Planting seeds of hope for farmworkers
At last year’s May 1 march in support of immigrants’ rights in Orlando, Florida, a group of undocumented workers, recently arrived from Oaxaca, Mexico, approached Sister Ann Kendrick. Each held a couple of crumpled dollar bills in his hands, and in Spanish they offered their thanks to Kendrick and gave their few dollars for her ministry.
Kendrick, cofounder of the Office for Farmworker Ministry in Apopka, Florida, recalls it as one of the times she has realized that all her years of formal theological education can never compare to the knowledge of God she has gained by being part of this community of impoverished migrants. “They have evangelized me,” she says. “They have to trust in God’s bounty because they have nothing else.”
Kendrick’s path to ministry in the farmworker community was part chance and part providence. She was a sophomore in college when the Second Vatican Council was turning Catholicism upside down, and she struggled with all the big questions of God, justice, and her experience of the sacred in the world. She was impressed by the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, the founders of Trinity University in Washington, where she majored in Spanish. “They inspired us to be leaders in the world,” she says. Consequently she answered a call to a vocation in the congregation.
Kendrick was teaching Latin American literature at the University of Maryland when she decided to make a career change, going to Spanish Harlem in New York. Then she got notice from her provincial that Bishop William Borders of Orlando was looking for a few good sisters to come and start a program for immigrants.
She didn’t want to go south, but the photos and stories haunted her, and in 1971 she went with three other sisters. A local man told her shortly after she arrived: “Once you get this sand in your shoes, you ain’t never gonna leave it.” He was right.
“In my 20s I had an arrogant notion that I could create radical change that would make everything better,” she says. But years on the job have taught her humility and patience.
Through Kendrick’s office, the diocese offers adult education classes in English, tutoring for children, health care, spiritual and sacramental services, parenting classes, counseling, financial services, and housing assistance.
Kendrick is proud that through her ministry immigrants have raised their voices. In community meetings and in marches, they are starting to be heard. “Just that they can stand up and say their names is an incredible moment for them. That energy is priceless. That is a sacred moment, and it’s worth my life to protect it.”—Excerpted from U.S. Catholic magazine