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The Immigration Journey of Sr. Bertha L. Montiel STJ

Jul 11, 2014

I was born in Managua, Nicaragua, the second of 5 children. I was about 15 months old when I had my first contact with the United States of America. This happened through my father returning home after spending a year at the University of Florida, Gainsville in a graduate course of Sanitary Engineering. He admired this country and its people and he taught his wife and children to love and admire it too.  I remember that he used to shave early in the morning while listening to Good Morning America and the voice of the United States of America. He wanted his family to learn English and he made sure we studied it at school. We spent many evenings listening to him reading us stories from his English collection while he encouraged us to study hard to be able to read them ourselves. I was 15 years old the first time I came to this country with my mother as a birthday present.

Following my Dad’s footsteps, I studied Civil Engineering at The National University of Nicaragua. After graduating I came to the United States for a short course at the University of Missouri. But it was 5 years later that I came for a longer stay in San Antonio, Texas. After 6 years in this career, I discovered that the Lord Jesus was calling me to follow him in the Religious life. So I was admitted in the Society of Saint Teresa of Jesus and came to the Novitiate. It was March 1979 and a revolution was going on in Nicaragua.

My father was a public servant and he was subject to threats and abuse by the new Sandinist government officials. So when he came with my mother to attend the ceremony of my reception of the religious habit, I convinced them to file for asylum because their lives were in danger and they could not stand the situation in Nicaragua any more. In the following years, the rest of my family migrated to this country.

After finishing my formation at the Novitiate and making my first vows, I was sent back to Nicaragua.  For 27 years, my mission developed in different schools and pastoral projects in Nicaragua and Costa Rica. I used to come to the United States every year or two to visit my parents.

In the year 2001, my father suffered an aneurysm rupture and had to undergo two surgeries and several months of rehabilitation, so I stayed a little longer to help my mother to take care of him. When his condition improved, I went back to Nicaragua.

In November 2007, my mother was diagnosed with lung cancer and was no longer able to take care of my father, who had developed Parkinson’s disease and had a bad fall, breaking two cervical vertebrae.

I asked my Congregation to allow me to come to the United States to help the Sisters of the Teresian community of Miami and help my family in the care of my parents. The response was positive. I was granted an R1 visa and became a member of the Teresian Community of Miami, Florida.

In December 2006, my mother filed a petition for Residence on my behalf. This was approved in 2008 but was never made available during her life. She passed away on December 14, 2010.

In 2011, I came in contact with CLINIC when my R1 visa was about to expire. The CLINIC attorney was a big help and brought me peace of mind when my visa was renewed for two more years.

The Society of Saint Teresa of Jesus has been taking pastoral care of the former alumni of the schools of Cuba and Nicaragua that are located mainly in Miami. Many of my former students of Nicaragua migrated to the United States after the Sandinist revolution. So I was given the mission to help in the formation of the Nicaraguan group. The girls that came as adolescents are now adults raising Christian families and contributing to the American society. I am blessed to be given the opportunity to witness that the seed that was planted 20 to 30 years ago in Nicaragua is growing in new Nicaraguan-American families.

The support of the Teresian community and the help of CLINIC have been crucial. After 5 years, the Society of Saint Teresa of Jesus requested that I be granted a resident status to be able to continue my mission in Florida. Nicole Bonjean of CLINIC took my case and has been a great help. Right now we are in the final stage of the process. I have already received my Employment Authorization Card and will soon receive my Residence Card. I am thankful for the excellent work that CLINIC is developing to help religious Sisters like me to process all the documentation required by USCIS while we dedicate ourselves in full to the mission.

The ways of the Lord are mysterious. It took a violent revolution for my parents to leave their country and come to live in the country that they admired since they were a young couple starting their family in Nicaragua. After 35 years this family has also grown with 9 grandchildren and 6 great grandchildren born in this country. We have received from God the gift of life and faith that we are sharing in this, our new home. Once again, it has been in a mysterious way, through the painful situation of the diseases of my aging parents and the death of my mother, that the Lord has called me back to the United States. He has given me a new mission, a new family and a new country.