Sisters of St. Francis, Project Hope adapt through the pandemic

Last year, we celebrated National Catholic Sisters Week in a completely different world. Since then, the ways in which we live, work, worship and congregate have changed. For the Sisters of St. Francis of Tiffin, Ohio, with the difficulties of the past year also comes the opportunity to learn and grow.

The Sisters of St. Francis partner with CLINIC in two important ways. They are partnering with CLINIC’s Religious Immigration Services, or RIS, to obtain an R-1 visa for a sister who currently resides in Mexico.

Sister Ellen Lamberjack — a Department of Justice partially accredited representative and director of CLINIC affiliate Project Hope — has been able to educate the Sisters of St. Francis leadership team as they work with RIS staff, who bring their own expertise in religious immigration to the table.

Project Hope, located in Archbold, Ohio, was founded in 2006 by Sister Ellen, in response to the need for immigration legal services in the area. 15 years later, she and her team have served immigrants from 42 different countries, including: Mexico; Uganda; Panama and Vietnam.

The need for Project Hope’s services continues to grow. What began with four to seven counties in northwest Ohio has now expanded to include clients from other regions of Ohio, Michigan and Indiana.

Taking the pandemic’s challenges in stride, the Project Hope team began to leverage technology to continue their work and better connect with people. For clients who may encounter accessibility issues, Project Hope’s office is open by appointment only with COVID precautions in place. Overwhelmingly, Sister Ellen has found both Project Hope and its clients are willing to do whatever it takes to continue processing cases.

Sister Andrea Inkrott, who also works at Project Hope, converted citizenship classes to an online format. Before the pandemic, the class would meet in-person joined by high school students who connected with and helped those preparing for their citizenship test.

The class continues to meet virtually and provide the integration opportunity for the high school students and citizenship test students. But participants are now afforded the flexibility of online recordings. If someone misses a class, they have an opportunity to catch up before the next lesson.

And for the larger Sisters of St. Francis community, technology has also been instrumental to the past year. “We’ve had a learning curve with technology, but our members have all been eager to stay connected,” said Community Minister, Sister Sara Aldridge.

The importance of community has been one of the biggest takeaways for them. Periodically, over several days, the membership gathers virtually to maintain the same spirit and energy that fuels their ministry.

As the pandemic continues, with its end hopefully nearing closer, the Sisters of St. Francis and Project Hope will continue with their newfound methods of connection — carrying the lessons and growth into post-pandemic life.

Follow Religious Immigration Services on Twitter, as they celebrate National Catholic Sisters Week.