Named one of the "World's 50 Greatest Leaders" by Fortune magazine, Sr. Norma Pimentel will deliver the second Great Minds Dialogue at Seton Hall University on Thursday, February 6 from 12:30-1:45 p.m. in Bethany Hall. This is the second Dialogue in a series which seeks to demonstrate the University's commitment to cultivating great minds by engaging with the great conversations and challenges of our time.
Sr. Norma, who is known by many as the "Mother Teresa of South Texas," is a sister with the Missionaries of Jesus, the executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley and a licensed professional counselor.
She will speak about the ethical dilemmas wrought by the current immigration policies of the United States, placing particular emphasis on the effects of family separation at the U.S.-Mexican border, the lived experience of refugee families, and the challenges of what she sees as the politicization of this vulnerable population.
In the Dialogue, which will be moderated by Associate Dean Elizabeth Halpin of the School of Diplomacy and International Relations, Sr. Norma will draw upon her many years of leadership within the Church as well as her frontline experience of the plight of immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers entering the United States.
Along the Texas/Mexico border, Sister Norma chairs the local Emergency Food and Shelter Program that distributes federal funds to local agencies providing assistance to the area's poor. She also leads efforts in the community that responds to emergency needs and provides relief in times of disaster and crisis. Before overseeing Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, Sister Norma was one of the leaders who directed Casa Oscar Romero, a refugee shelter in San Benito and later Brownsville for Central Americans fleeing their war-torn countries in the 1980s. She was instrumental in organizing community resources to respond to the surge of Central Americans seeking asylum in the United States and setting up Humanitarian Respite Centers in McAllen and Brownsville, Texas in June 2014. The shelter has provided emergency relief and temporary housing for hundreds of thousands of refugees.
Feeling compelled to "do something" about the crisis at the border, in August, 2019 Social Work Professor Widian Nicola traveled to McAllen, Texas with three of her friends to work with Catholic Charities at the U.S.-Mexican border. They volunteered at the Humanitarian Respite Center run by Sr. Norma and Herminia Forshage, chair of the board for Catholic Charities, raising and contributing more than $10,000 to the humanitarian efforts of the Center and helping in the daily operations of the Center.
Nicola, who is a part of the Immigration and Refugee Taskforce at Seton Hall initiated by Dean Peter Shoemaker of the College of Arts and Sciences last year, has talked about wanting to bring her students to experience what she saw on the border.
"Ultimately, there is no substitute for lived experience, and I want our students to be at the frontline in our care for others. Unable yet to arrange our trip to McAllen, Texas I thought we'd bring the best of McAllen to South Orange, and the Great Minds Dialogue Committee led by Provost Boroff made it happen," said Nicola.
"Recognized by Pope Francis for her tireless efforts on behalf of the poor, the refugee and the migrant, under trying circumstances Sr. Norma has consistently found a way to make manifest the healing power of love and kindness along with food and shelter," said Nicola. "She is a testament to the strength and beauty of faith and humanity in action and we joyfully welcome her to Seton Hall."