Sr. Judy Dohner currently serves as a case manager at Guadalupe Social Services in Immokalee, Florida where she works with all who need assistance, but especially the Haitian population. She acts as a translator and helps with rent, utility, and food assistance. After serving in Haiti for 17 years, she wanted to use her knowledge of the language and culture to help immigrants wherever God needed her to be.
“My whole life has been graced just following Jesus,” Sr. Judy said. “I worked as a nurse in community hospitals for the first half of my life. In my 25th year, I went on sabbatical and during the sabbatical I made a 30-day retreat. I had always, in my whole religious life, been unsettled by the comfort level that I lived; it wasn’t the way I read the Gospel. So, I made the 30-day retreat, and on that retreat, Jesus said to me, ‘when are you really going to follow me?’ because he knew that I could not just be in institutions; I couldn’t keep saying ‘where are the poor?’”
That 30-day retreat experience put her on the path that eventually led her to Haiti and kept that question—"where are the poor?”—in her mind along the way.
When she finished her sabbatical year, a Leadership Council of Women Religious (LCWR) migrant health project out of Washington, D.C. found her making her way to Immokalee for the first time.
“I traveled with the migrants,” said Sr. Judy of her experience. “You didn’t have a place to live. You just went and worked at the migrant clinics and you had to find your own place to live. It was wonderful! Just what the Gospel says!”
When she arrived in Immokalee, she worked in a clinic there for a time before she went back to Washington, D.C. to assist the sister who had overseen the migrant health program.
“Suddenly I’m in DC for two years and I’m seeing the White House and the Lincoln memorial, and then I said ‘where are the poor, Judy? You’re doing it again.’ So, I started going out at night and serving at Dorothy Day Houses—serving the poor on the streets of Washington.”
That became a theme for her wherever she served. When she felt the question “where are the poor” come to her mind, she knew God was telling her it was time to find the next place she could be of service. She ended up in Immokalee again for over a decade before she went to Haiti.
“As soon as I got off the plane [in Haiti] and I saw the poverty and I saw the malnutrition, I said this is my next place. Sr. Ruthmary [Powers] was the major superior at the time, and I went to her and said God wants me to go to Haiti. I was there 17 years, where I ran a hospital twice, ran a clinic, worked with two religious congregations of Haitian women, and ran a clinic in the mountains. It was just wherever God sent me.”
In 2018, she felt that question come to mind again, and she knew it was time to move on. Immokalee, it seemed, was calling her once more.
“God has directed my whole life,” Sr. Judy said. “And I knew I had to come back where I could be of service. Going back to the Villa and being in Ohio when I had the skills and I knew so much about the Haitian culture wasn't where I needed to be. So, we take food out to the elderly [Haitian population in Immokalee], and they just love that I speak Creole and they love that I can talk to them. They want to know where I was in Haiti, and it’s knowing you’re a ministry of presence as well as being of help. That’s what I enjoy most about my ministry—the people I get to serve. I’ve learned more from them than I ever gave, both in Immokalee and Haiti.” sistersofhm #catholicsistersweek #villamariapa