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Dominican Life | USA
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Blauvelt Dominicans
Sisters help political refugee build new life in U.S.

From left: Sr. Dorothy Hall, Sr. Barbara Werner, Elsa,
Sr. Theresa Lardner, Sr. Kathy O'Hanlon

In November 1999, Elsa, age 35, found herself at the Holiday Inn in Orangeburg, New York. For most people, a night at the Holiday Inn wouldn’t be a shock, but for Elsa, it was the first place of rest after a long voyage from Africa. Her family had paid a man to bring her by boat to the United States as a refugee fleeing the political situation in her homeland.

The man who was responsible for Elsa’s travel brought her to the Holiday Inn, paid for two nights’ stay, then left her there very sick. Knowing only a few words of English, Elsa asked a man who worked at the Holiday Inn where the nearest Catholic Church was. He was able to get her to St. Catharine’s in Blauvelt, where the priest arranged for Catholic Community Services to assist her. Pat Feeley, the Director of Catholic Community Services of Rockland, knew there was a welcoming community of Dominican Sisters of Blauvelt living in Nyack, and took a chance by asking if Elsa could live with them for two weeks while she tried to secure more long-range housing. The sisters said yes, and the two-week temporary housing situation turned into four years of living in community.

Dr. Mary Flood, OP, was one of the first to assist Elsa, as she arrived with a serious ear infection. She arranged for Elsa to have surgery on her ear at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in Manhattan, where she worked. Next, Sr. Barbara Ann Sgro began taking Elsa to English as a Second Language (ESL) classes in the Bronx. At night, Sr. Josephine Raymond would be waiting with a pot of boiling water and pasta to cook for Elsa. She would also tutor her in English every evening. Elsa recalls long leisurely walks on the weekends with Sr. Dorothy Maxwell and continually being teased by Sr. Theresa Rickard. Ginny Flaherty, a friend of Pat Feeley, assisted Elsa with transportation and other needs, especially in regards to immigration.

It took Elsa a year of working with Pat Feeley to receive her political refugee status papers. Then, five years more to get a Green Card. In the meantime, Sr. Joseph Mary helped her to get a job at St. Dominic’s Home, working on-call in the cottages. The sisters she lived with would drive her to work. Knowing that full-time work would be difficult to obtain without being able to drive, they bought her an old car and helped her to get her driver’s license. “I can’t do without them,” Elsa says lovingly. “They sent money to my family. I only want to say thank you to all of the sisters for what they did.”

Now, Elsa continues to work full-time for St. Dominic’s Home and lives in a co-op that she recently bought. And, after 10 years in the United States, she became a citizen on March 5. Elsa continues the Dominican tradition of hospitality and compassion in her ministry at St. Dominic’s Home.