SAN BENITO — For a little more than three decades, Sister Margaret Mertens and Sister Zita Telkamp have called the Valley their home as they helped thousands of immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers through their work at La Posada Providencia.
At the end of August, they will bid the Valley and La Posada Providencia farewell as they enter a new chapter in their journey of service.
“Since Sister Margaret and I are both octogenarians, the leadership of our community, the Sisters of Divine Providence, Marie de la Roche Province, asked us recently to consider transitioning to our central location in Allison Park, PA,” Telkamp said.
For Telkamp and Mertens, COVID-19 has allowed them time for prayerful reflection and discernment as they complete their plans to transition.
However, they said the pandemic has 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.”
Their role in communities
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 on 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 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 was instituted in 1988 to honor individuals who demonstrate a strong commitment to social justice.
“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 we bid farewell to our friends, supporters of La Posada and to La Posada, please know we hold you in our prayers and in our hearts,” Telkamp said.