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From Casa Juan Diego to the University of Texas

Artist: Angel Valdez

Gabby was a Catholic Worker at Casa Juan Diego during the past months. She graduated from the University of Houston Downtown this May and will soon begin studies for her master’s degree in social work at the University of Texas.

My philosophy in this world is to maintain hope, in spite of the darkest hours of life.

My parents brought me to the United States when I was 7 years old, and since the program started, I have been a participant in the DACA and DREAMer programs.

During most of my adult life, I realized that I had a big heart for others. I came to know God through the Mormon religion. I left that church when I was eighteen because I was not in agreement with many of its tenets. As a person, I have always fought against injustice and I have never understood why someone treats another human being with contempt.

While I was distancing myself from the church and a religious style of life, I felt an emptiness inside that I could not fill. Then I found a friend who introduced me to the Catholic Church and I discovered a place where I could pray and listen to the Word of God in peace. I appreciated that Catholics portrayed God as a kind person; he did not punish and did not see us as individuals who sinned from the moment we woke up.

Thus, I began my journey to this religious life. I went through RCIA in 2020 and I studied at the University of Houston Downtown in order to become a social worker. A couple of months after my baptism, I started my field placement in the Casa Juan Diego clinic. On January 1, 2022, I decided to live and work at Casa Juan Diego.

The clinic was a sacred place for me. This free clinic put flesh on the concept of hope. I met challenges of real life, since many people came with terrible illnesses, and God gave me the wisdom each morning to adequately translate into Spanish what the doctor said to the patients. I am very surprised and inspired that these doctors took time from their busy schedules in the time of COVID to continue treating the patients and that they could who such empathy, all the while they worked with the life style of the patients to convert them for better health.

There were some cases, like that of Consuelo (not her real name), that left me in awe.

Consuelo came to our clinic one morning, appearing to be about eight months pregnant. As soon as she sat down, she explained to me that what we thought was a pregnancy was a tumor. Consuelo told us that the private hospital told her they could not treat her because she did not have health insurance. The urgent concern led me to invite her to accompany me to Ben Taub Hospital, operated by the county. She was a little confused about why I was taking her to the hospital when she had just left one. I explained that she had to go to Ben Taub in order to apply for an economical medical program of the government.

Artist:  Angel Valdez

Consuelo was a mother of four small children, with an older daughter who was twenty-something years old and a grandmother of four small grandchildren. When we arrived at the hospital, I explained Consuelo’s problem at the reception, where they assured us that she could be treated.

 Consuelo informed me that she could not stay in the hospital because she had no one to pick up her children from school; she had promised them that she would be there. Her youngest daughter was very worried about her mother’s health and where she would be. And so I brought her back. She told me she was afraid to have surgery. Who would take care of her children was the source of her worries, as the thought of “what will happen to the children?” harassed her.

 I told her that we are all afraid, including me, but that we must pray to God that he will strengthen us, because he doesn’t put anything in our lives with which we cannot cope. Our faith will grow and we will allow God to act in our life, since he has promised us that we will never be alone. I told her that I do not pray the rosary very much, but that night I would pray a rosary to ask God that she would receive the discounted health insurance in order to obtain the necessary operation. We arrived back at her house and embraced as we said goodbye.

 Later that night, I was too exhausted to pray; however, I felt that the rosary was my last opportunity for God to hear me. That night I walked to the ground floor to the chapel of Casa Juan Diego and I prayed the rosary. A few days later, Louise mentioned that Consuelo was outside and that they had diagnosed her with stage 4 cancer, that it had spread. However, she did qualify for the discounted medical insurance and she would soon have surgery.

 Without doubt, the majority of those who read my narrative will see a bad outcome, but that night in the chapel of Casa Juan Diego, I know that God as listening to me. Consuelo is waiting to receive the surgery and chemotherapy, even if we do not receive exactly what we wish for.

 Several weeks later, Consuelo returned to her “Ensure,” because she would not eat sold food after the surgery. She was radiant and no longer had the great bulge of tumor in her abdomen, which gave her a surprisingly altered appearance. God operates in mysterious ways, but each morning when we open the doors of Casa Juan Diego the community is there, and I see God in them, no matter how small or how great their problems may be. This place is genuinely remarkable, and it has brought me closer to God.

 In my opinion, Dorothy Day is a modern saint. She spent her life teaching us to love our neighbor and help the poor, and she was right. Serving the poor and loving your neighbor brings you closer to God, but also teaches you about the concerns and worries of others.

 I am grateful to Louise Zwick and Casa Juan Diego. I will always consider this my second home. This place has given me the opportunity to become a better social worker, to face difficulties in real life, to follow freely my moral instinct and pray to God about how to serve the community better.

I am leaving Casa Juan Diego with only three dollars in my pocket. I found a temporary place to live in Austin, where I am studying for my master’s degree in social work with a scholarship. As a daughter of undocumented parents and a DREAMer, this seems impossible, but Casa Juan Diego is a place where unexpected miracles happen.

Perhaps if we pray to Dorothy Day, there will be an immigration reform and the DREAMers will have a path to citizenship one day. But until that day comes, I will keep hope, since I have seen the works of God first-hand. My life has no limits because, with God, everything is possible. And following the wise words of Dorothy Day will bring more love and hope to a world full of anger and war.


Editors’ Note: We sent a small stipend to Gabby in Austin to help her as she begins her studies at UT.


Houston Catholic Worker, Vol. XLII. No. 3, July-September 2022.