By Michael Fitzpatrick, Medill, Immigrant Connect

I don’t know why we are gathering in the chapel during religion class. Normally that’s reserved for special occasions. This isn’t a holy day or the last day of class before a holiday, so why could we possibly be heading to the chapel? When I get to the chapel there were three people sitting at the front. We all file in and sat down. I had never seen any of the three people before.

Viator House of Hospitality in Chicago

After everyone settles in, the teacher goes to the front of the chapel and introduces the three people. She introduces them as refugees. They came from different countries and had all fled their home countries for different reasons. The stories are remarkable. They tell of running from war, having the military take over their town and threaten them, hiding in the jungle, walking through South America, and getting to the United States with nothing to their names. I’m taken aback at all they went through and all they risked to get to the country that I’ve lived in my whole life. They are staying at the Viator House of Hospitality. This is a house run by the Viatorians, the religious order that runs my high school, and that provides lodging to young people seeking asylum in the United States. This experience stuck with me because I never realized how much people would risk to get what I was born into.

Later in the year, a new student who came to the school. I didn’t think much of it at first, but it was a little strange that someone switched schools in the middle of the year. After a while, I started asking around to find out who the new student was. First, I learned his name.

Then I started to learn more interesting details. I learned that he was a refugee from West Africa. I also learned that he had fled persecution in his home country and had found my high school through the Viator House of Hospitality where he was staying while seeking asylum. When I finally heard his full story I was blown away. He flew from Africa to South America. He then walked all the way through Central America and Mexico and had somehow made his way to the northwest suburbs of Chicago. I almost couldn’t believe that I was going to school with someone who had done something so amazing. I was also amazed at how easily he integrated into the community at my high school. It was like he had been there the whole time. You never would have known what he went through to get here. Just like the three people in the chapel, he showed me how lucky I was to be born where I was. I got up every morning and drove 15 minutes in a car my parents paid for to go to Saint Viator. He practically walked across the world to get to Saint Viator and his only connection to his parents was a watch his father gave him when he told him “son, I may never see you again. Use this to remember me by.”