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Sister Patty talks love, mercy and justice

Sister Patty Fillenwarth ministers as a counselor at Providence Family Services (PFS) in Chicago.

Sister Patty Fillenwarth ministers at Providence Family Services in Chicago.

“They have a hard, hard life. People don’t come here [illegally] because they are rich and want to get richer. At least nobody I know. They come here, they walk across the desert, or they swim across that river, some of them come a long, long distance. They come because they are poor and they are needy and they want to have a better life,” Sister Patty Fillenwarth said.

Sister Patty’s experience ministering to the largely Hispanic immigrant community of Chicago’s Humboldt Park for the past 38 years has shaped her in many ways. One of those is in her beliefs on immigration issues.

“I believe in law and order,” says this daughter of police officer. “But I think the spirit of the law is much more important.”

“I think if people have demonstrated that they want to live here as good law-abiding persons, and for many years they have served our purpose — they were cheap labor — and now all of a sudden when there is a difficulty, we want to send them all back. I think that’s heartless,” she said.

“I tell people, if you get to know some of them personally, you might change your mind. If you hear their story …”

As a counselor she has heard many, many stories of struggle and pain.

“I think we as American citizens need to educate ourselves about the conditions these people are coming from. And about sensible ways — I know we can’t just open our doors and let everybody in —but there should be sensible Christian ways that we can help our neighbor too. Especially the ones that are already here. Then, which is more important I think, we need to ask what can we as a nation do to help change the policies in other countries.”

lmj-girl-webOur actions of sending factories there, which pay workers very little, so that we can buy inexpensive goods, contribute to the poverty in these countries, she said.

“We’ve put our heads in the sand so long that we can hardly breathe. People are being forced to live in slavery practically and we are profiting from it. We have to change our own attitudes based on reality, not on what we hear on the local news station.”

“And I think it’s up to me to educate myself about policies and why they’ve been made,” she said.

One opportunity for education that Sister Patty recently had was going on two justice education tour trips through the group Witness for Peace. In El Salvador she visited El Mozote, a village where the entire population was killed in 1981 by forces trained by the U.S. government’s The School of the Americas. In 2012 she went to Colombia and learned about labor unions there.

We can each make a difference by communicating with our Representatives and Senators in Congress what we would like to see done on the issue of immigration, Sister Patty said.

At its barest, Sister Patty says one thing we all can do is to welcome the neighbors around us.

“Anything that we can do personally or as a group to make people feel welcome. Just let your heart speak to their heart, you know. And that’s all. People just need to feel like there is hope.”

(Originally published in the Winter 2015 issue of HOPE magazine.)

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Amy Miranda

Amy Miranda is a Providence Associate of the Sisters of Providence and a staff member in their Mission Advancement office. Amy is a 1998 graduate of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College. She currently manages the SP publication HOPE and works on marketing support for Providence Associates, new membership and Saint Mother Theodore Guerin.

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