For the month of March (also known as Irish American Heritage Month) IrishCentral is tapping into the heartbeat of the Irish American community. The Unsung Heroes series features inspiring individuals from across the US who do extraordinary work in their communities and respective fields. From advocates to artists, from local legends to dedicated educators; from a high school baseball team to dynamo nuns in their 80s, these people are making a difference and to them we tip our hats in thanks.
Sister Pat Murphy and her fellow nun Sister JoAnn Persch have given a voice to the voiceless through their ministry, offering emotional and spiritual support for their “brothers and sisters” in the Chicago community, for over 45 years.
Although Murphy is now 84 years old she continues to be an activist and inspiration for those in her community.
Murphy and Persch, both Sisters of Mercy, have focused their careers on the rights and needs of immigrants, refugees, older persons, and families who are homeless. The 2012 documentary “Band of Sisters” highlighted their battle to get a bill passed through the Illinois legislature that would ensure pastoral care for immigrant detainees.
Since 2007 the sisters have been visiting prisoners at McHenry County Jail and at the Broadview Service Processing Center, the last stop for detained immigrants in the Chicago area before deportation.
During a 2012 Detention Watch interview the sisters explained why they visit immigration deportees in prison. They explained the brutal way in which many are ripped from their home, their children left with no one to watch over them, or how they are arrested unexpectedly and without their loved ones being informed.
Murphy said “This critical concern about immigration and the fact that they are my sisters and brothers, that’s what drives me.”
She spoke of sitting before detainees who cry during their entire visit, telling their story of how they came to be captured by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
The sister is outraged by how undocumented immigrants are treated and moves around from holding facility to holding facility. She said “How can we do that? To scores of people? Who do we think we are?”
While admin at these facilities may fail to contact the families of the detainees, the sisters found that they can easily be granted admission to the prisons to sit, hear their stories and listen to what they need. In fact they’ve managed to gain admission to such high-security areas some have said they are a miracle.
Although Murphy is 84 years old the sisters feel their ministry is one of presence and they continue to be driven by the voiceless people they represent.
Murphy put their methods succinctly when she was recently speaking to a group of law and theology students. She said “We do things peacefully and respectfully but we never take no for an answer.”
Read more about out Unsung Heroes here
Here’s the full audio of the interview uploaded by Detention Watch on why Sister Pat Murphy and Sister JoAnn Persch visit detainees:
Sister Pat Murphy and Sister JoAnn Persch share their story with Emory School of Law students:
Read about yesterday's Unsung Hero, genealogical detective Megan Smolenyak, here.
* Originally published in 2014.