Our Friends: The Ochoa Family

By Dave Nimmer, Guest Blogger

The Ochoa Family

The Ochoa Family

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 Ochoa, Sr.

Pedro Ochoa, Sr.

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.”

Sr. Mary Virginia and Sr. Katherine on the day of Sylvia Ochoa's quiñcinera

Sr. Mary Virginia and Sr. Katherine on the day of Sylvia Ochoa’s quiñcinera

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. 

Loving our Failure: Salesian Insight on the virtue of Humility and Abjection

Sr. Mary Virginia Schmidt, VHM

Sr. Mary Virginia Schmidt, VHM

by Sr. Mary Virginia Schmidt, VHM

“[H]ow do we deal with failure that is so much a part of our lives?” – S. Mary Virginia

We are, most of us in the US, infected with the virus of perfectionism – in all areas: business, science, religion… It is the heart of advertising, is it not? So how do we deal with failure that is so much a part of our lives?

St. Francis de Sales, in his lists of little virtues, has one that he calls “love of our own abjection.” It is not one of his more popular virtues, probably because we do not know what it means, especially in a society that values success so much. Basically it means to love our failure and humiliations — our wretchedness. If we pay attention to these, they always teach us something.

St. Francis de Sales, Co-Founder of the Visitation Sisters

St. Francis de Sales, Co-Founder of the Visitation Sisters

“That Humility makes us love our own Abjection”
– Title of Chapter VI of St. Francis de Sales’ “The Devout Life.” 

The Gospel teaches us how to pay attention and be still in order to learn. So to love a failure is a form of humility which acknowledges our littleness and imperfections: our share in the suffering of Christ. We learn our need for mercy.

Actually it is one of my favorite virtues, one that I make frequent use of. It is one that will not make me proud and one that teaches me that I am never removed from God’s mercy.


Pray with the Windows Open

Image from Inspiration Bit

Image from Inspiration Bit

by Sr. Mary Virginia Schmidt, VHM

“Never pray in a room without windows,” Joan Chittister counsels.

“Pray with the windows open,” suggests Mother Theresa. I realize that such advice is because prayer is not just about me.

What does Jesus mean by praying in secret to the Father?

As I look out my window I see the school bus picking up children from the drug house across the street; I hear the squeaking breaks and the early birds making their voices heard.

My dialogues with God always end up as monologues. But if I am quiet, still and silent in front of an open window, I would like to think that I am carried beyond myself into union with ALL; that I touch that energy that created ALL. But what experience is the open window!

On Suffering: Finding Comfort in Community

Visionary, abstract, digital, and fractal art by Jack Haas.

Visionary, abstract, digital, and fractal art by Jack Haas.

by Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde, Visitation Companion

I hurt my eye. After thirty years of wearing contacts, it got dry. It turned red. It really started to ache — so I went in to the eye doctor and she informed me that the surface looked like the equivalent of a “dry, cracked and bleeding hand.” She immediately instructed me to quit wearing my contact lenses, gave me some drops and an antibiotic gel to put in  twice a day. A week later, things were worse. When I returned to the doctor, she told me how glad she was that I had come back. Turns out, it was much more serious than she initially thought: I had a herniated cornea.

For eighteen days, I was in a lot of pain. I mean a lot. My entire eye socket throbbed. I couldn’t bear to have the lights on, window shades open, or be in the sun. I wore dark glasses – I had five different pairs of varying shades to protect my eye and the non-stop headache that accompanied my blurry vision. I cried a lot and craved daily naps and early bedtime hours. I was prescribed a much more potent antibiotic to apply hourly. And I was told to just wait.

How do we conduct ourselves in any kind of prayerful manner when we are physically suffering? (Are we called to be polite patients of injury? Or our authentic “ouchy” selves?) What does our state of mind/ heart/ spirit reveal about us in our most vulnerable states? Where do we put our trust? How do we wield our anger or rage? What do we make of our most wanting selves?

These are some of the questions that have come to me in my reflections on this past month’s experience. My eye is on the mend, but now I’m inviting my heart to catch up with what I’m learning about such physically uncomfortable journeys.

In the Visitation community this past month we have had four of our six sisters endure physical challenges: starting on Easter Sunday, when Sr. Karen slipped on a slice of remaining sidewalk ice and shattered her ankle. Following the spill, and subsequent surgery requiring new pins put into her body, were two planned surgeries that likewise addressed the repair of body parts. Sr. Mary Virginia got a new knee and Sr. Mary Margaret had heart surgery. In the space of these medical procedure navigations there was another slip on some unseasonal sidewalk snow that left Sr. Suzanne with a sprained ankle. (And this doesn’t even count the two brain surgeries that Sr. Mary Frances had last Fall!)

In the midst of all this physical discomfort, I have found radiant spirits. I have witnessed faithful, joyful women with confidence in their recoveries, who have sought solace in a resurrected Christ who carries all of our wounds and helps us trust in transcendence.

While I have been weeping and wining in my process of healing, the sisters have been praying for me. When I believed myself to be possibly forever disabled, or unable to endure another hour of watery eyes, excruciating headache and bright light, the sisters invited me into a space of comfort and alliance with their knowing and faithful community anchored in the Living Jesus. I wasn’t alone.

This kind of comfort, community, is priceless. I invite you today to reflect with me on where you find such alliance in love.

“Following the Spirit:” Discernment Tools for Your Life

Princess small group

How do we hear God’s voice?

by Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde, Visitation Companion

Monday, February 25, 2013, marks our second discernment session of the “Following the Spirit” series at St. Jane House. This evening will focus on how we tune in and hear God’s voice and invitation for our lives. What follows are a few links to resources for discernment that we are offering here for participants and blog readers alike.

These tools include:

Blessings on your journey!