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Postville’s McCauley to receive state justice and equality medal
Sister Mary McCauley, former pastoral administrator for the region that includes St. Bridget’s Catholic Church in Postville, has been selected by the Iowa Commission on the Status of Women to receive the 2009 Christine Wilson Medal for Equality and Justice.
McCauley will receive the honor on Aug. 29 at a special ceremony in the State Historical Building in Des Moines.
In the immediate wake of a May 2008 massive immigration raid at the Agriprocessors meatpacking plant in Postville, many immigrant families took refuge in St. Bridget’s Church. McCauley was instrumental not only in providing for the immediate needs of those seeking sanctuary, but in developing a plan of action to care for the women and children left behind.
Sister McCauley, speaking to The Iowa Independent roughly one month after the raid, said she’s been asked many times how the raid and its aftermath have affected the community and the congregation.
“I’ve thought about it and there are two words that describe it. This has shattered us, and it has strengthened us,” she said. When she opened her mouth to continue, at first no words came. Her eyes filled with tears, and she apologized as she reached into her pocket for a well-worn tissue. Her voice was soft but also resolute when she continued.
“When I say ’shattered,’ I mean that it shattered the families. It shattered the children who were running around and asking, ‘Where is my mother?’ or ‘Where is my father?’ Then there are the poor mothers who are left to care for their children. What is she going to do? How is she going to get back to Mexico? She doesn’t have any money. Should she go back? Should she remain? She is wondering how long her husband is going to be in jail. So, they are shattered, they are afraid, and they are filled with anxiety.
“At the same time, they have found strength and love, and they are giving it to one another. Our St. Bridget’s community and the Postville community and, really, the entire United States community have given strength. When we receive a letter, for example, from Los Angeles, that says that the writer is praying for us, with us, supporting us and concerned about us, then we know that we can go on another day.”
McCauley, along with other staff members at St. Bridget’s, helped organize public vigils, meetings and demonstrations. Although she does not speak Spanish, she became a both a media contact for the women left behind in Postville and a pillar of strength those in need knew would remain sturdy. She helped organize church staff, volunteers and like-minded agencies to provide legal clinics, medical exams, bill payment and many other services that were never highlighted on newscasts or in print.
“We are aware of some of the pain, suffering and injustice that you experienced in your home country and also upon arriving in the United States,” McCauley said to immigrants who gathered at the church for a prayer vigil on the one-year anniversary of the raid. “For any pain, suffering or injustice that we as individuals, our Postville community, our government or any of our citizens may have caused, we ask your forgiveness.”
Due to McCauley’s unfailing belief that an injustice has been served on immigrant families in Postville and elsewhere she has become a positive role model for those who seek comprehensive immigration reform. The stance has also made her, as well as the Catholic Church as a whole, a lightning rod for those who believe otherwise.
The Christine Wilson Medal for Equality and Justice was established by the ICSW in 1982 in honor of the organization’s first chairwoman. During first four years under Wilson’s leadership Iowa passed legislation prohibiting sex discrimination in housing, credit and education as well as legislation that required recognition of the contribution of homemakers in inheritance tax determinations. The state also began funding and licensing child care center, created a process by which women could be considered for gubernatorial appointment, outlined the first progressive rape statute, and developed the Iowa Women’s Hall of Fame. As such, the medal holding her name is given to those individuals whose lives and work have illustrated outstanding dedication and service on behalf of the ideals of equality and justice.
At the same time as McCauley is honored the ICSW will also induct four new women into the Iowa Women’s Hall of Fame. They are Linda K. Kerber of Iowa City, Mary E. Kramer of Clive, Adeline Lavonne McCormick-Ohnemus of Milo and Lyn Stinson of Burlington.