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TEXAS MISSION 'A work of charity Christians cannot neglect'

As the presidential campaign was keeping the issue of immigration in the news, a parishioner of St. Joseph Church in Chester was in Texas offering assistance to people mostly from Guatemala and Ecuador seeking asylum in the United States.

Carol J. Hitchcock of Springfield was among a group of eight Vermonters who traveled recently to McAllen, Texas, for a week of service with The Sacred Heart Catholic Church Mission through Catholic Charities of the Rio Grand Valley.

Many of the refugees had spent their life savings to journey north, fleeing for their lives, Hitchcock said. Many told "horrific stories of senseless violence" in their homeland: rape, beatings, "all kinds of trauma."

Hitchcock believes they made it to the United States because of their faith. "Nothing else could have kept them going," she said.

Once they crossed the border into the United States, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services detained them. When released, Catholic Charities representatives picked them up and brought them to the church where volunteers like Hitchcock gave them backpacks, hygiene products, clothing, shoes and a small meal.

The parish had shower facilities prepared and offered transportation to the bus station and airport so the refugees could continue their journey to meet with family members or others helping them resettle.

Humbled by their attitude, Hitchcock said they were grateful and did not have a "gimme" manner.

A colonel in the Vermont Army National Guard, she had not expected to be emotionally touched by the experience of working with the refugees. "I'm not overly emotional, not overly sensitive as a rule," she said. "I'm a colonel; that is the perception I give to the world."

But when she got to McAllen she saw the refugees not as a group but as individual persons. "There was a face. There was a story. There was a voice," she said, moved by the memory.

Even though Hitchcock has been in the military for 34 years–including one 9-month tour in Afghanistan–she identifies most closely with her Catholic faith. "Religion is who I am," she said. "I am all about Christ. I am all about the Church. I am all about religion."

The fourth of eight siblings, Hitchcock, the daughter of Madeleine and John Carleton of Fairfax, grew up in South Hero and Colchester. As a child, her father taught her to give 10 percent of what she earned to the Church, and he continues to inspire her. "He lives his faith," she said. "He walks the talk . . . He is always willing to help people."

Her parents, she said, love God and neighbor as God instructs. "They watch out for people because they care. That is a model I live by."

Hitchcock visits residents of the Springfield Health and Rehabilitation Center with her Cockapoo, Riley, and had been a mentor in a local elementary school. She is on the fund-raising committee for Habitat for Humanity and is vice chair of the St. Joseph Church Parish Council.

"A military officer who maintains such a visible presence in the parish and in parish life is a great witness to the rest of the congregation and shows how committed she is to living her faith in practice," said Father James Zuccaro, pastor of St. Joseph Church.

He called her a role model for other parishioners, "She is always willing to give of the time that she has when she is available for whatever project, small or large, that we may be doing. Decorating for Christmas, power washing the hall, volunteering at a parish fund-raising event, lectoring at Mass and assisting as a member of our parish council are just a few of the many ways that Carol stays involved with parish life."

"Every opportunity I get I jump in to help people," Hitchcock said.

"Carol is a very grounded person whose generous spirit is reflected in her sense of service," said Dorothy Leech of Rockingham, who also participated in the trip to Texas. She "had a way of imagining what people might need and going out of her way to make sure that they got it."

A 1982 graduate of Colchester High School, Hitchcock earned an associate's degree in general studies from Philadelphia Community College, a bachelor of science degree in environmental education from Johnson State College and a master of strategic studies from The United States Army War College in Carlisle, Penn.

Hitchcock currently runs the veterans' transportation service at the White River Junction VA Medical Center.

She and her husband live in a well-cared for home on three-acres overlooking the valley and the mountains beyond to the east; they have owned it since they were married in 2005 and remodeled it themselves. "I love hard work," Hitchcock said.

They have two llamas, three chickens, one beehive and Riley.

She thanks God everyday for the bucolic place in which she lives, but she would go to Texas again "in a heartbeat" to help the refugees.

"I do not have a political bone in my body," she said, but she railed against the anti-refugee rhetoric of the presidential campaign. "They [the refugees] are people. We ought to be willing to help people who are willing to help themselves."

Reflecting on Hitchcock's work with the refugees during this Year of Mercy, Father Zuccaro said the work that is being done at the mission in Texas is a work of mercy: feeding the hungry, providing clothes for the needy or a place to rest for a night. "Regardless of what one's views of immigration may be, [these] are works of charity that as Christians we cannot neglect," he commented. "In the Year of Mercy, we should be even more cognizant of how well we embrace the corporal and spiritual works of mercy in our own lives, above and beyond our seeking of God's mercy in the sacraments and helping others to do so."

Deanna Plourde of South Burlington, Hitchcock's sister who also participated in the Texas ministry, said the thought that remains with her most strongly is that "this is not simply a border issue; it is a people issue."

"The folks we met were lovely, grateful and certainly determined. They were obviously willing to work to better their circumstances and care for their children. They are people who are hurting, searching and caring," she said. "We should care about people living in such horrendous circumstances that they are willing to risk their lives to change them."

Steve Crofter of Rockingham coordinated the trip. "Carol and her sister, Deanna, were amazing! They worked tirelessly every moment they were at the Humanitarian Respite Center, doing whatever task was asked of them, and they took on many other jobs that they simply noticed needed doing," he said. "Even without any Spanish, they managed to convey friendship and compassion to the asylum seekers with whom they interacted. It was truly inspiring serving alongside such dedicated workers."

He attends the First Universalist Parish of Chester. "Although I'm not a Catholic, I'm certainly inspired by the dedication to social justice that so many Catholics exhibit, from Carol Hitchcock to Sister Norma Pimental (the director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley and founder of this project to assist asylum seekers) to Pope Francis. It's very moving to me."

Through this work, he has recognized that although most asylum seekers who become eligible for release have a relative or friend somewhere in the United States with whom they can stay, there are some who are detained simply because they don't have anywhere to go. "We could choose to make our local communities here in Vermont welcoming places for some of them to resettle as they await their asylum hearings," he said, offering to work with any church or community group interested in supporting such an effort.

"The asylum seekers are fleeing their homelands to save their lives," he said. "Human compassion compels all of us to offer them whatever comfort and support we can manage."

Crofter can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 802-275-4646.

Article written by Cori Fugere Urban, Vermont Catholic staff writer.

Last modified onFriday, 15 July 2016 00:51
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