By Jessica Easthope
Iraima Ramirez’s son Marcell is new to Salve Regina Catholic Academy – and to this country.
Unlike his classmates in seventh grade Marcell doesn’t speak any English and lives in a shelter, he hasn’t had a permanent home in nine months.
“The situation in my country has made it impossible to provide food and necessities for my family or take care of their health on a salary that added up to 15 dollars a month,” Iraima said.
Iraima’s family is one of thousands from Central and South America who have landed in New York City with just the clothes on their backs. They left Venezuela, fleeing poverty and political violence.
“The dictatorship in Venezuela has gotten to a point of lawlessness and so we had to abandon everything we have and risk our lives to find something better,” said Iraima.
When they arrived in Brooklyn, the family’s unbreakable Catholic faith led them to church – where they met Father Ed Mason.
“These people have been literally dumped in our city and dumped in our shelters and to be able to help and serve them at this time has been a blessing,” said Father Mason.
In the last month, Father Mason has raised more than $25,000 to help Iraima’s family and 24 others in his parish, some of whom came on buses from Texas. That includes making sure Marcell’s Catholic education is free of charge.
“Whatever part we can take in that effort, comforting students, being another home for them and showing them the generosity of spirit we’re called to have as Catholics we want to be able to provide that for them,” said Iris Bodre, the director of recruitment and mission development at Salve Regina Catholic Academy.
In the Diocese of Immigrants, superintendent Deacon Kevin McCormack says this is what the mission of Catholic education looks like.
“If someone wants to be a follower of Jesus they have to protect the widow, the orphan and the foreigner, that’s what we do, we have to be with them, whoever comes to our schools, we will find a way to educate them,” he said.
And Iraima says she feels like finally someone has her back.
“They have opened up their hearts and blessed us, I have a roof over my head, I am able to find food for my children and they are able to get an education and also have their faith fed,” she said.
Fr. Mason is helping three more children enroll in Salve Regina Catholic Academy where they’ll participate in the school’s new ESL program and attend tuition free.