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March 14, 2020

Holy Angels Community Considers ‘Who Is My Neighbor?’

 On Awareness Day 2020, the Holy Angels community took time to examine immigration by considering “Who Is My Neighbor?” AHA Director of Mission and Ministry Joan Connelly organized this look at Catholic social teaching. Alumnae, faculty, students, and guests presented a host of workshops that promoted greater understanding of complex immigration issues and the concept of global community.


During the gathering assembly, AHA senior Kayla Pringle noted that welcoming the stranger is a mandate from God that appears in several sacred texts. She added that people are forced to migrate to escape conflict, violence, persecution, and the effects of climate change. She led everyone in a prayer for courage to help others.


Several students presented a skit based on the parable of the Good Samaritan. The students acted out an updated version of the story in which a woman driving in her car is caught in the middle of gang violence. Her car, phone, and money are stolen, and she is injured and stranded in the street. People pass her by, until an immigrant woman sees her and is not afraid to help.


Immigration specialist Emily Bendana, J.D. (AHA ’02) followed with facts and laws regarding immigration. Bendana said she became involved in this specialty because she witnessed a friend who is a Coptic Christian being treated unfairly. She discussed what it takes for immigrants to achieve legal status in the United States of America, outlining the issues of visa overstays, the difficulties faced by those who enter the country without inspection, and the problems of those seeking asylum. She dispelled common myths about undocumented immigrants, and stressed the importance of voting to influence immigration laws.


She urged those present to vote, get educated, and get involved. Some examples she suggested include working as a translator or a pro bono attorney. Bendana expressed her gratitude to recently retired AHA Spanish teacher S. Carole Tabano, SSND, for helping her learn a second language that allows her to connect with her clients.


During the workshops, AHA Librarian Catherine Korvin traced her family’s moves through France and pre-Castro Cuba, prompted by the Holocaust. Korvin lost several relatives, including an uncle killed by infamous Nazi Klaus Barbie.
Korvin discussed how French collaborating officials and Nazi occupying forces kept detailed files on individuals, prohibited Jews from practicing professions and visiting public places, and expelled them from universities. Eventually, they were ordered to wear a yellow star.

She covered the actions of altruistic non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews from extermination by the Nazis. A Christian family in the countryside earned Righteous Among the Nations recognition for saving Jews, including one of Korvin’s uncles. Another of her uncles, a physician, worked for a private hospital and was protected by Catholic nuns. She also spoke of French Catholic priest Fr. Patrick Desbois, who is instrumental in having mass graves identified and marked, and having rabbis pray for hundreds of thousands of Jews who were killed.

The trauma her grandparents, parents, in-laws, aunts, and uncles experienced has been passed down through the generations, said Korvin, who remains acutely aware of all forms of bullying.


Seniors Kaitlyn Guintu and Katherine Gazzini hosted a workshop on climate refugees. Topics included the people of Kiribati, an island nation that is disappearing under rising oceans. Participants in this workshop also discussed people leaving Honduras due to drought linked to climate change. The presenters pointed out that it is virtually impossible for people to gain asylum in the U.S.A. for issues related to climate change.


Sociologist Kelly Glenn (AHA ’13) concluded the day with a discussion of her work with Catholic Charities. Glenn has spent time teaching English to unaccompanied minor migrants, and taught at a middle school in Kosovo. While working with the People on the Move on the Balkan Refugee Trail, Glenn was arrested eight times for delivering onions to migrants, who do without simple items like onions, socks, and undergarments. She collected testimony regarding violence to those migrating through the Balkans, reported incidents, and offered first aid. Glenn urged everyone to learn about other cultures and shrink the barriers that separate us.


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.