A welcoming face for refugees in need

  • October 6, 2010
Sr. Lois Anne Bordowitz, FCJTORONTO - During the civil war in Sierra Leone in the 1990s, Sr. Lois Anne Bordowitz, FCJ, packed a group of students into a convoy of five cars to escape a rebel attack in a neighbouring town. The group survived and made its way, after a five-hour drive, to the capital city and eventually a flight out of the country.

Bordowitz worked 10 years in Sierra Leone at a leadership training centre run by her order. She said the experience broadened her awareness of the plight of others around the world and helped her “understand the need for people to flee their country.” It was this experiences like this that informed and inspired Bordowitz’s work with refugees over the years as a member of the Faithful Companions of Jesus.

“I have great sympathy for welcoming people,” she explained.

Bordowitz will be celebrating the 20th anniversary of the order’s work with refugees in Toronto with members of her community in 2011. The FCJ Refugee Centre assists people who need help with refugee applications, providing advice, counsel and support such as translation services and immigration lawyer referrals. It also advocates on behalf of those who are at risk due to their immigration status.

Bordowitz began her work with refugees in Calgary, helping Vietnamese “boat people” in the 1970s. The Sisters had a house in Calgary where refugees could stay for up to two weeks. Bordowitz helped the refugees fill out documents, find clothing and furniture.

“We are trying to be women of outrageous hope and trying to be the gentle face of God to the world, to those who are marginalized and suffering,” she said.

In her work with the FCJ Refugee Centre, Bordowitz recalls trying to help a 24-year-old Mexican mother and her daughter seek refuge in Canada. They were fleeing from a drug lord. They were deported after their refugee claim was rejected. Last year, the woman was murdered not long after being sent back to Mexico.

Despite stories of resilience and success from former refugees, Bordowitz said this case highlights how there is much more work to be done by the Canadian government in welcoming people who are seeking refuge from war and violence.

In addition to her work with the FCJ Refugee Centre, Bordowitz also volunteers at the Toronto Immigration Holding Centre where she meets people who are making refugee claims or are being deported from Canada.

She said newcomers from Africa feel they can relate to her after sharing some of her experiences in Sierra Leone. Bordowitz recalls meeting a young woman from Angola whom she helped during the woman’s claim for refugee status when she was 13. The woman is now a member of a local dance troupe. Her success story, Bordowitz said, is “inspiring” and underscores the importance of continuing to advocate on behalf of refugees and those who are marginalized.

Bordowitz’s religious vocation began while attending a boarding school run by the Sisters in Combermere, Ont. She was drawn to the FCJ Sisters because of their care and concern for others at the school. Now 66, she joined the order in 1962 and earned a teacher’s degree in Toronto and a masters from Boston College.

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