Sister Norma Pimentel, M.J., told ACE teachers and the Latino Enrollment Institute on Tuesday night that they must always be on the lookout for those on the margins.
“The border is all around us,” Pimentel said, reminding teachers that people are left out and forgotten all around them, including some of the children they see each day in their classrooms.
Pimentel, the executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, spoke to ACE teachers and the LEI after spending the day on campus. She won the 2018 Laetare Award from Notre Dame for her work with immigrants and refugees on the Rio Grande border.
The format of Tuesday night’s program was a conversation between Pimentel and John Schoenig, ACE’s senior director of teacher formation and education policy. Teachers could submit questions for Schoenig to ask Pimentel and ask questions following the conversation.
John McCarthy (ACE 27, Corpus Christi) asked Pimentel about finding rejuvenation in the midst of service. Pimentel was quick to reply, “The people fill my cup.” She described working with a child named Ángel, who was waiting to be able to enter the United States. Ángel saw others who were able to enter the country and would repeatedly ask Pimentel, “¿Yo cuándo?” because he wanted to know when it would be his turn. When Ángel learned that he was able to enter the U.S., Pimentel said his face lit up with joy.
Pimentel’s message that “the people fill my cup” resonated with ACE teachers, and in particular with some members of ACE 27, who spent the past year serving Catholic school students across the country. Tait McGlinn (ACE 27, New York) said he experienced similar feelings of excitement and rejuvenation in working with his students at All Hallows in the Bronx. “I love it when I see a student’s face light up in my classroom,” McGlinn said. “It doesn’t happen all the time, but when it does it’s so rewarding.”
In addition to finding energy in the people she works with, Pimentel also stressed the importance of the Eucharist to her ministry. “I cannot do it without the presence of God,” she said. “The Eucharist is nourishment, and I’m able to do my work because of two things, encountering God in the Eucharist and encountering God in people.”
Ryan Smith, a member of ACE 28 who will teach at Roman Catholic High School in Philadelphia, asked Pimentel for advice on building trust with the students he will serve. Pimentel spoke about the importance of showing students respect and empowering them. “Children can see in your face if you genuinely care about them and respect them,” she said. “You need to show them that you truly care for them in order to build their trust.”
ACE 28 teacher Kristen Haynes, who will teach at the Academy of Our Lady in New Orleans, asked Pimentel about how she ministers to the magnitude of people that she does. Pimentel’s response was simple advice that all ACE teachers can keep in mind for the upcoming year: “Receive each person who comes to you, one person at a time.”