On August 2, 2019, the Sisters of Divine Providence (CDP), CDP Associates and friends of the community gathered in the Mother of Divine Providence Chapel in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, for the 2019 Ketteler Award for Social Justice ceremony. The award named for Wilhelm Emmanuel von Ketteler (1811-1877), Bishop of Mainz, Germany, and co-founder of the Congregation of the Sisters of Divine Providence is annual. This year’s awardees are Sisters Hilary Hooks, Margaret Mertens, Zita Telkamp, Thérèse Cunningham, and CDP Associate Marlene McClain. These five women were honored for their “faithful dedication to the clients of La Posada Providencia,” according to the Sisters’ website.
“…Today it seems very clear that the social justice issue that’s at the forefront of our concern is the plight of refugees,” said Sister Michele Bisbey, Provincial Director of the CDPs. These women, “in the spirit of Bishop Ketteler, both in their advocacy and with their compassionate presence have opened doors of providential possibilities.”
Sister of Divine Providence Hilary Hooks, director of the shelter beginning with its founding in 1989 up to 1995, shared how the first client, a woman from El Salvador, arrived on December 1, 1989, cold night in South Texas. Sister Hilary said she is proud to have had a part in the history of the shelter, which with the Sisters, Marlene and many staff members over its 30 years have provided service to people in crisis from around the world. “La Posada has grown and helped more people than we could have imagined in our wildest dreams,” exclaimed Sister Hilary.
Sister of Divine Providence Margaret Mertens was the director of the shelter from 1995 to 2008. She recalled the arrival of Sister Thérèse Cunningham in 2005, and telling her that it was not enough to be flexible; she needed to be very flexible! Sister Margaret left South Texas for several years, and then returned to La Posada. She currently serves as the shelter’s Site Coordinator. She said that it takes time to listen to the stories of the arriving immigrants, and realize the suffering they have endured, and the fear that overwhelms them. “When they get off the bus, they are afraid, but they become more relaxed,” once they are welcomed at La Posada.
Sister of Divine Providence Zita Telkamp has been at La Posada since 2008. Sister Zita said she is grateful for the many ways the Divine Providence community supports their work at La Posada. Sister said the first two things staff asks arriving clients, have they eaten today and do they want to take a shower.
Sister of the Holy Spirit and Mary Immaculate Thérèse Cunningham arrived at La Posada in 2005. Sister Janet Folkl, presenting the award to Sister Thérèse, said of her, “Sister Therese has 14 years of service at La Posada, and has been a faithful mentor to families and coordinator of the ESL program.”
“I accept this award on behalf of our immigrant brothers and sisters, who have touched my life, and who have given me the opportunity to serve them. I have learned so much about the culture and about the situations from which they are fleeing. (We) embrace (the clients) in love, we show reverence for who they are, honor their stories, and try to provide them a little education.
Marlene McClain, CDP Associate, explained, “Since 2016, I have spent six months of the year working (at La Posada.) I do what I can to help in any way. I’m a teacher, so I spend a lot of time with Sister Thérèse.”
After her first few shorter visits, she says, “I talked to Sister Zita about staying longer. She said it would be gift to La Posada. She likes that I bring my own bed (a mobile home). I am usually there from the end of October to May.” Marlene said, “Sister Zita has nicknamed me, ‘Jill of all trades.’”
Marlene also talked about the property where La Posada is located. “The grounds at La Posada are beautiful, because of the grants they are able to get. Everyone who comes is very impressed and wants to come back.”
Sister Janet presented Sister Zita with a plaque for display at La Posada. It has a medal of Bishop Ketteler, the social justice bishop of Mainz, Germany, and co-founder of the Congregation of the Sisters of Divine Providence.
The ceremony ended with those in attendance lifting their hands to offer a blessing to the awardees.
The legacy of the Sisters of Divine Providence and these very humble and special women of faith in action is a blessing to La Posada. May this rich legacy serve as a model for continued service to the strangers among us.