Holy Cross Ministries Salt Lake City Utah

Sister Veronica pays it forward with Holy Cross Ministries

The door to the office is nondescript, one of many lining the counseling department hallway at Wasatch High School in Heber City. What lies behind it, though, is a warm and inviting space that welcomes teenagers seeking mental health support. This is where Holy Cross Ministries’ Sister Veronica Fajardo spends every Tuesday receiving Hispanic students — some still learning to speak English.

An immigrant herself, Sr. Veronica is no stranger to the challenges of language barriers and cultural immersion. At 8, she made a 25-day journey to the United States with her mother and two siblings, leaving behind an embattled Nicaragua her father had been forced to flee two years prior. The family settled down in Boyle Heights, a Spanish-speaking community in Los Angeles.

“I didn’t speak any English at first, and nothing was familiar except for the Catholic traditions and rituals at Assumption Church,” she recalls.

Getting involved with the church at a young age gave her a sense of belonging and a love for service that stayed with her through college and fueled a desire to dedicate her life to helping others. A few years into graduating and working as a special education teacher, Sr. Veronica found her calling with the Holy Cross Ministries, a Salt Lake City-based nonprofit. With guidance and support from the congregation, she pursued a dual degree in social work and social administration that complemented her experience and prepared her to serve in a larger capacity.

“Our sisters are immigration attorneys, teachers, lawyers, nurses, midwives, social workers and parish ministers,” she explains. Holy Cross Ministries is one of dozens of agencies spread across eight countries worldwide, with over 300 sisters operating under the umbrella of the Sisters of the Holy Cross.

Sr. Veronica is a busy bee, and she enjoys every second of it. She is the only full-time sister at Holy Cross Ministries and splits her week between immigration services at their main offices in Salt Lake City, counseling Hispanic students at Wasatch High School, receiving women at the Intermountain Clinic in Heber, and working with victims of domestic abuse at The Peace House in Park City.

“We are able to do our work thanks to the partnerships we have with different agencies,” she says. These agencies allow Holy Cross Ministries personnel — which also include lay people ranging from therapists to immigration attorneys and health-care workers — to use their spaces to serve the growing immigrant population.

She credits Sister Mary Ann Pajakowski — now a retired member of the community — with forging this path in the early 2000s and planting the seed for collaborative work with organizations that have facilitated Holy Cross Ministries’ efforts.

Since first visiting Utah back in 2005, Sr. Veronica has witnessed a noticeable improvement in the acknowledgment of the Hispanic community, especially in Park City.

“There are more conversations about this population and their needs,” she says. She attributes this progress to Utah lawmakers showing more openness, but also to the local bilingual residents offering to help, which in turn inspires trust for the undocumented immigrants who typically try to stay under the radar. “They trust people who look like them and speak their language and are more willing to receive help.”

But work for Sr. Veronica and Holy Cross Ministries is far from over. The immigrant community in Park City and Wasatch still faces many challenges, least of which is housing. While a large portion of workers are employed in Park City’s hotels and restaurants, many of them have migrated toward more affordable towns like Kamas, Coalville, and Heber, where the environment can be less welcoming at times.

Despite her demanding role, Sr. Veronica’s greatest joy stems from this work. Seeing a need, meeting it, and watching individuals and families alike benefit from Holy Cross Ministries services is the very reason she chose this path, she says.

“I am grateful when I see people feeling empowered and thriving, being able to journey with them and watch them break away from abusive relationships and realize that they do matter, especially women,” she says. Some of these women learn new skills and start their own businesses, an accomplishment that speaks volumes to the importance of Holy Cross Ministries’ impact.

“When people come together and collaborate, that is when real change happens,” says Sr. Veronica, whose life has come full circle since her early days in Los Angeles.