By: Katie Sobiech
Sister Catherine’s work isn’t just in Akron, but stretches as far as the plantations of El Salvador and its mountain villages. It was there in El Salvador, where Sister Catherine stayed among the poorest of the poor, that she was deeply moved to do something about this issue of poverty when she came back to the states.
The people’s “homes” in one particular village were furnished with only altars and incense.
“When you walked into the houses there was an altar with flowers, incense, candles, images of Jesus, the Saints and the Bible. In some houses that is all that they had. That was it,” she said.
Some, if lucky, had beds made of slabs of wood.
“None of them had a mattress. They had to put cardboard down and a piece of something to cover it up.”
This touched the heart of Sister Catherine, deeply moving her to do something about poverty. Before leaving, she and her group put all of their money together and supplied mattresses for every home.
“It was a small thing, but a big thing,” she said, wearing a dress embroidered with Spanish flowers, signifying the love in her heart for the country and its people.
Who knew what she gleaned from the culture in El Salvador would follow her back home?
“We have a strong outreach in the Hispanic Community and with the Casa Maria Jose House they get a real nice place to stay at low pay,” Kevin Zaloba, live-in volunteer, said.
Two Hispanic families are currently renting one of their homes.
After working in El Salvador for 6 ½ years Sister Catherine speaks fluent Spanish. She uses those skills to help other Spanish-speaking people that are having a hard time transitioning into American life.
“We provide the basics for those who speak foreign languages,” she said, “We have tutoring, English as a second language, and participate in Project Rise, who uses the basement of our house.”
One of the boys came to the program not knowing one word in English. He is now going into his second year of school.
“We also do interpreting for the parents – any kind that needs to be done. Filling out papers, dealing with discipline problems and things like that. We are the official representative for the Hispanic community at the school,” Sister Catherine explained.
Odds and Ends
They also provide legal aid and help individuals get their drivers license, a job, car and/or their own apartment; basically anything that they need to survive.
“It’s a lot of personal, one on one counseling, encouraging, motivating, chastising and being a friend,” Zaloba added.
“I think it is to re-establish the self esteem and the best way to do that is to be a friend to the person. To walk with the person,” Sister Catherine said.
Connecting with the Community
“One of our commitments was that we would make as many connections as possible,” Sister Catherine said.
They have made connections with many churches including Saint Hillary’s, Holy Family, Immaculate Heart of Mary, Saint Paul’s and Sacred Heart.
They have also worked with Saint Vincent DePaul and C.O.R.E.
“I was one of the founding members of C.O.R.E.,” Sister Catherine shared, “Now we get the furniture and things the people need through C.O.R.E. We do home visits, paperwork and accompany them there.”
They also work with OPEN M and the Interval Brotherhood Home, taking in men coming out of addictions that have left them homeless.
“One of the greatest beauties of just our presence here and involvement with these different groups that want to get involved with us is that we can help them in the beginning stages and watch it take off and blossom on its own,” Zaloba said.
One example is of the Friday evening homeless visitation all over the city.
“It started in a corner and became a full blown ministry,” Sister Catherine said.
“When the Holy Spirit is there it is going to blossom,” Zaloba continued.
Matthew Chapter 9 teaches us that the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few, which is proven to be true in this situation.
The Matthew 25 house, which for 8 years housed up to 20 men, no longer does due to the fact that they can barely staff it. That leaves 20 empty beds that could be filled by some of Akron’s homeless.
The ministry is currently looking for live-in volunteers to watch over the homes. In the meantime, it is being used to house two low income families.
“The volunteer has to be someone who can work with the people and have a lot of patience and be able to intervene and be a part of their lives,” Sister Catherine explained, “These people need to get the support that they need in order to make the decisions that they need to make in order to move on.”