Apopka, Florida – Sr. Ann Kendrick may not be able to dunk a basketball, but she still did it on the Magic Vision screen at center court at Amway Arena in Orlando, Florida.
This is because Notre Dame de Namur’s sister was honored as a “Social Justice Game Changer” by the Orlando Magic Association due to her long-standing advocacy for the rights of Florida farm workers.
“The goal is to honor and celebrate so many people in the Orlando community who are fighting for change and dedicating their lives to making Orlando a better place,” said Magic coach Steve Clifford. “It’s just a way to celebrate them, what they stand for and what they do for our community.”
Kendrick was honored on March 24 when the Magic faced off against the Phoenix Suns. Center Court is about 1,300 miles from upstate New York where Kendrick grew up, but it’s also a world away from the fields where farm laborers work in the sun and the Hope CommUnity Center where the sister works. religious.
In her youth, Ann Kendrick was a popular sorority girl who led her life without caring about the world. She was busy with school and teenage activities, but her life changed completely when her eyes were opened to a world outside of her cozy hometown and carefree lifestyle.
“I was an arrogant 16-year-old teenager and thought I was the best there was,” she confessed. “I won the opportunity to be part of an international exchange program. I thought I was going to France. I was all excited.”
It turns out that France was not on the travel agenda. The students visited Guatemala, a place without the museums, art and charming sites that the young girl expected to be part of her educational experience.
Instead, the Central American destination had the poor, who barely lived without clean water, food, or a roof over their heads.
“I didn’t know the poor. I didn’t know the poverty. I didn’t know the oppression. People lived in horrible conditions,” she told the Florida Catholic, newspaper for the Diocese of Orlando. “It was a cultural awareness. I came home and didn’t become a girl of the world again. It’s amazing what God is doing for you.”
God has been working in Kendrick’s life since his life-changing experience. This year, she is celebrating her 55th birthday as a sister of Notre-Dame de Namur, and she marks 50 years of ministry in the service of poor and immigrant communities in central Florida.
“I have been blessed,” Kendrick said of her life’s work. “These are the good, noble and holy people of God.”
Back from Guatemala, Kendrick transformed. After graduating from high school, she moved from Syracuse to New York, where she grew up and attended a Catholic college for women: Trinity Washington University.
It is in the Trinity that the Lord begins to call her to religious life and that she meets the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur. The congregation founded the school in 1897.
Kendrick studied Spanish and psychology, but learned a lot more. “The sisters believed in women,” Sister Kendrick said. “They taught us to be strong women. I was inspired.”
Kendrick, 77, this year was in her twenties when she joined the Sisters of Notre-Dame de Namur to begin her vocation. Founded in 1804 by Saint Julie Billiart, the congregation began as a teaching order for the education of young girls.
Today, the congregation continues to follow in the footsteps of their foundress teaching in parts of the world and of expanding ministry. Religious help street children, AIDS orphans, the homeless, the poor, the abandoned and immigrants.
In 1971, Kendrick’s First Ministry Path suddenly took her from classrooms to a different course. Bishop William D. Borders, the first bishop of the Diocese of Orlando, invited her and her sisters to visit Florida.
They visited the small rural town of Apopka with dirt roads. It had a large population of African Americans, Latinos, and Haitians. They saw the farms, groves and small businesses in the area. They visited migrant labor camps with wooden barracks, where the workers lived.
Borders presented the idea of starting a migrant apostolate in Florida. The sisters were addicted.
“We told the bishop we were going to come and start something,” Kendrick recalls. “We told him we didn’t want a job description. We said we had to talk to people and find out what they needed and what they wanted.”
With broad community support, grants, and help from the Diocese of Orlando, a much needed farm laborer health clinic was established in 1973 to meet basic medical needs. Then came other projects, in which the sisters participated, keeping them busy and the ministry alive.
For example, the Office for Farmworker Ministry provides tutoring, mentoring, family counseling and immigration services. Homes in Partnership makes affordable housing possible. Community Trust Federal Credit Union helps families receive credits and loans. The Farmworkers Association of Florida deals with social, economic and health issues.
One initiative Kendrick said was the happiest is the Hope CommUnity Center, created to empower immigrants and the working poor through education, advocacy and spiritual growth. She highlighted the centre’s service learning program for volunteers.
“The program invites students from all over the country to come and see us, to live with immigrant families, to work in the fields. This is how we learn. This is how minds change, ”she said.
Apopka has grown and developed over the years. Today it is the second largest city in Orange County with nearly 50,000 residents.
Kendrick lived her vocation by sowing seeds of hope and faith in the agricultural fields of central Florida, but also by growing in faith through the people she helped and witnesses to the true Christian life.
People, she says, “are my catechesis”.
“They are beautiful, generous, hospitable and have a beautiful spirit. They honor the earth and love human beings,” she said.
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Reeves is a correspondent for the Florida Catholic, newspaper for the Diocese of Orlando.