Learning how to live in hope

Blog Published: April 19, 2023
By Sister Judith Dohner, HM
Sr. Judith Dohner helps a Haitian immigrant woman with paperwork.
Judith Dohner is a Sister of the Humility of Mary from Villa Maria, Pennsylvania. She has worked with migrants and immigrants for the past 30 years. She returned to the United States in 2018 after ministering in Haiti for 16 years and currently works with Haitian immigrants and refugees in Immokalee, Florida. She has written for Global Sisters Report and the National Catholic Reporter.

I entered my religious community at the time of the Second Vatican Council. Religious life was changing dramatically. I was blessed in the novitiate to have many good role models. So, as religious life focused more and more on ministry, I was grounded in prayer. Annual retreats, especially directed retreats, gave me focus and a personal relationship with God that has only grown deeper over time.

However, I believe it has been the resilience of the people I have been blessed to accompany in ministry that has taught me faith and trust, especially in difficult times. As a nurse in my early ministry, it was working with people experiencing cancer. Then, working in hospice care taught me the value of companionship, trust, and letting go. Later, as I traveled to migrant clinics along the East Coast to provide health care to immigrant farm workers, I learned from them that very little is needed for the journey and that God always provides. Simple trust!

However, it was during the 16 years I spent as a missionary and health care worker in Haiti that I met Jesus every day in the lives of those living in poverty and people who suffer. The Gospel was alive: the good Samaritan, touching the lepers, raising the dead, living the Beatitudes. It was in my face and could not be unseen.

I am back in America now, walking with and offering love and care to new Haitian immigrants. I realize I do not really know any difficulties. I meet Haitians who have walked most of a 7,000-plus-mile journey from South America to find more abundant life in America. I hear stories about death of family members along the way and having to wait months in Mexico while living on the kindness of strangers. And now, in America, many are not able to work, get housing, apply for benefits. Yet they are always hopeful and resilient. And, yes, so grateful to find people and places that are welcoming and helpful.

Their lives are filled with drama and chaos, yet it all seems "normal" to them. I, too, have lived much of my life in drama and chaos. I do not handle it as well as they do. They anchor me because their faith is strong. They do not let fear control their lives. They live in hope. As I share their stories, I gain wisdom and clarity about what really matters. Prayer and quiet reflection on the Gospels also ground me and give direction to my life. God is always with us. As Thomas Merton prayed in Thoughts in Solitude, "I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone."

We’re delighted to share with you this blog from the monthly feature “The Life” courtesy of our friends at Global Sisters Report. This month, The Life panelists reflected on the question: What do you rely on most as your source of support in difficult moments? How do you stay grounded and provide an anchor for others in the midst of chaos? CLICK HERE  to read more blogs from The Life series, GSR’s monthly feature about the unique, challenging, and very specific lives of women religious around the world. 

Image above: Sr. Judith Dohner helps a Haitian immigrant woman with paperwork. (Courtesy of Judith Dohner)


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