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Butterflies for immigrant children in detention centers

On this National Immigrants Day, I ask myself what if Mother Theodore Guerin and her companions, unable to speak English, had been deported back to France in 1840 when they arrived in New York. What if she had been refused reentry in New Orleans when she returned from France in January 1844? In New Orleans, too ill to travel to the Woods, the Ursuline Sisters took her in and nursed her back to health. What if she had been placed in a detention camp where there was no access to health care or even basic amenities?

I believe she would have died and that deprived of her leadership, the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods would not exist today.

When 11-year-old Kaia Marbin heard that as of December 2018, 15,000 children were being held in U.S. detention centers, she cried. She knew how tragic this was. With a friend, Lilly Ellis, a 10-year-old, she decided to make a statement by inviting others to help her make paper butterflies. They chose butterflies as a symbol because they also migrate.

The goal was to make 15,000 butterflies to get a visual idea of how many that is. This was not just an arts and craft project. This would be a public art statement to raise awareness in the Bay area of the plight of these children and their families to get adults to reform immigration policies.

This fall, having learned about the project, the Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College Peace and Justice Club invited the Sisters of Providence to collaborate with them on a similar project. Members of the club and several sisters met together to make butterflies on Sunday, Sept. 15.

The following week, students were invited to take a butterfly and carry it with them wherever they went for a week. I myself have not yet done this exercise, but it makes sense to me because the children in these detention centers live this reality 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The butterflies are a symbol, a conversation starter, that remind us as we go about our daily lives dealing with issues in our families, our neighborhoods, and our workplaces, not to forget this larger reality. There are so many urgent and critical issues today. Our Sister Tracey Horan, who ministers with the Kino Border Initiative, noted that we have to be careful what we become accustomed to, what we accept as normal.

Here at the Woods, each Sunday at the end of liturgy, we pray a special prayer for immigrant children in our detention centers. We recently hosted a vigil, and participated in a national call-in day to Homeland Security. On a regular basis, we are called to respond to immigration issues, making our voices heard where it matters.

We invite you to join us in the butterfly project. Locally, Central Christian Church and Saint Mark’s United Church of Christ combined youth groups, The God Squad, made 200 butterflies and plan to pass them to their congregations. By the end of this month, we will probably reach our first 1,000. To join us in this project, please contact dbutler@spsmw.org with “butterfly” in the subject line.

For more information on National Immigrants Day, click here.

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Sister Donna Butler

Sister Donna Butler

Sister Donna Butler has been a Sister of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods for more than 60 years. Sister Donna has served in elementary education, parish ministry, diocesan social justice, as well as the Congregation’s liturgy office, archives department and social justice outreach. She also administered as the director of the Providence Volunteer Ministry. Sister Donna currently volunteers in outreach with Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College students.

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  1. Avatar Denise Wilkinson on October 28, 2019 at 9:11 am

    Thanks for initiating this project here, Donna. And I”m happy to know how it all started.

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