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Love, mercy, justice: working together to welcome the stranger

Mother Theodore and her companions knew all too well the life of an immigrant. The challenges of leaving everything behind to start a new life; of speaking a language different from the natives; of adjusting to different customs in a foreign land.

Recently Sister Tracey Horan, SP, who ministers at the U.S./Mexico border, asked the Sisters of Providence Leadership Team to consider sponsoring a family seeking asylum. The team knew that before we made such a commitment, we a) needed to learn more about the responsibilities of an asylum sponsor; and b) wanted to get some input from others before we jumped into it.

Welcoming the immigrant

Sister Tracey understood our need to have time to “work things out.” At the same time, she had a young family that needed a place to stay in a matter of days. She asked if we might consider providing interim housing.

As Providence would have it, Sacred Heart House, right on the edge of campus, had been vacated to be readied for sale. The family could live there until Providence Associate Jeanne TeKolste and her husband were ready to welcome the family in Indianapolis. And it would be a perfect place for the family to quarantine with a two–year–old! The sisters living in Woodland Inn offered to be their “hosts.”

Sister Jeanne Hagelskamp visits with the family’s 2-year-old son during their brief stay at the Woods.

They readied the house, secured food and other necessities and eventually welcomed them to dinners at the Inn. Although the family was here only three short weeks, they quickly became “ours.”

What follows is Providence Associate Jeanne TeKolste’s reflection on her family’s journey to welcome an asylum
family with the same love with which Mother Theodore and her companions were welcomed by the Thralls family
more than 180 years ago.

By Jeanne TeKolste

As I reflect on the past few years of my career, I realize that long ago God planted a seed for this opportunity to welcome someone into our home. I was on the team that founded Enlace Academy, a charter school in Indianapolis dedicated to serving the immigrant population, an underserved community. Two of our daughters have studied and worked in Spanish-speaking countries in Central America and Spain. Although I have taken some classes in Spanish, I am far from proficient in the language and my husband Kim knows very little. Yet, we have hearts for helping and, in retirement, found we had time to serve.

Invited to help

Sister Tracey Horan, through her work at the Kino Border Initiative, reached out and asked if we would sponsor an immigrant family. I was ready to jump right in, but, fortunately, Kim asked many questions. He was more thorough in
discerning the decision. The initial request was for a family of six, three of whom were adults and two teens. Providing housing, or sharing our home, for this many people was a daunting task! We talked about space, safety, providing food, clothing, legal guidance, etc. We could not provide for all of those needs by ourselves, so we searched for co-sponsors. None were found. In the meantime, another sponsor was located for this family and they have settled in Ohio.

Kim TeKolste, husband of Providence Associate Jeanne TeKolste, colors with the two-year-old son of the family in need of asylum that their family has welcomed into their home.

A few weeks later, Sister Tracey called again. This time a young family with a small child was seeking a sponsor as they attempted to enter the U.S. in search of asylum. When the Sisters of Providence stepped up to support this family, we knew we could also support this family. The welcome they received at the Woods during their COVID-19 quarantine set them up for a warm and welcoming transition to Indiana. The time they spent at the Woods allowed us to mentally and emotionally prepare for them to share our home until they could make it on their own.

Wait and listen

During my personal journey toward retirement and preparation to become a Providence Associate, Sister Carole Kimes, SP, walked with me. As my companion, she provided gentle encouragement and sage advice: “Be still! Wait for the answer you are seeking.” I have never found it easy to wait! But, as Providence would have it, waiting was just what I/we needed.

This young family brings laughter and joy into our home! It is such a pleasure to have a curious, loving two–year–old, even with the instant tears at the word, “No.” We have also found generous support from neighbors, friends and family with offers of help. So far, we have collected almost all the household items they might need when they finally move into their own home.

Joys and challenges

The biggest challenge, so far, is trying to understand what they need to do to follow the legal steps toward asylum. The rules and regulations are not easy to understand for us; they must be daunting for non-English speakers! We will need to hire an immigration attorney and those expenses will be high, so we are considering doing some crowdsourcing. But, in the meantime, the parents (they prefer their names not be used) have begun English classes and are excited to learn so they can help their son and improve their inclusion into the Indianapolis community.

They volunteer at a local food pantry, helping organize and distribute food, and pitch in with household chores and repairs. Their dream is to have jobs, to have their own home and to live a safe and productive life. We hope they feel welcome and part of our family. When they move into their own home we will need to adjust to the quiet, but we hope they will return for our weekly family suppers!

About Jeanne TeKolste: Jeanne is a Providence Associate of the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. She and her husband Kim are the parents of Sister Emily TeKolste, SP.

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Originally published in the fall 2021 issue of HOPE magazine.

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Sister Jeanne Hagelskamp

Sister Jeanne Hagelskamp

Sister Jeanne Hagelskamp has been a Sister of Providence since 1975. She currently serves on the Congregation leadership team. Previously she ministered as a teacher and administrator at the secondary and university levels.

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