Sister Roserita Weber, OP and the
‘Ministry of Presence’
By Charlene Scott Myers
Special to the Register
GARDEN CITY – Sister Roserita Weber, O.P. works in the Ministry of Presence to assist the many immigrants who have flocked to this city in search of employment and a better life for themselves and their children.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2010 report on the Kansas Hispanic population, Finney County (where Garden City is located) had a population of 46.7 percent Hispanics.
The population has risen since then, and includes not only Hispanics and other immigrants, but also refugees who are Ethiopians, Burmese, Vietnamese, and Somalians, among others.
“Garden City High School had students from 35 different countries when I came here, and 10 percent of the population was Vietnamese,” recalled Sister Roserita, who has been involved in the Ministry of Presence in Garden City since 1995. Sister Janice Thome, O.P. joined her in 1996. “Either we struggle against these people, or we struggle to assist them to become part of us, was the attitude of the Garden City leadership when Iowa Beef Producers (IBP) opened a meat packing plant in the 1980s,” Sister Roserita said.
Meat packing plants have drawn Hispanics from Mexico and Central America—as well as other countries--to Garden City, the Finney County Seat. Tyson Fresh Meats, which purchased IBP, employs some 2,200 people in the city.
“We work with economically poor people,” Sister Roserita explained.
“Both Sister Janice and I learned to speak the Spanish language. There also are a number of people who come here out of refugee camps. We help them get the services they need, search where they might not be able to, assist them in locating housing, transport furniture, deliver food, help them with their utilities, and much more.”
The two Sisters provide transportation to many families without automobiles or other means of transportation.
“We take them to medical appointments and help them obtain their medical cards if they are eligible,” Sister Roserita said.
“We transport many children to Wichita for medical treatment. I have two children who have seizures, and another two with cerebral palsy who see a neurologist. We went to Wichita three times in July, and will go four times again in September.”
Her religious order, The Dominican Sisters of Peace, provides money for medical prescriptions. The Sisters in Garden City also work with the elderly, and Sister Roserita teaches Hispanic women how to drive.
Sister Roserita’s telephone rings constantly, she revealed without a hint of complaint in her voice.
“I receive at least 50 to 60 calls a week,” she said. “People need a ride to the dentist; they need to get their food stamps. They want to know where they can find citizenship classes. These people are ready to do whatever they need to do.
“In many cases, the government is 10 years or more behind in processing the papers of immigrants,” she noted.
“I work with a couple whose husband came here as one of the farm workers in the 1980s. In the amnesty program of 1986, he and his wife were able to receive green cards.
“They were in their 60s before they received their resident cards, but they were unable to get enough work quarter credits to apply for social security by age 65. The wife continued to work into her 70s, and this year they qualified for SSI.”
The biggest problem immigrants and other residents face in Garden City is housing, according to Sister Roserita.
“There is a short supply of housing right now,” she said. “A lot of poor people are doubled up in houses--maybe two or three families in one house--so they won’t be counted as homeless in the government yearly count. However, the school district does recognize them as homeless.”
Sister Roserita and Sister Janice work closely with other agencies in Garden City to coordinate their ministries to the poor.
“We meet once a month with the Community Services Council,” Sister Roserita explained. “Other members include the Salvation Army, Mexican American Ministries, Emmaus House, and New Hope of the Nazarene Church.”
A native Kansan, Sister Roserita was born one of eight children in a county hospital in Quinter near her dad’s farm at Grainfield in the northwestern corner of the state. She attended a preparatory high school at the young age of 13, and entered the convent in Great Bend at 15.
“I really liked the Dominicans. They were a happy group, very joyful. They didn’t wear all black, but had white habits and black veils.”
Sister Roserita formerly taught in elementary schools in Pueblo, Colorado, Wichita, Sharon, and Great Bend, Kansas, and Westminster, Colorado. She left teaching to become assistant treasurer of the Dominican convent in Great Bend for nine years, and went to the Dominican’s Heartland Farm as onsite manager in 1989.
She received a B.A. in elementary education from Sacred Heart College (now Newman University) in Wichita, and her Masters in counseling in elementary school at Fort Hays. She served as Motherhouse Coordinator at Great Bend for several years.
Sister Roserita believes her life of teaching, counseling, gardening, Ministry of Presence, and other duties have all been the fulfillment of her vocation.
The prayers of her grandmother influenced her life’s choices to a great extent.
“My grandmother Weber prayed ardently for vocations,” she recalled. “She had a son who was a priest, my uncle Father John George Weber, and a brother, Msgr. John George Herrmann.
“I first felt a call from God when I was just five years old and attending CCD classes taught by the St. Joseph Sisters out of Concordia,” she said with smiling eyes.
“I remember the thought running through my mind, ‘I could be one of these [Sisters]!’ Certainly it was the Holy Spirit at work even at that tender age.”