Catherine’s Caring Cause helps migrant families establish themselves

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Wednesday, March 13, 2024

Carol Conway, Mercy associate and board member of Catherine’s Caring Cause in Evergreen Park, looks over items donated on March 8, 2024. Volunteers sort the items housed in three storage rooms full of blankets, clothing, kitchen utensils and other items that migrants will need when settling into homes of their own. The mission of Catherine’s Caring Cause is to provide support, resources and empowerment to migrants seeking a better life. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

A little more than six months ago, Luz, a Venezuelan migrant, was staying in a shelter with her son, Jose, trying to figure out her next steps.

Now Luz and Jose, 10, are sharing an apartment with her sister and brother-in-law and their 5-year-old son, Thiago. Luz recently received a work permit and is employed in a restaurant; both boys are in school.

The family is being supported by Catherine’s Caring Cause, a non-profit created by the Chicago Mercy Justice Committee, a group of Mercy sisters and associates. The organization is working to help migrant families by finding apartments, paying the first several months’ rent and utilities and assisting them with legal services, employment, enrolling children in school and the myriad other things that must be taken care of to start building a new life.

The organization is named after Mother Catherine McAuley, founder of the Mercy Sisters.

Carol Conway, a Mercy associate and board member of Catherine’s Caring Cause, is the mentor who works with Luz and her family, who have already taken over their own utility costs as the adults have been able to find work.

Luz said and her family is extremely grateful for the help of Catherine’s Caring Cause and Conway especially.

“She’s a wonderful person who has done so much for us,” Luz said in Spanish. “We wouldn’t have gotten where we are without them. I have a work permit, an immigration lawyer.”

Catherine’s Caring Cause began in October 2022 when Mercy Sisters JoAnn Persch and Pat Murphy, longtime advocates for immigration reform and on-the-ground ministers to migrants, were approached with a request to help a mother from Sierra Leone with five children.

The sisters brought the case to the justice committee, and several members pledged monthly financial support or swung into action, looking for resources to help them get situated.

Less than a year and a half later, Catherine’s Caring Cause is working with 10 families totaling 23 children and 13 adults. The plan is to keep the caseload at 10 families, Conway said, so that when a family reaches the point where it can support itself financially, it will be replaced by another family.

So far, most of the families have come from Venezuela and applied for asylum when they crossed the U.S. border in Texas. The family from Sierra Leone traveled across the Atlantic Ocean in a boat, and, like the Venezuelan migrants, made their way largely on foot from South America.

Most are among the more than 36,000 migrants who have been sent north by bus and airplane by Texas authorities with no real understanding of where they were going or the challenges they would face, Conway said.

“They come with the clothes on their backs and sandals on their feet,” she said. “They have no idea of the cold.”

At the moment, there are nine families in apartments and two waiting for apartments, Conway said. Finding apartments has been a challenge.

“We have someone who spends a lot of time looking for apartments,” she said, adding that many landlords do not want to rent to migrant families.

The group has a storage room with clothing and household items, she said, and helps find legal representation to help migrants file their paperwork properly and apply for permission to work legally.

While the general plan is for Catherine’s Caring Cause to pay full rent and utilities for six months, then half the rent and utilities for the next six months, organizers have found that it is not always that easy, especially when unexpected problems crop up, including medical and dental issues, Conway said.

Rent is the organization’s largest expense, making up nearly 2/3 of the $280,000 budget. Utilities and food make up more than 40%.

The biggest needs Catherine’s Caring Cause has is for volunteer mentors and for monetary support, Conway said. There is no need for more clothing or furniture at the moment.

Volunteers are also applying for grants and seeking financial support wherever they can find it.

Conway was especially grateful to St. Michael Parish in Orland Park, which took up a special Lenten collection for Catherine’s Caring Cause.

In a bulletin article announcing the collection, Father Frank Kurucz reminded parishioners that charity to others transcends politics.

“I understand that the current migrant situation may stir up strong reactions,” he wrote. “I am not making a political statement — those statements are the responsibility of our elected leaders. I am offering an opportunity for us to help the stranger. While this may not do much to provide a solution, we can help to reduce some suffering.”

Conway acknowledged that much more needs to be done, but said that every small action helps.

“This isn’t even a drop in the bucket,” she said. “It’s a drop in the ocean. But it lets me sleep at night.”

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