I was in a meeting around this time last year when I was hit by a barrage of communications from my staff, all with the same message: There’s a Haitian family in our Fourth Street lobby, and they’re lost. I was a little surprised at the urgency — we work with lots of international families, and it’s not unusual for folks to get confused between our Holy Name location and our St. Anthony location. So I called in for the full story as I drove back to the office, and what a story I heard.
The mother, father and two children in our lobby had fled from Haiti many months earlier. They crossed the Gulf and traveled across Mexico to reach the United States at the border in San Diego. They claimed asylum and were allowed to enter the country. Their ultimate destination was New Orleans, where a family friend waited to welcome them. They took their dwindling funds to the airport, where language difficulties caused a mix-up: instead of buying plane tickets to Louisiana, they bought tickets to Louisville.
When they deplaned here in the Derby City, the family realized they were in the wrong place entirely — with no money left and no place to go. But they had a business card from Catholic Charities of San Diego, and somehow, some way, they used that card to find us.
“Look into bus tickets,” I suggested to our staff, mentally tallying the cost of flying four people from Louisville to New Orleans. But when I walked in the building, I learned a new wrinkle. The employee doing her best to communicate with the father in French had just learned this family of four was very close to five … the mother was pregnant. Nine months pregnant! We certainly could not put a woman who’s nine months pregnant and speaks no English on a 20-hour bus trip across Alabama and Mississippi, nor should she be flying.
Staffers from across Catholic Charities pitched in to develop a plan. Our refugee resettlement team called on a connection at Airbnb to provide a few days of lodging. Meanwhile, language services tracked down an interpreter in Haitian Creole so we could be confident this family would fully understand their options. We offered to take care of them here in Louisville until the baby came, but they were eager to reach their destination. In the end, we rented a comfortable vehicle and a Catholic Charities employee volunteered to drive them to New Orleans — where they are now rebuilding their lives as a family of five.
At Catholic Charities, we strive to share the journey every day, not only with those who are displaced, but with all who are vulnerable, suffering and living on the edges of society. Though these people were not formally our clients, we were honored to accompany them on their journey, heeding the church’s call to welcome migrants and refugees.
Their unplanned stop in Louisville was the culmination of a harrowing expedition, one precipitated by a humanitarian crisis that forced them to flee their home. Lost and searching for guidance, this family landed at our doorstep — and the timing of their arrival did not go unnoticed. The weary pregnant traveler who shows up a few weeks before Christmas is right there in the handbook! We welcomed them, offered aid and assurance, and ensured there was room at the inn.
Pope Francis has said, “Jesus knows well the pain of not being welcomed. May our hearts not be closed as were the houses in Bethlehem.”
At Catholic Charities, our hearts are always open.
Lisa DeJaco Crutcher is CEO and executive director of Catholic Charities of Louisville.