AURORA, Ill. (CNS) – While looking for a project so that she could cross ‘write a book’ off her to-do list, Anna Marie Kukec Tomczyk thought about her time as an associate with the Dominican Sisters of Springfield, in the ‘Illinois.
She first thought about focusing the book on sisters’ ministry in Peru and called her friend, Dominican Sister Beth Murphy, to discuss it.
However, Sister Murphy, the order’s communications director, didn’t think the idea of Peru would be the best subject for a book.
“Thinking back on another story, I thought about the work our sisters were doing at the Dominican Literacy Center with immigrants. No one ever wrote more than a newspaper article about them and I thought it was a good idea, ”Sister Murphy said. “And since the literacy center was interested, that’s how it happened.
Tomczyk, a Chicago resident who attends the Queen of All Saints Parish there, was already familiar with literacy work. She agreed with Sister Murphy and spoke to the administrator of the center, Dominican Sister Kathleen Ryan. A book could help others learn more about immigrant life and the work the sisters continue to do.
“The Dominican Sisters help people on the margins of society. So, Sister Kathleen believed that creating a center to help immigrants learn English and improve their way of life fit perfectly into their mission, ”explained Tomczyk. “As more and more former students became successful in life, the sisters saw the ‘pillars’ of their Dominican life in new ways.”
These pillars, “which underpin their lives as Dominican women,” added Tomczyk, “are community, ministry, study and prayer. Now the sisters saw how the pillars also supported their immigrant wives. “
It took three years, but Tomczyk’s work eventually became the book “We Are Eagles”, which came out last spring.
As she began speaking with people involved in the center in Aurora, Tomczyk realized that the literacy center was approaching its 25th anniversary and decided to focus on that angle. She started talking to the “first students” about their stories “from how they came to America until they are today”.
“The center had students from Mexico from the very beginning. Their lives (in the United States) were drastically different from those in Mexico. A woman was washing clothes on a rock in a stream near her home. Another put water in jugs.
“I spoke to everyone about how they came to the Chicago area and adjusted to life here. (One) couldn’t communicate to the doctor what was wrong with their child. (Another) couldn’t help with homework, ”Tomczyk said.
Women’s inability to speak and read English “has become a real wedge between mother and family,” said Tomczyk. “The children at school and the husband at work learned the language.
But the women wanted help. Some have learned words at home, and others have turned to community colleges for more.
Throughout the women’s journey, “individual tutoring from the literacy center has been tailored to their needs,” she said.
At the time of publishing the book, Tomczyk said he was shown “some (cover) samples to look at”.
The final design, by Juan Pablo Ruiz, took Tomczyk’s breath away. She was struck by the red background framing the image of a woman and an eagle soaring in a field of flowers.
“It was just a nice blanket,” she said. “He deserves credit for having designed all of this.”
Tomczyk, however, deserves credit for having everything in place.
“As a journalist, she already had that kind of broad worldview,” needed for a project like the book, Sister Murphy said. “I thought she was doing a great job. I know she must have probed the women very gently for the depth of their stories and I think she did a wonderful job communicating their stories.
Tomczyk considers the stories to belong to women.
“A lot of these women started their lives and set goals and did it – the center helping along the way as well,” she said. “It’s a women’s book (on) women’s issues. This is how I hoped it would be perceived.
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