Sisters companion, advocate for immigrants
Companion on the journey. Advocate seeking meaningful immigration reform. These are phrases that Sisters of Providence Marikay Duffy and Marilyn Kofler use to describe each of their works on behalf of immigrants, Sister Marikay in the Indianapolis area and Sister Marilyn in Chicago.
In November, the Archdiocese of Indianapolis honored Sister Marikay with one of its first-ever Intercultural Awards. For her more than three decades in Hispanic ministry, the honor recognizes Sister Marikay’s services to hundreds, if not thousands as an educator, translator-interpreter and a companion to immigrants as they adapted to U.S. culture and worked towards citizenship.
Recently retired from full-time ministry, Sister Marikay continues as a volunteer for the archdiocese’s Catholic Charities Refugee and Immigration Services. She is developing a Spanish language section for its website and translates personal documents, as requested, for those seeking citizenship.
“I expect that demand for services will increase as President Obama’s Executive Order on Immigration (Nov. 20, 2014) is implemented. I am concerned that exploiters of the situation will take advantage of vulnerable people. I am glad I can still help,” she said.
Sister Marikay says that companioning someone to the status of citizen is life-changing.
“Citizenship is a major step toward reuniting families because the new citizen, after five years of legal residency, can bring in their parents. The time for reuniting with children is cut in half, and they can petition for siblings to join them. I say, ‘Every time you help one person – you may actually be helping up to 12 or more.’”
Planning to continue as a volunteer for the foreseeable future, Sister Marikay says, “I am very grateful for the encouragement I have received from the SP leadership to continue this ministry through the years. I have learned so much from the persons I have companioned — their patience, their trust and faith. They are all so confident that God is on their side.”
Advocating for meaningful immigration reform alongside other religious men and women is how Sister Marilyn Kofler characterizes her ministry with Sisters and Brothers of Immigrants (SBI). She helped found this Archdiocese of Chicago-based coalition in 2007.
Sisters and Brothers of Immigrants today consists of 170 members from 54 congregations.
“I connected with this ministry while reflecting on our 2006 and 2011 chapter commitments, which among other challenges called us to respond to urgent global needs,” Sister Marilyn said.
Sister Marilyn has lived out this commitment by chairing SBI committees and at one time serving as the group’s overall coordinator. Sharing her ministry, Sister Marilyn regularly alerts SBI members and Sisters of Providence via email about pending legislation. And about ways they can generate support in Congress for various actions to reform immigration policy and laws.
“Among SPs receiving the emails, I find interest high on the issues of immigration,” she said.
Sister Marilyn also regularly supports public witness events with other SBI members at busy intersections in the heart of Chicago’s immigrant neighborhoods.
“We are called to build a country of welcome rooted in justice and sound moral values for those who have to leave their own lands and begin in a new land. We can see progress in Chicago. The mayor (Rahm Emmanuel) seems to want the city to have a culture of hospitality and solidarity with immigrants. Now we are working on the governor to bring that same hospitality to the state,” she said.
Sister Marilyn sees her ministry as continuing the legacy of Saint Mother Theodore Guerin, an immigrant herself.
“We recognize our moral responsibility to be active on the behalf of immigrants and to move to action by praying, fasting and working to reform our immigration laws in a compassionate and comprehensive way.”
(Originally published in the Winter 2015 issue of HOPE magazine.)