by Jim Haggerty
Hope grows stronger in me when I reflect on simple things such as a family letter, a history book, an immigration form, and a tin whistle.
When I entered the Jesuits in 1961, my father wrote me the first of many letters saying he was very happy and proud of my joining the Company of Jesus. Good letters for my father were treasures not to be read and thrown away, but to be passed on. When my aunt and uncle were sick and I wondered what to do, my father said it was very simple. Write them a letter telling how grateful I am for all they have done for me and how their courage in sickness is an example for all of us.
In another letter my father wondered, once I finished my formation studies, what specific work I’d follow. I wondered too.
While pursuing college studies in the 1960s, I grew to love history. A good friend and fellow history lover handed me the book Strangers in the Land by John Higham. I picked that same book off my shelf two weeks ago, and it is as relevant and inspiring as it was in my youth. Stories of immigrants reminded me of my own ancestors and how they would never have been admitted to the USA under today’s laws. I remembered how much I owed them. This led me to a major in history with a focus on immigration. I also became friends with many immigrants in various pastoral ministry situations.
At one point, I began an internship at the office of Migration and Refugee Services of the Catholic Church. This work involved filling out numerous immigration forms for individuals and families. Little did I realize how such a simple thing could lead to amazing results. Through this work, I met many companions working for the Church and other not-for-profit groups. Father Nicholas DiMarzio, later bishop of the Brooklyn diocese, had an idea of starting a new organization, Catholic Legal Immigration Network (CLINIC). It was a new venture and a creative and exciting time. Today the CLINIC network continues to stand by immigrants, serving thousands of immigrants every year.
On Sunday, January 29, 2017, a friend of ours attended the massive rally supporting immigrants and refugees in New York City as thousands of people participated in protests. Volunteer lawyers helped out at the airports. I was amazed when I heard that the New York Immigration Coalition had organized this event. I remember the origin of this organization in the early 1990s, set up by a small number of immigrant advocates. Looking back now, I see that the dedication and passion of a community of individuals doing simple acts of service can open up many new possibilities. But a force of providential nature, God’s gentle touch, is the only real explanation to fully explain the results. Faith, hope and charity are the real building blocks for change.
In retirement I decided to take up the penny whistle, sit on a rocker, escape, and contemplate nature. It didn’t turn out that way. Through music, my wife and I have met new dedicated and passionate friends who play music or work to bring music to our local theatre, library and schools. These friends welcomed our participation. We see the faces of children and adults light up with joy as they share the spiritual gifts of music. The arts, yes, even a humble penny whistle, can open another door to amazement and hope.
May we all continue to discover opening such doors, especially in troubled times.
Jim Haggerty and his wife live in Walton, a small N.Y. rural town in the foothills of the Catskills. They are both retired.Jim worked for the thirty years with Catholic Migration and Refugee Services, United States Catholic Conference and Catholic Legal Immigration Network, CLINIC. He served on the IVC National Board of Directors for two terms.