A life of joy serving on the streets
Jan. 23 is a special day for many Sisters of Providence. It was the date many of us received our “habits,” our veil and convent dress. Jan. 23 was also the date many of us took and renewed our vows.
What about in the current day? Where will you find Sister Betty Smigla on Jan. 23, 2017?
I will be taking Mr. Jose to immigration. There he will take an oath to the United States to be a good citizen. Yes, he passed the immigration test, had all the necessary papers needed and was approved for this important day in his life. I was his interpreter in taking his Constitution test. I usually study and review the 100 possible Constitution questions in Spanish before serving as an interpreter for a test. This helps me to be calm and able to assure the client that all is well. Mr. Jose told me he didn’t sleep all night prior to the test, he was so very anxious.
Serving as an interpreter and being able to reassure another is only one of the privileges of my ministry serving as an Advocate at Taller de Jose in the Spanish area of Little Village in Chicago. I love my work. I would not, however, have imagined myself doing this when I was young.
At age 13 I remember saying, “Dad I’m changing my mind about the high school I will attend. I want to go to St. Columbkille, a business orientated school, so I do not have to study a foreign language.” Of course my dad’s response was, “What did your mother say??” That decision, made to avoid learning another language, led me to a Sister of Providence school and ultimately to the Sisters of Providence.
Fast forward a few years. There I was, a young sister. I was given the mission to serve in Peru, South America. And so I went to study a foreign language after all! Learning Spanish also allowed me to live out my teen-age desire to help orphans. After a summer at Covenant House in New York working with runaway youth, they sponsored me to go to their mission in Guatemala — to work with orphans. This left me with a happy and fulfilled heart.
Now at 39+ (really 76) I serve as an advocate for people who have difficulty speaking and doing paperwork in English. I help them find their way around the Chicago court system, hospitals, jobs. I help with rent issues, counseling and more. We are able to connect our clients with many agencies to find help. I sometimes accompany people to these appointments as they are oftentimes anxious.
I love being on the street with the people. I am not afraid of any situation I’m faced with out on the street — teaching 8th grade and being principal for so many years trained me well!
Most people we serve want to give the agency some money, but they have little themselves and are sometimes homeless. I just tell them when they win the lottery to come back and buy 100 bus tickets — and I’ll know when they win as I’ll see them on the news! So many times that is how we end our sessions — “I won’t forget the lottery” and my response, “And I won’t forget you!!”
What blessings to celebrate in my work every day. To think, what began at age 13 with not wanting to study a language has brought me here, listening and speaking in the Spanish language most of my day.
Really, doesn’t God have a sense of HUMOR? Doesn’t God work through us in mysterious ways???