Who is Sister Judy Mannix, RGS?

Recently, Sr. Judy Mannix, a Good Shepherd Sister from New York, was honored by CARECEN (Central American Refugee Center).

If you are Hispanic, and further, hail from El Salvador, you’d probably know of Judy. Also, perhaps, if you were in the Peace Corps and good in math and love playing with words.

Sr. Judy with her mother

Otherwise, you’d ask, “Who did you say you were again, please?” And Judy, with a twinkle in her eye, could say any of these:

I grew up with my parents and two sisters in Brooklyn, NY. My parents loved to welcome people and instilled in us to do the same. As a teenager, I thought of becoming a nun but instead, opted to be a teacher. In 1973, I joined the Peace Corps and went to Malaysia. This was my personal response to the Vietnam War as I saw it unravel on television.

Back in the United States and working as a community organizer in Bridgeport, CT, I was one day introduced by my mother to the Sisters of the Good Shepherd. “Their work for the homeless touched a place in my heart,” I will always remember that. I joined them in 1982.

Around this time, I also became aware of the massive refugee flow from El Salvador to New York. I wanted to serve on their behalf and joined Central American Legal Assistance in Brooklyn even if I did not know a word of Spanish nor was I trained in law. I remember the first time I went to Immigration Court. The Judge didn’t show up. I was angry but the lawyer said that this was actually good. Existing policies led to the denial of nearly 99% of Salvadorans asylum application and so any delay was the best refugees could hope for. I spent 5 years in this ministry.

In 1992, wishing to know more about my clients, I left for a rural village in El Salvador. Conditions were primitive. I had no running water, I washed my clothes in a well and I was in a world light years in style from the US. But the people in El Salvador took me to their hearts. They shared themselves with me from their poverty.

Sr. Judy with the ones she loves

They had so little, and it was humbling to be the recipient of their bounty. A friend who visited me says, “the only thing greater than the poverty of the people was their generosity.”

Upon my return to the United States, I found myself with the Central American refugees on Long Island. The pastor of St. Brigid’s Church in Westbury hired me to minister to the Spanish-speaking community in the parish. There I helped set up a number of innovative programs such as an outreach center in New Cassel where young immigrants could learn English and receive help with their homework. I involved hundreds of parishioners in the work. Many people in Westbury had been afraid to go to New Cassel where the refugees are, but now they visit them in their homes. This gives them an opportunity to know the Spanish community in a different way. I also initiated a program for young parishioners at St. Brigid’s to make a trip to El Salvador each year. These teenagers are truly an inspiration. They listen to the people they visit and are eager to help.

I am now on another leg of my journey, and have recently moved to Connecticut. But I have learned much from my experiences. Most importantly, my story is about being taught to expect miracles and to trust in a God who does the impossible.

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