Southwestern Indiana's Catholic Community Newspaper

We Are All The Descendants Of Migrants

By Mary Ann Hughes


In a few days, I will celebrate the 40th anniversary of coming to live here in southern Indiana.

Forty years ago, I was 23 years old and hoping for a better life. My boyfriend at the time, soon to be my husband, drove me down country roads from Bloomington, Ind., in his old crate of a car — and I remember being more than a little apprehensive about what I would find in his hometown.

I’ve heard many stories about how people arrived here. Some came in boats across the ocean, then sailed north up the Mississippi River and east on the Ohio, finally landing at a dock in Henderson, Ky. Others came by bus, or by train; some arrived by airplane.

They brought their faith and a few family treasures – and probably a lot of dreams.

The potato famine caused my grandfather’s family to leave Ireland and head for the heart of Canada. When he was just a young boy, he and his parents, brothers and sisters walked across the border and settled in a small northern Wisconsin town surrounded by fragrant pine trees. Before the onset of the 20th century, he was working at a paper mill there.

My husband’s family comes from Alsace-Lorraine — a place in Europe that couldn’t decide if it was German or French. When they arrived here — like so many others — they tried to establish a new life using a language and a faith connecting them to the Old Country.

Our families all came from somewhere else. We are all the descendants of migrants. That’s what makes us so interesting.

In February 2013, Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, spoke before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Comprehensive Immigration Reform. He said, “The Catholic Church is an immigrant church. More than one-third of Catholics in the United States are of Hispanic origin. The Church in the United States is also made up of more than 58 ethnic groups from throughout the world, including Asia, Africa, the Near East, and Latin America.

“The Church’s work in assisting migrants stems from the belief that every person is created in God’s image,” the archbishop said. “In the Old Testament, God calls upon his people to care for the alien because of their own alien experience: ‘So, you, too, must befriend the alien, for you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt’ (Deut. 10:17-19).”

When we remember the people in our family trees, we seem to have great admiration for their grit and for their resolve in getting to their destinations.

My husband’s mother used to talk with great reverence about her ancestor — a young woman newly-widowed — who sailed with very small children from a port in Europe to build a life here in America.

Years ago, Mother Teresa said, “We will be judged on how we treat the poor. The immigrant. The homeless. The poor are our salvation.”

The gift is to see our grandparents’ faces in the immigrants we meet.