Sister Graciela Rosas entered religious life in Mexico in 1965 at the age of 16.
“My plans were to get married and have a large family and be a missionary in Africa. I didn’t really choose to become a sister, but God had an initiative and I answered yes,” she said.
She lists the various ministries she has worked in over the last 50 years not as items on a resume but as a series of blessings.
In 1983 she left Mexico and spent 18 years working with immigrants in Texas and Washington State, performing many of the same kinds of services as she does now in Bridgeton: helping immigrants learn English, learn to drive, find jobs, and learn about the culture and laws in the United States; or accompanying them to doctor’s appointments and to court to serve as an interpreter or simply a prayerful support.
Her work has always included a pastoral dimension, encouraging the people she serves to participate in the church community as lectors, musicians or catechists, and to keep their faith and traditions.
“Working with immigrants has been another blessing for me. It has strengthened my faith living with them, suffering with them, and also enjoying many beautiful moments. When they talk to me and I see their hunger for God, it strengthens my faith,” she said.
She returned to Mexico in 2001 and spent five years teaching in her congregation’s schools until her lifelong dream came true. In 2006 she was sent to Nigeria, finally becoming a missionary in Africa at the age of 57.
“I always knew in my heart that I would get there,” she said.
She spent nearly six years in Africa, returning only when she contracted malaria. Her return brought her to Bridgeton and back to her ministry with U.S. immigrants.
Over the last five years, she has been an outspoken advocate in the parish and community for changes to immigration law and a path to citizenship for undocumented people. She has led vigils and novenas in front of congressmen’s offices and met with representatives, always bringing with her families who could share personal stories of suffering.
Recently, she has led the parish’s effort to push for legislation in New Jersey that would grant driver’s licenses to people who cannot prove legal status. Last March, she organized a town hall with Bridgeton officials at the parish that was attended by 500 members of the community to support the legislation.
“I see how they suffer,” she said of the immigrant families she works with. “I always try to be there for them because I have learned a lot about how to help better the situation of immigrants, who are a blessing for me, for this parish, for this diocese and for this nation. They are hard workers, people of faith, who need to live in a better situation.”
After 50 years, Sister Graciela says her vocation has brought her joy.
“It’s a very simple life and it’s a very blessed way to live. I am surrounded by only the goodness of God.”
Her message for those who wish to attain the same happiness is a simple one.
“Service with love will give you happiness,” she says. “It’s a blessing to have the opportunity to serve any person, but especially the lowest in our society. I have learned that happiness comes from service with love.”
Sister Graciela Rosas will be honored by Catholic Charities with its Justice in Action award on Sept. 17.