IMG 4513On Sept. 4 more than 30 members from the U.S. Federation of the Sisters of St. Joseph joined together in Newark to protest the detention of immigrant children. Ranging in age from 21-90, sisters, associates, partners in mission, and the St. Joseph Worker New York program all attended the Catholic Day of Action for Immigrant Children. Additionally, five sisters risked arrest by participating in a nonviolent act of civil disobedience in front of an ICE building.

The Federation group joined over 400 people that day —a diverse selection of Catholic and interfaith groups. The day began at the historic St. Mary’s Church/Newark Abbey, where people congregated and prayed for immigrants and those participating in nonviolent civil disobedience. The group then processed through the streets of Newark to the front of one of Newark’s ICE building. At the ICE building, participants heard from local activists, a DACA recipient, a grandmother facing deportation, and ending with Cardinal Joseph Tobin, the Archbishop of Newark.

Cardinal Tobin spoke to attendees at the event, eventually leading the crowd in song and prayer as those participating in nonviolent civil disobedience filed into the streets of Newark, shutting down three city blocks of traffic. You can watch a video of Cardinal Tobin’s reflection and prayer here.

Sr. Patty Johnson, executive director of the U.S. Federation of the Sisters of St. Joseph, had this to say about her decision to participate in nonviolent civil disobedience:

Sisters of St. Joseph participating in the nonviolent act of civil disobedience in the streets of Newark. (Photo from the Ignatian Solidarity Network)

"As I look back my time in Newark, New Jersey protesting the cruelty of how the United States is treating immigrant children, I am struck by this irony. I carried the picture of a young boy who died, possibly alone, possibly separated from his parents. For the one and a half hours that we occupied the streets to call attention to this important cause, I stood with 5 of my sisters from the Federation, knowing that another 24 of us stood on the curb nearby. We were part of 400 there to say this inhumanity must stop. The strength of our community standing together in support of those in such desperate need was inspiring. We must keep calling each other to stand together and speak to our leaders. We must demand that those at our borders asking for asylum are treated humanely and that children stay together with their parents."

Sr. Patty was joined in the nonviolent civil disobedience action by Sisters Joan Gallagher (Brentwood and chair of the Federation’s Leadership Council); Janet Kinney (Brentwood), Erin McDonald (Congregation of St. Joseph), and Susan Wilcox (Brentwood). During the event, Federation staff live-streamed the demonstration and answered questions from those on Facebook. Those videos can be found here.

Sr. Erin McDonald spoke to the Ignatian Solidarity Network about her experience:

Members of the St. Joseph Worker-New York Program attended the Day of Action."'When I witnessed the Catholic Day of Action in July in Washington, D.C., I felt inspired to follow in the footsteps of the many Catholic leaders throughout the years who have put their faith into action to advocate for a more just and inclusive world,' she explained after the event. 'I'm a Sister of St. Joseph. Our order was founded by a Jesuit priest, Jean Pierre Medaille, S.J., whose words and spirit continues to challenge us to love God and Neighbor without distinction. As a person of faith, I felt compelled to risk arrest in order to draw attention to the cruel treatment of our migrant brothers and sisters, most especially children, and to advocate for our country’s leaders to create more humane and just systems. I believe in the country I love and I believe we have the capacity to be a salve for the suffering of our neighbors.'"

Prior to the Day of Action, members from the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet’s congregational leadership team wrote notes of encouragement to those demonstrating and participating in civil disobedience. The notes promised prayer and support, as well as expressed gratitude to participants for their “strong witness to our commitment to gospel values.”

While reasons for participating varied, many participants continually cited the need to voice their concern for immigrants who have systematically been rendered voiceless in the asylum and immigration process. Many cited the inhumane treatment of children in detention centers as the reason for joining the various days of action.

Assistant director Kristen Whitney Daniels with Sisters of St. Joseph of Philadelphia.In addition to the presence of the Federation in Newark, congregations across the Federation have been getting involved in their own community. Many congregations, including the Congregation of St. Joseph, emailed and called the White House and their local legislators. The Sisters of St. Joseph of Boston and Philadelphia have held prayer services for immigrants. The Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange have been holding weekly public demonstrations in front of their motherhouse.

This day of action is the second in a series of days of action led and organized by the D.C. Catholic Coalition, which includes the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), Conference of Major Superiors of Men, Franciscan Action Network, Ignatian Solidarity Network, and Pax Christi. The first event was held in Washington, D.C. in July 2019. Six people from the Federation were present at the Washington, D.C. action, including the arrest of Sisters Karen Burke and Susan Wilcox, two Sisters of St. Joseph of Brentwood for their participation in a nonviolent act of civil disobedience at the Russell Senate Building.

The next day of action is planned to take place at the border town of El Paso, Texas. There will be a teach-in from October 11-13, with a nonviolent act of civil disobedience occurring Oct. 12. If you are interested in attending, please sign up here. If you would like to find other ways to get involved or to hold your own event that weekend, please visit our website here.