February 27, 2019

AHA Educators Mull the Nature of the Mexican Border Crisis

A group of educators from the Academy of the Holy Angels spent their February vacation at Arizona’s border with Mexico. They worked hand-in-hand with the School Sisters of Notre Dame, AHA’s founders and sponsors, who are trying to help others build better lives. Together, those who made the journey looked squarely at the nature of the border crisis.

“As I met many migrant families at the kitchens and shelters in Nogales, Mexico, I affirmed what I had long suspected about the nature of our border crisis. It is not a crisis caused by caravans of ‘dangerous hombres.’ It is a crisis of desperate men, women, and children who seek better lives, and find still more suffering at our border,” AHA teacher Anna May Thurchak reflected.

“We visited La Roca, a small shelter with meager accommodations for asylum seeking migrants,” Thurchak added. “We were cheerfully greeted by all the people staying there. A small boy, maybe four or five years old, hugged each of us in turn. He was positively thrilled with the stuffed duck we gave him. When we were leaving, I saw him again, still clutching the duck gleefully. He spoke no English, and I speak no Spanish, so I just waved, smiled, and said, ‘Quack, quack!’ He laughed and quacked back. That smiling child’s face is etched in my mind. HE is the crisis at the border. It shames me to know that our country adds to his family’s suffering, rather than mitigating it.”

This Mission Awareness Process journey is part of a series of “MAP” experiences the SSNDs offer so others can learn about their many ministries. Those who visit Douglas, AZ, learn about the people who risk their lives trying to cross the border, the work of people who enforce immigration law, those who assist migrants who are returned to Mexico, and projects within Mexico that offer people viable opportunities to earn a living. One of those projects is a carpentry workshop that was established with the support of the SSND community. The SSNDs who work in Douglas also run a migrant shelter in Aqua Prieta, and teach life and job skills.


The group from AHA prayed at the wall that has separated Agua Prieta, Mexico, from Douglas for several years. Nevertheless, these municipalities hold mutual events, including concerts, at the wall.

The visitors from AHA also participated in a cross planting and a vigil to remember those who have died trying to enter the United States of America.

AHA Campus Minister Maryanne Miloscia described the vigil she and her group attended in Douglas.


“There were about 50 people at the vigil,” she explained. “Each person was given a cross. When it was your turn, you said the name of the person on the cross and everyone would respond, ‘presente.’ You would then go to the back of the line with another cross. The crosses were laid on the sidewalk after the names were read, and it was such a powerful moment to see all the crosses laying on the sidewalk stretching for over two blocks.


“The crosses that touched me the most were the ‘no identificado(a)’ (not identified). It is heartbreaking to think of the many family members who do not have closure as to what happened to their family members. I can’t imagine as a mother not knowing what happened to your child. We learned earlier in the day that, at first, crosses said ‘desconocido’ (unknown) but now have been changed to no identificado, because they are known to God, just not identified. What a beautiful sentiment.”


Sister Bridget Waldorf, an SSND who works at the border, noted, “The name Eduardo Guillan Cortez may not mean a lot to most readers, but for the 22 of us who gathered for a ‘cross planting’ 45 minutes east of Douglas, Arizona, the person who embodied that name was the sole focus of our attention. Cortez, age 33, was a victim of hypothermia which he suffered and died from 11 years ago while trying to cross the Arizona desert, seeking to begin a new life in this country. The cross planting memorializes Cortez at the spot near to where his remains were found in 2007 and gave all present an opportunity to remember him in word and song, pray for his grieving family, and pray for all those who come to the United States in search of a better life.”


AHA religious studies teacher Sarah Allen Raymond observed, “The arts and crafts room as well as the language room at the Benedictine monastery turned family assistance center in Tucson, Arizona, manifested the reality that many families with young children face in making the decision to migrate. The language barrier alone is staggering, with over 60 different indigenous languages being spoken in Mexico alone, yet these families come looking for a chance at a better life.”

Italian language teacher Laura Kraytem added, “During our visit to the border we have seen the face of God in so many people. In the tired, assaulted, hungry, and sick migrants to the many humanitarians from Mexico and the U.S. They are building relationships and working together. We have also seen the face of evil and the face of injustice. I feel privileged to stand in solidarity. I am committed to telling the stories of all I saw and I thank the School Sisters at the border for their work with the migrants and the knowledge and awareness they gave me.”

Founded by the School Sisters of Notre Dame in 1879, the Academy of the Holy Angels is the oldest private girls’ school in Bergen County. While AHA is steeped in Catholic tradition, this prestigious high school serves young women from a broad spectrum of cultural and religious backgrounds. Over time, thousands of women have passed through AHA’s portals. Many go on to study at some of the nation’s best universities, earning high-ranking positions in medicine, government, law, education, public service, business, arts, and athletics. The Academy’s current leaders continue to further the SSND mission to provide each student with the tools she needs to reach the fullness of her potential—spiritually, intellectually, socially, and physically, by offering a first-rate education in a nurturing environment where equal importance is placed on academic excellence, character development, moral integrity, and service to others.