SAN BENITO, Texas- La Posada Providencia is saying goodbye to two Sisters who have dedicated a combined 37 years to the serving the immigrants and refugees that have come through its doors.
Sister Margaret Mertens arrived at La Posada in 1995 and served as Program Director until Sister Zita Telkamp took over in 2008.
“It’s very difficult to leave a situation that you’ve been involved with so long, but that’s part of our life,” says Sister Mertens.
During their time they have opened their doors to thousands of immigrants and asylum seekers petitioning for legal refuge in the United States.
“I think this has been one of the most touching experiences, working with people with from all over the word and going through times of difficulty and times of sadness and times of happiness,” says Sister Mertens.
The recount stories that they heard from refugees, some difficult for the average person to imagine.
However, they continued to do their work, never turning away the strangers that came to their facility.
“We have had people from 86 countries, different languages, one time around a table with 10 people and 10 different languages,” says Sister Mertens.
During their time at La Posada, they were proud to have witnessed a mother and her child be reunited on their property after four months of separation.
“In July of 2018, Jodi Goodwin the attorney here in Harlingen was able to reunite a mother who was living in Tennessee who was in an orphanage in detention in California. They were united here in La Posada. This little boy is in his mother’s arms and he would not leave his mother’s sight at all in the three days that they stayed here. So that has really impacted me and will be a memory that I will always cherish,” says Sister Telkamp as she shows the cover of their brochure.
Sister Telkamp thinks of the many refugees that have come to them, with nothing but the clothes on their back, as she packs her things to head to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
“You accumulate a lot of little things. You can only take so much with you.”
She says there are two souvenirs that she will keep with her when she leaves: a wallet made of recycled Hot Cheetos bags and a piece of tinfoil that was used a blanket in a detention center, both given to her by refugees.
“I will treasure these two items. It will always remind me of people coming with nothing but immigration papers in their hand and hope in their heart,” says Sister Telkamp.
Communicating with refugees from different parts of the world may have been challenging, but the Sisters always found a way to make a connection.
Sister Mertens says, “language is not the most important thing, it’s being present and accepting and open to people and they know that without language.”
The Sisters say they are not ready to stop serving.
“That was this part of our life and we’ve had many parts where we’ve moved from place to place,” says Sister Mertens.
They say they will find out what they will do next once they get to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the central location for the Sisters of Divine Providence.