It’s always difficult to say goodbye to a ministry to which you have given many years of your life, but that is exactly what these two Divine Providence Sisters had to do.  

In San Benito, Texas for a little more than three decades, Sister Margaret Mertens and Sister Zita Telkamp have called the Valley their home as they opened their hearts and home to help thousands of immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers through their work at La Posada Providencia.  

At the end of August, they said goodbye to La Posada Providencia and prepared to enter a new chapter in their journey of service.  The leadership of their community asked them to transition to their motherhouse in Allison Park, PA.  

For Telkamp and Mertens, COVID-19 allowed them time for prayerful reflection and discernment as they completed their plans to transition.  However, they said the pandemic had not provided them ample time and opportunity to express their gratitude and say their goodbyes in person.

“Upon leaving La Posada, we naturally feel sadness. We are leaving what has been our home,” Telkamp said. “Yet, we have a strong feeling of gratitude to God that La Posada has not only been our home, but also our ministry and mission for a combined 33 years.”

In 1995, Mertens became director of La Posada Providencia and remained in that position until 2008. To prepare for this ministry, Mertens learned Spanish and Mexican American culture by studying at a local community college and entering a language immersion experience in Guadalajara, Mexico for the next 13 years.  After a sabbatical to serve the needs of the community in St. Louis, Mertens returned to La Posada Providencia in 2012 as site coordinator.

In June 2008, Telkamp succeeded Mertens in becoming La Posada Providencia’s third program director since its founding in 1989.  Prior to Telkamp’s arrival, she ministered as an educator. She was an elementary teacher and principal for 35 years of the 49 years she served in Catholic Schools in the Archdiocese of St. Louis and the Diocese of Springfield, Illinois.

From 1995 through 2001, Telkamp was a member of the provincial council for the St. Louis Province of the Sisters of Divine Providence. In 2001 through 2007, she ministered at Room at the Inn, which is a Sisters of Divine Providence sponsored shelter for homeless women and families in North St. Louis, MO.

In 2013, Bishop Daniel E. Flores of the Diocese of Brownsville nominated Telkamp for the Catholic Extension Lumen Christi award, which honors an individual or group working in a U.S. mission diocese who demonstrates how the power of faith can transform lives and communities.  Telkamp was a finalist for the award and received a $10,000 donation from the Catholic Extension to support and further the ministry of La Posada Providencia.

Both Telkamp and Mertens were nominees and received the Ketteler Award for Social Justice in 2019. The award honors individuals who demonstrate a strong commitment to social justice.  They certainly have!

“We have had the privilege of living with and helping those we love — immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers,” Telkamp said. “To our civic and faith communities, our volunteers, especially in South Texas, you are among the countless people sharing so generously your time, talents and treasure that have made our ministry possible.”  Telkamp said it has been their blessing to make God’s providence visible to the world by welcoming those in need and giving them hope.

As they left La Posada they said a virtual farewell to all their many friends and supporters.  They wanted everyone to know that they will hold all of you in their prayers and in their hearts.  

Our lives of service often cause us to have many hellos and goodbyes.  After 33 years I am sure this was one very difficult farewell.  But trusting in God’s Providence, these two women will find new ways to be that face of Providence in a new location!

Barbara McMullen, CDP

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