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Sisters of St. Joseph fight against human trafficking

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EDITOR’S NOTE: The following article is by Sisters of St. Joseph Sister Bethany Fitzgerald, chairwoman of the order’s Peace and Social Justice Committee. The Sisters of St. Joseph are hosting a prayer service to end human trafficking Sunday followed by a presentation on “Human Trafficking in the North Country” given by William Hall. Mr. Hall is a federal police officer at Fort Drum and instructor on human trafficking at SUNY Canton’s David Sullivan-St. Lawrence County Law Enforcement Academy. The program will be held at the Sisters of St. Joseph Motherhouse, 1425 Washington St., Watertown, from 2 to 4 p.m. and is free and open to the public.

By SISTER BETHANY FITZGERALD, SSJ

Chair, Peace and Social Justice Committee

of the Sisters of St. Joseph

WATERTOWN - From their foundation in 17th century France, the Sisters of Saint Joseph have dedicated themselves to the spiritual and corporal works of mercy, particularly those which most benefit the dear neighbor.

As early as 1836, filled with zeal for mission, six Sisters of Saint Joseph traveled from France to St. Louis, Missouri, with the hope of responding to needs there. Soon the sisters opened a school for the daughters of freed slaves and a school for deaf children.

In the winter of 1880, the first three Sisters of Saint Joseph arrived in Watertown and soon after, Mother Margaret Lacy was giving shape to this new foundation in the Diocese of Ogdensburg.

Within a month, a school was established; the sisters who had come there to teach school lost no time in getting the first Catholic school in Watertown started. Their ability to attract a significant number of pupils in the middle of the school year on such short notice testifies to the need felt by Catholic families for the appropriate education of their children.

Throughout the years as other needs have emerged, the sisters have consistently and prayerfully tried to discern how they could meet the needs of their day in creative and courageous ways.

Impelled by their mission of unity and reconciliation, the sisters minister in all levels of education, in various human services, and in diverse forms of spiritual and pastoral ministry.

Today, the growing awareness of human trafficking turns the eyes and hearts of the Sisters of Saint Joseph to look for ways to address and respond to this present-day slavery.

Today over 6000 Sisters of St. Joseph in the United States along with many other religious communities of women and men around the world are engaged in raising consciousness through education of this modern day slavery.

They are collaborating with other Church groups as well as agencies, including, law enforcement, border patrol, social services, medical professionals in an effort to find ways to eradicate this form of inhumanity to humanity.

During this past year a regional North Country Task Force on Human Trafficking has been formed to find ways to work together on this issue. Two SSJ Lay Associates participate as individuals on the Force.

For several years the Peace and Social Justice Committee of the Watertown Sisters of St. Joseph has been working on this issue. During the past year and half the members have teamed up with the Watertown Flower Memorial Library to provide educational programs on this issue.

Recently the Committee published a brochure and a two page information sheet on human trafficking that include some actions one can take to help to recognize the signs of someone caught in the web of slavery.

These materials along with a list of media resources available in the Watertown Library are part of an educational display in the foyer of the City Library as well as in other participating libraries, namely, Potsdam, Canton, Waddington, Gouverneur, Carthage, Alexandra Bay, Port Leyden, Clayton and Colton.

Two showing of the film “Not My Life” were held in the Library this month. The film is now available for loan through North Country Library System.

On Sunday the Sisters are hosting a prayer service to end human trafficking followed by a presentation on “Human Trafficking in the North Country” given by William Hall. He is a federal police officer at Fort Drum and instructor on human trafficking at the David Sullivan-St. Lawrence Law Enforcement Academy at SUNY Canton.

The program will be held at the Sisters of St. Joseph Motherhouse from 2 to 4 p.m., is free and open to all.

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