Orlando Magic recognizes Nun for her advocacy for farm workers
Apopka, Fla. – Sr. Ann Kendrick may not be able to submerge a basketball, but she made it anyway on the Magic Vision screen on the center court of the Amway Arena in Orlando, Florida.
This is because the sister of Notre Dame de Namur was named a “Social Justice Game Changer” by the Orlando Magic Association because she has long stood up for the rights of Florida’s farm workers.
“The purpose is to honor and celebrate so many people in the Orlando community who are fighting for change and who dedicate their lives to making Orlando a better place,” said Magic Trainer Steve Clifford. “It’s just a way to celebrate what they stand for and what they do for our community.”
Kendrick was honored on March 24th when the magic played the Phoenix Suns. Center Court is about 1,300 miles from the state of New York where Kendrick grew up, but it’s also a world away from the fields where farm laborers work in the sun and the Hope Community Center where the religious sister works.
As a teenager, Ann Kendrick was a popular sorority girl who led a life without care in the world. She was busy with school and youth activities, but her life changed completely when her eyes were opened to a world beyond her comfortable hometown and carefree lifestyle.
“I was an arrogant 16-year-old and thought I was the best there is,” she admitted. “I won the opportunity to take part in an international exchange program. I thought I was going to France. I was absolutely thrilled.”
As it turned out, France was not on the itinerary. The students visited Guatemala, a place devoid of museums, art and beautiful places that the young girl expected as part of her educational experience.
Instead, Central America was aimed at the poor who barely lived without clean drinking water, food or a roof over their heads.
“I didn’t know any poor people. I didn’t know poverty. I didn’t know any repression. The people lived in terrible conditions,” she told the Florida Catholic newspaper of the Diocese of Orlando. “It was cultural awareness. I came home and not a society girl again. It’s amazing what God is doing for you.”
God has worked in Kendrick’s life since her life changing experience. This year she is celebrating 55 years as the sister of Notre Dame de Namur and celebrating her 50th anniversary serving the poor and immigrant communities in central Florida.
“I’ve been blessed,” said Kendrick of her life’s work. “These are God’s good, noble, holy people.”
Kendrick returned from Guatemala and transformed. After graduating from high school, she left Syracuse, New York, where she grew up and attended a Catholic women’s college: Trinity Washington University.
It was in the Trinity that the Lord began to call her to religious life and where she met the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur. The community founded the school in 1897.
Kendrick studied Spanish and psychology, but learned a lot more. “The sisters believed in women,” said Sister Kendrick. “You taught us to be strong women. I was inspired.”
Kendrick, 77, was in her early twenties this year when she joined the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur to begin her calling. The congregation was founded in 1804 by St. Julie Billiart and began teaching the education of young girls.
Today the church continues to follow in the footsteps of its founder, who teaches and extends ministry in areas of the world. The religious help street children, AIDS orphans, homeless, poor, abandoned and immigrants.
In 1971, Kendrick’s earlier official channels suddenly led her out of the classrooms on a different course. Bishop William D. Borders, first bishop of the Diocese of Orlando, invited her and her sisters to Florida.
They visited the small rural town of Apopka with unpaved roads. It had a large population of African Americans, Latinos, and Haitians. They saw the area’s farms and groves and tiny shops. They toured the migrant labor camps with wooden barracks where the workers lived.
Borders presented the idea of founding a migrant apostolate in Florida. The sisters were addicted.
“We told the bishop we were going to come and do something,” recalled Kendrick. “We told him we didn’t want a job description. We said we had to talk to people and find out what they need and want.”
With broad community support, grants, and assistance from the Orlando Diocese, a much-needed farm worker health clinic was established in 1973 to meet basic medical needs. Then came other projects the sisters were involved in to keep them busy and the ministry alive.
For example, the farm workers office provides tutoring, mentoring, family counseling, and immigration services. Homes in Partnership enables inexpensive living. Community Trust The Federal Credit Union helps families obtain credit and credit. The Farmworkers Association of Florida deals with social, economic, and health issues.
One initiative that Kendrick is most excited about is the Hope Community Center, which was founded to empower immigrants and work poor through education, advocacy, and spiritual growth. She highlighted the center’s service learning program for volunteers.
“The program invites students from all over the country to visit us, live with immigrant families, work in the fields. This is how we learn. This is how we change attitudes,” she said.
Apopka has grown and evolved over the years. Today it is Orange County’s second largest city with nearly 50,000 residents.
Kendrick lived her calling to sow seeds of hope and faith in the fields of central Florida, but also grew in faith through the people she served and who lived the true Christian life.
The people, she said, “are my catechesis.”
“You are beautiful, generous, hospitable and have a beautiful spirit. You honor the earth and love the people,” she said.
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Reeves is a correspondent for the Florida Catholic newspaper for the Diocese of Orlando.