Meet Our President-Elect

This summer, the Loretto Community elected a new president and executive committee – who will begin their six-year term in January. We invite you to learn more about our new president-elect, Pearl McGivney SL [pictured, left].

by Vivian Doremus CoL

One year and a month after the attack on Pearl Harbor, our newly elected president was born in Brooklyn, New York. Her father, a shipbuilder at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, and mother chose her name in honor of the victims of that fateful day.

Pearl and her two sisters attended schools staffed by Sisters of St. Joseph. After graduating from high school, Pearl entered their community. She remembers that from First Communion day she planned to be a missionary to the poor. After her college education at Brentwood College, Long Island, located adjacent to the Motherhouse, Pearl studied at Manhattan College for a masters degree in Religious Studies.

Looking back to those years of formation, Pearl describes them as idyllic years of study, peace and prayer. Pearl began her teaching career with a first grade class, and eventually taught high school on Long Island, then inner-city Brooklyn. Attending summer school at Notre Dame, Pearl met farmworkers who were seeking the support of the priests and sisters on campus, and showed the CBS documentary “Harvest of Shame.”

Subsequently, before-school leafleting in the Bronx at Hunts Point Market, world’s largest produce wholesaler, became her regular occupation. Realizing that fluency in Spanish would be useful, Pearl spent a summer at Catholic University in Puerto Rico, acquiring basics of the language that she would later develop by being with people, listening and
interacting with them.

Pearl’s quest for farmworker justice led her to California in l971. For the next six years, she collaborated with Cesar Chavez and others in the Farmworkers’ Movement. Here she met Loretto member Mary Jean Friel. When Thanksgiving came, Mary Jean invited Pearl to hop in the car and head to Denver to spend the holiday. They arrived at the home of Mary Luke Tobin and Helen Sanders to find them going out to serve dinner at the Salvation Army center, with housemates Cecily Jones and Sara Frink.

During the 70s, Pearl’s work with the farmworkers afforded her many opportunities to meet Sisters of Loretto. Ruth Shy welcomed her to California, and Pearl vividly remembers events surrounding the farmworkers strike in l973. Ann Pat Ware and Cathy Mueller were sent from the Assembly, then going on in Kentucky, to post bail to release Mary Jean Friel from jail.

Cathy and Mary Jean returned to the Assembly, and Ann Pat stayed in Fresno. Ann Pat sat at a desk and said to Pearl, “Tell me what I can do to help.” Following the Assembly, Penny McMullen came by Greyhound bus to join fasting farmworkers and their supporters, kneeling in the broiling sun, outside the jail.

Pearl recounts that Sisters of Loretto were evident at many junctures in her work for justice, and she decided that she would apply to join the congregation. In l982, the ceremony of her vow transfer was held in the Denver soup kitchen, with President Marian McAvoy formally receiving Pearl into Loretto.

Several times, Pearl was a member of accompaniment teams such as Peace Brigade and Grupo Apoyo Mutuo (Mutual Support Group) in Guatemala. She has visited Salvadoran refugee camps in Honduras and seen the suffering of those displaced by war and poverty. She reflects, “Perhaps this is where I really learned what faith in God means; the people taught me incredible hope.”

In the mid 1970s, Pearl began her present work in Florida. She was part of the efforts of several farmworker committees that established a center embracing two corporate entities: Farmworker Ministry, and Mujeres Valientes (Valiant Women) which attends to domestic violence and serves abused women and children. Located in Auburndale (Polk County, Florida), the ministry works with migrants who pick oranges primarily at home and migrate north to pick tobacco, tomatoes, blueberries, peaches, apples. They are also employed by juice factories which receive concentrate from Central and South America, as the majority of citrus crops have been outsourced there.

Pearl and her associates are currently very busy organizing information and educational meetings to assist their clients applying for President Barack Obama’s initiative for undocumented youth to receive work permits and be guaranteed safety from deportation for two years.

How does Pearl spend her occasional moment of relaxation? Reading and enjoyment of quiet classical music are favorite leisure pastimes. Engaging mysteries, especially set in England (featuring no violence!) are best, and books that friends recommend to her.

When she moves to Denver to take up her new responsibilities in January 2013, Pearl is confident that an experienced staff will carry on the work in Florida. Loretto co-member Alicia Zapata is a key colleague at Farmworker Ministry.

Looking forward, Pearl’s characteristic belief is, “Live today with God, in community, becoming ever more open to the future.” She says: “It is the right time to be religious in this country, consciously attuned to the presence of God.”

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