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Most of my ESL students at Cabrini Immigrant Services are Chinese, but every year I seem to have one from somewhere else in the world: Bangladesh, Mexico, Thailand, Ukraine, Brazil, Guatemala.  This fall it was a woman from Haiti, whom I’ll call Marie, to protect her privacy.  There are two parts to her story.

Part I: Marie  trained as a doctor, and worked for several years in Europe.  When her work permit expired, she came to New York, where her mother and sister had immigrated after the earthquake.  But they were living in  an apartment shared by eleven people; there wasn’t even room for Marie to sleep on the floor.  She found temporary accommodations in a shelter run by the Sisters of Charity for “street people.”  There were rigid institutional rules designed to help prostitutes and drug addicts, which left Marie little time to look for an apartment or study English.  She nevertheless radiated a cheerful attitude and an unwavering faith in God, which was apparent to all.  She joined my class with enthusiasm  and contributed a great deal.

Meanwhile, the Chinese ladies found out when my birthday was, and insisted on taking me out for dim sum to celebrate.  They even ordered a cake, an extraordinary cross-cultural gesture, since Chinese people generally don’t eat sweets.  On the appointed day, Marie came up to me before class and said, “I have nothing to give you, but I am going to offer my rosary today for your intentions.”

Part II:  I told this story at the next Ignatian Volunteers meeting, as an illustration of the generosity of the poor.  After the meeting, one of the volunteers, whom I’ll call Cecilia, came up to me and said “I have an extra room in my apartment.”  The social worker at Cabrini arranged a meeting, and Cecilia and Marie hit it off immediately.  Marie moved into Cecilia’s extra room on a month-to-month basis while actively searching for an affordable  permanent apartment that she can share with her mother and sister.  Meanwhile, she is enrolled in a “certified” English course so that she can qualify to take the medical licensing exams, and a friend of Cecilia’s found her a weekend job taking care of a homebound Alzheimer’s patient.  The patient, who was unresponsive, is said to light up when Marie arrives.

Grace upon grace, poured out, filled up, running over.


Barbara Lee has been an Ignatian Volunteer in New York since 2000.  In 2011 the New York region honored her with the Madonna Della Strada award, which honors “lives that reflect the Ignatian values of direct service to the poor, and working and educating for a more just society.”

14 Responses to “Marie”

  1. Nancy Walsh

    Knew the first part…….Love the second part!!!…..So super Barb…..thanks so much for sharing again….Peace Nancy

  2. Kathleen Spreen Christenson

    Loved your posting. I clearly remember you, Barbara from my days with NY IVC.
    Even went with you to Cabrini Immigrant Services as I was looking for for my volunteer site.
    One woman described how she had to protect her children from random spray gunfire at night, yet never missed her classes.
    Wow! How IVC has grown from our meetings with Jeff Chojnacki, SJ at the rectory on 2nd Avenue to today with around 400 volunteers total in US.
    Thank you for your posting and the warm memories of IVC NY.
    Kathleen Spreen Christenson
    IVC San Diego

  3. Camille Devaney

    Great story of how one thing leads to another and almost always starting with one person who cares enough to say, “I care and will try.” The gifts we receive from the poor – seeing the face of God – is priceless even if actual montary value is absent. God Bless.

  4. Mary Frances Moriarty

    What a lovely story! And happy ending all around! The 11 people sleeping on the floor, the Rosary, Cecelia, the part-time job, the English course . . . . . what a story. You just can’t make up accounts like this. The Hand of God is surely at work here.

  5. Arlene Allen

    Beautiful!!! Did Marie pass her test, if she’s taken it yet? You’ll both be in my thoughts and prayers.

  6. Marisa Aguas

    Thank you for sharing this (thank you, Fr. Jim)… I am worrying over something today and have been praying the whole day in my mind and heart (while doing my job) that the Lord will touch the hearts of some people whose hearts seem to have hardened. Reading this story consoled me so much. I do believe that the Lord wants me to trust in Him and He will grant the answer to my prayers in the way that is best for all of us. I do believe that Marie will make it big in New York, that her story may inspire more people!

  7. Noelle Fracyon, Raskob Foundation

    Barbara, stories like this inspire all of us! Thank you for your service, thank you to all of the IVC volunteers and staff. Wow, paying it forward at a whole new level ♥

  8. Maria Procaccino

    Thank you for sharing, Barbara. Truly a story of a faith filled life. You both will be in my prayers.

  9. Louise M Sandberg

    Thanks for sharing, Barbara. I am writing for April’s blog and noticed that I missed yours. You really do what Gregory describes and stand with those you serve, and they with you. I hope I am doing that too. I wrote my story about a “Maria” as well. And my ladies and their families were also saying the rosary. Such a loving world we can have.


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