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Saint Joseph’s Community Welcomes Ukrainian Family

In December, the University and nearby Saint Margaret's parish welcomed a Ukrainian family seeking humanitarian parole through the Nick Robak Memorial Welcome Circle, named for the late Saint Joseph’s professor.

Ukrainian flag against a blue, sunny sky

Written by: Alex Hargrave '20

Published: February 16, 2024

Total reading time: 4 minutes

Seeking refuge from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Anastasiia, Vadym and their young son were welcomed to Philadelphia by Saint Joseph’s University community members in December.

The family of three, two parents and a toddler-aged son, arrived in the United States through the Biden administration’s Uniting for Ukraine program, which provides a pathway for Ukrainian citizens to stay in the country during a two-year period of parole. The program requires that Ukranian parolees have a sponsor who agrees to provide financial and acclimation support.

Saint Joseph’s community-led Refugee and Immigrant Working Group formed the Nick Robak Welcome Circle, which then partnered with Saint Margaret of Antioch Church in Narberth, to form a joint Welcome Circle to sponsor the family.

“There are some challenges to sponsorship that we weren't able to navigate as a University alone,” says Beth Ford McNamee, EdD ’22, associate director of campus ministry and co-chair of the working group. “But then when the Catholic Social Services mentioned that a parish nearby was also looking into this, we met with them and it's been a great partnership so far, because we complement each other's strengths and are able to provide a fuller support system than either of us alone.”

The Saint Joseph's University community started organizing Welcome Circle efforts in honor of the longtime professor Robak, who died in 2022 and was Ukrainian himself. Now the collaborative effort between the University and Saint Margaret's parish answers a Jesuit call for migration justice, says Alec Mettin, BA ’24, a member of the SJU working group.

Mettin was inspired to join the working group and lead a student group called SJU for Refugees and Migrants after a Winter Immersion Program trip to the U.S.-Mexico border in El Paso. After the trip, he says, he and his fellow participants were encouraged to take action to advocate with and for everyone they encountered.

“I think there's so much talk in our classes, and rightfully so, about justice, and faith that does justice,” Mettin says. “This was a really great opportunity to take action.”

SJU for Refugees and Migrants hopes to welcome the family onto campus soon for dinner and English language immersion.

There's so much talk in our classes, and rightfully so, about justice, and faith that does justice.This was a really great opportunity to take action.

Alec Mettin, BA ’24

The Refugee and Immigrant Working Group was established in 2014 to educate the campus community about the global refugee crisis and to support ongoing efforts throughout the city, McNamee says.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has encouraged dioceses and other institutions to organize welcome circles that provide families displaced by war and violence with connections, information and financial support to settle into American communities.

A welcome circle is a newer model of refugee support that provides more capacity to bring newcomers into communities than traditional caseworkers. Saint Joseph’s faculty, staff and students had been involved in the process of bringing Anastasiia, Vadym and their son in long before they arrived just days before Christmas, obtaining an apartment, furnishings and other supplies for them, as well as completing the required paperwork.

Since then, the welcome circle has helped the family with employment and healthcare and general acclimation to Philadelphia.

Susan Clampet-Lundquist, PhD, professor of sociology, a working group member and welcome circle participant, drove them around the city for a three-hour tour, enjoying well-known monuments such as the famous “Rocky” steps at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and finding the closest grocery store.

“They're super enthusiastic about settling in here and making their way,” Clampet-Lundquist says. “They also continue to express gratitude to the folks in this community.”

For some participants in the welcome circle, the work of helping Ukrainian refugees resettle is personal.

Sasha Kershaw, BSBA ’27, who was born and raised in Ukraine and whose family still lives there, says being with the family helps her feel at home. Because Kershaw speaks fluent Ukrainian and Russian, she’s helped translate for the family since they arrived in Philadelphia.

“I’m happy to help,” she says. “I only came to Saint Joe’s five months ago, so I know how hard it is.”

Professor emeritus Bill McDevitt, JD,’s great grandparents emigrated to the U.S. from Ukraine in the 1800s.

“It’s an example of St. Joe’s living up to its mission of being men and women with and for others and making a difference in the world,” McDevitt says.

While this is the first instance of the University welcoming refugees into the community, working group members and welcome circle participants say they hope it won’t be the last.

“It's always good for the University to continue to be accepting and help make this whole area a more welcoming community,” Mettin says.

Students, faculty and staff interested in assisting with this program can visit