’t sure what I was doing as a case manager. The women I accompanied had lived unspeakable trauma – forced to work in factories and give over their pay to their abuser, raped, forced into prostitution, smuggled across borders, drugged. I had just graduated college with a heart full of idealism and a head full of social justice, what did I know?
But in the St. Joseph Worker program I learned to show up. With Mai, I helped her receive benefits so she could buy formula for her newborn. We went to the grocery store together. We went to her medical appointments. When she went back to her abuser – the father of her children – a common occurrence for abuse victims - I still showed up. I visited her home to give her some much needed clothing, and to reassure her I was still there for her, no matter what.
This is what the Sisters taught me, and I’m sure have taught all of you – to show up. With the sisters we showed up at Fort Benning, Georgia to protest the School of the Americas. We showed up on the Lake Street Bridge to pray for peace. We showed up at the capital to lobby for justice and equality.
And this is what the St. Joseph Workers, formed in the charism of the Sisters of St. Joseph – to love God and dear neighbor without distinction – continue to live out every day of the program, and all the days after. I see my fellow St. Joseph Workers at the farmer’s market selling local produce, at the march for racial justice, at each other’s homes, bringing food when a new baby is born, at the hospitality house welcoming immigrants on the border.
Right now, it is so easy to be disillusioned with our world. We are four days away from an election that has brought out some of the worst of humanity. But the Sisters of St. Joseph have always been my beacon of hope – women’s religious communities are a counter cultural answer to the problems of the world – they actively create peace and justice because they show up. Usually not very loudly or obviously – but quietly, consistently, and with great effectiveness.
But the Sisters can’t be everywhere at all times. That’s why they invested in me – that’s why they’ve invested in all the women who have been and will become St. Joseph Workers - to spread and grow their impact. So we can show up in more places loving God and dear neighbor.
Eight years later I try to do this every day where I work at Domestic Abuse Project, helping families end abuse in their lives. With the stranger I pass on the street, and with my family, raising my daughter in this same tradition.
Thank you for showing up tonight for the St. Joseph Worker program. Your presence, your investment – it doesn’t just mean that a handful of women each year get to have this amazing experience. It also means that women like Mai receive the accompaniment and care they need – that hundreds more individuals are served because of the added capacity St. Joseph Worker’s provide to their placement sites. And it also means that more young women, every year, continue this tradition of the Sisters of St. Joseph, this tradition that we all hold so dear to us. It means the Sisters’ reach grows and grows and grows.
Imagine this ripple effect by Just. Showing. Up. Thank you for making that possible.
Mentored by Leaders
I spent the first month and a half of my Saint Joseph Worker (SJW) year organizing, planning, and preparing for the 2014 US Federation Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph (CSSJ) Justice and Peace Conference here in St. Paul. In October, 30 women from CSSJ communities all across the country, one who currently serves as the CSSJ UN-NGO Representative, Sister Justine Senapathi, arrived for a three-day conference. I learned about the justice work they lead across the U.S. and on the global level at the United Nations.
I experienced the presence of authentic women leaders, the power of the CSSJ community, and their impact on countless lives in the United States and throughout the world. It didn’t take me long to realize that this group of women not only worked for justice but lived and breathed it too. Every day, they advocate for economic and racial justice, environmental sustainability, and gender parity — educating individuals on local and global issues — taking action on the streets, at the Capitol, in courtrooms, in detention centers; they become the voice for those who are silenced. I left the three-day conference energized, enflamed with the Spirit of the CSSJ community, and with a new vision for my life’s work — to work for those who have been sidelined, marginalized, and forgotten.
Today, I am finding ways to embody elements of global justice movements in the work in St Paul. My passion for global education and cross-cultural learning has been sustained by my experiences in the CSJ Justice Commission and through enrichment opportunities given by the SJW Program. This year has been wholesome and has gifted me clarity, opportunity, and support for the path that I want to pursue after June — working for global education policy reform.
St. Joseph Workers are given opportunities to form relationships with local and global leaders. We are carrying the CSJ model — working, living, and breathing justice, loving the dear neighbor without distinction, and responding to the needs of our time.
Jacqueline Salas, SJW 2014-15
Support the St. Joseph Worker Program by attending the 2017 A Taste of Thanksgiving!