By Dave Nimmer, Guest Blogger
When Maria and Pedro Ochoa came to Minneapolis in September, 1994 – having fled the turmoil, unrest and violence in their native Guatemala – they were seeking a better life for themselves and their family.
Since then, they’ve learned English, found a job, got an education, secured a driver’s license, bought a house and, oh yes, raised four children. One of them has a bachelor’s degree from St. Catherine’s, one is enrolled at the University of Minnesota and two are attending Benilde-St. Margaret’s High School, with plans to go to college.
“The Ochoa’s are people of integrity and goodness and faith. They are bringing up their children with values. They are the kind of people we want in the United States.” –S. Mary Virginia speaking to the Ochoa immigration attorney
That’s not bad for a family the U.S. government was seeking to deport in 2007 (Pedro, Maria and the oldest daughter, Marilyn). Not only did they not get deported, they became U.S. citizens, thanks to their dogged persistence and perseverance and a little help from the Visitation Sisters.
The family first met the Sisters at Ascension Church in 2003 and they sponsored the Ochoa girls to the Catholic Youth Camp on Big Sandy Lake near McGregor, MN. Marilyn recalls they had a fine time and tried to repay the Sisters by doing chores around their house.
Pedro Jr., 14, remembers getting gifts from the Sisters, including Halloween costumes, swim togs and school supplies. “I think I always got my school supplies from the Sisters,” he says. “I don’t think we ever bought ‘em.” He’s now a freshman at Benilde-St. Margaret’s and his sister, Andrea, is a senior there, with plans to become a pediatrician.
Another daughter, Silvia, 20, is attending the University of Minnesota, majoring in economics. Marilyn, 24, has an undergraduate degree in theology and chemistry from St. Catherine’s University and now works at North Point Clinic. She’s planning to attend the University of Minnesota and enroll in the School of Pharmacy.
Pedro Sr. works for a medical company, Mar Cor, that makes filtration and purification systems, some of which are used in portable dialysis machines. For Pedro, this is the job he’s wanted after years of working for firms where he waxed floors, cleaned buildings and catered meals.
“I like the company,” he says, “because when you’re in the medical field there’s always business and customers. And you are helping sick people. I’ve been to a clinic to see those we are helping with our dialysis machines. I always try to do my best.”
Doing his best didn’t stop U.S. immigration authorities from starting deportation proceedings, contending the Ochoa’s no longer needed asylum in the U.S. and had no green cards.
The family hired a lawyer to make their case: They were working, paying taxes, obeying the laws, raising good children, being helpful neighbors and honoring their new country. The lawyer cost money and so would someone to translate Spanish documents into English and vice versa. Enter Sister Mary Virginia Schmidt.
“She speaks and understands Spanish really good,” Ochoa says. “When we were threatened with deportation, she was right there by our side. All our documents had to be translated and that would have cost us a fortune. Sister Mary Virginia did that for nothing.”
She says the pleasure was hers.
“Their lawyer asked me why I was doing this,” says Schmidt. “I replied that the Ochoa’s are people of integrity and goodness and faith. They are bringing up their children with values. They are the kind of people we want in the United States.
“When they (authorities) dropped the deportation orders, Pedro and Maria took me to lunch and we celebrated. The day they became U.S. citizens, I wasn’t there. But we (the Sisters) celebrated with them later.”
Schmidt says the family continues to be involved with the monastery. “Whatever the event, they are here. They help us in our monastery and show up for everything, including the Halloween costume giveaway.”
The Ochoa’s have lived on the Northside for 15years, well aware of the crime that sometimes plagues the neighborhood (Pedro’s car windshield has been smashed a half-dozen times). But they have no plans to leave.
“The transportation is good (bus). We have some fine neighbors,” says Ochoa. “And we’re following the advice we got from the Sisters: It doesn’t matter where you live. It’s how you live that matters.”
His family is the living proof.
* This is the ninth in a series of profiles by journalist Dave Nimmer featuring Visitation Companions and northside neighbors. We hope you enjoy these stories of our dear friends -- as they reflect the blessed community that surrounds the monastery and sustains us in our ministry of mutuality. LIVE + JESUS!