ISJ Essay: Muchas Gracias, San Ignacio

Jun 13, 2024

This is the story of Jose and Maria. In March 2023 they fled their native Venezuela with their three children in a desperate effort to escape from an increasingly dangerous homeland. They crossed 3,000 miles by foot, bus, and train. After two months of daily struggle and with threats of kidnapping and attacks from drug cartels, they crossed the border to Texas. This was June 2023. They were fortunate to meet members of Jesuit Refugee Services, which paid their bus fare to New York. A few days later we met Jose, Maria, and the children at a migrant shelter near Kennedy Airport.

It was at this time that the St. Ignatius Social Justice Ministry launched the Migrant Accompaniment Team, under the leadership of Laura de Boisblanc. We were part of the team that assisted them in finding clothing, registering children in school, securing proper ID, obtaining health insurance, filing for asylum, and crafting resumes to assist them with employment.

The support of St. Ignatius parishioners was vital in the family’s adjustment to America. Parishioners donated clothing and school supplies. The families came to the 11 AM Family Mass. They participated in the LBGTQ Scavenger Hunt. They danced at the Snow Ball Dance as guests of Father Yesalonia. Social Justice held a Christmas party for the families. The St. Vincent de Paul Angel Project so generously donated gifts to the party. The children still love to show their photos with Santa Claus (AKA Father Hilbert).

In March, Jose and Maria told us they had accepted jobs with Tyson Meat Company in Humboldt, Tennessee. The Migrant Accompaniment Team all said a tearful goodbye to our beloved friends. They keep in touch with us via weekly FaceTime and WhatsApp texts. They always say, “MUCHAS GRACIAS, SAN IGNACIO!” They report that the pay is good, allowing them to rent an apartment with a swimming pool in the complex. The children are now learning to swim and enjoy being kids. Jose likes his job in the meat-packing plant because he meets other workers from all over America and Latin America. Maria has opened a bank account. They obtained driver’s licenses and purchased a car. Despite its 100,000 miles, their Ford is ‘bellisimo.’

Now it is June 2024. Jose came to New York and stayed in our apartment. As we walked along 84th Street, he recalled so many happy memories of Family Mass. He remembered the Homework Help and ESL classes the Social Justice Ministry organized and taught with the help of students from Regis High School and Dominican Academy. He reminisced about the blessing Father Yesalonia gave the families about to begin their new lives in Tennessee.  Over dinner, he repeated how grateful he was to our parish. We admired his own religious fervor when several times a day, he pointed his fingers upward and said, “Dios es conmigo.”  The day Jose left for his return flight to Tennessee, he connected us via FaceTime to his mom who still lives in Venezuela. She waved to us and kept repeating, “MUCHAS GRACIAS, SAN IGNACIO.” Mama was so happy St. Ignatius helped her son.

Jose’s family and the other migrant families that still live in New York are our family, the family of St. Ignatius. The entire team is grateful that the Social Justice Ministry allows us to do this joyful work of migrant accompaniment. This support continues to flourish thanks to the assistance of the priests and countless parishioners who lovingly donate clothing, legal assistance, translation services, picnics in the park. As he said his final goodbye to us, he again repeated, “MUCHAS GRACIAS, SAN IGNACIO.”

— Dolores and Terry Quinn