March 11, 2017

Father Pomerleau assumes full-time refugee, immigration ministry

By Rebecca Drake

Father Bill1

Father Bill Pomerleau meets with Iraqi refugees Yousuf Al-Dulaimi (left), Ayoob Al-Dulaimi (third from left) and their mother, Yasimiyah Hussein. (IObserve photo/courtesy of Father Bill Pomerleau)

SPRINGFIELD – What began as a volunteer ministry in 1994 has become full-time work for Father Bill Pomerleau, one of the newest case workers for the Springfield Diocese’s Catholic Charities Agency.

A Springfield diocesan priest, Father Pomerleau was ordained in 1979 and had served as pastor at several local parishes. His first experience ministering to immigrants was in 1994 during his pastorate at the former St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in Springfield’s North End. There he welcomed many Haitian immigrants, helping them address housing, education, employment and citizenship goals.

Most recently, Father Pomerleau served as pastor of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Parish in Springfield. He resigned from that position on June 30, 2016 and was granted a six-month sabbatical by Springfield Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski. During the sabbatical, the first he has taken in his 38 years of priesthood, Father Pomerleau attended sabbatical programs in St. Meinrad, Indiana, and at the North American College in Rome.

“The sabbatical programs gave me a time to recharge,” he said, and when he returned to the diocese, “I told the bishop I wanted to expand my volunteer work with refugees. And the bishop agreed to make this my full-time ministry.”

Jowel Iranzi and Father Bill Pomerleau

Father Bill Pomerleau (right) looks over paperwork with case worker Jowel Iranzi in the Catholic Charities office in Springfield. (IObserve photo/Rebecca Drake)

Father Pomerleau, who also fills in at local parishes as a Mass celebrant on weekends, is presently the case worker for a family of Iraqi refugees in Northampton and will also be the case worker for two Congolese young men who are expected to arrive in western Massachusetts later this month.

Through his work with refugees and immigrants, Father Pomerleau said he is fulfilling the biblical call to welcome the stranger. “It’s always been true – but especially since Pope Francis (was elected) – that we are reminded to reach out to people in the margins,” he said.

“Many don’t understand who refugees are,” he said. He said he tries to dispel misunderstanding and hatred directed toward refugees through educational efforts, including a cultural orientation session featuring a panel of East African refugees that he has organized for this weekend in Northampton.

“It’s gratifying,” Father Pomerleau said of his work with refugees and immigrants. Just as a parish priest gets to watch families grow, he said, in his work, “You can see the results of your ministry.”

“People tend to appreciate you,” said Father Pomerleau, and the most gratifying moments are “when they are independent and don’t need your help anymore.”

Asked about the challenges of dealing with recent presidential bans on acceptance of certain refugees and immigrants, Father Pomerleau said Bishop Rozanski and the diocese’s Catholic Charities Agency are committed to continue preparing to accept refugees. He also noted that other faith-based agencies, including Jewish Family Service and Ascentria Care Alliance, are assisting with refugee resettlement.

“Sometimes when you have adversity, you get stronger,” he said. He also praised the many volunteers who have come forward to help refugee families.

Father Pomerleau, who presently works out of an office in Northampton, expressed his appreciation of the support he has received in his new full-time ministry. “I’m very, very grateful to the bishop and to Catholic Charities,” he said.

Of his own commitment to welcoming the stranger, he added, “My heart is in this. I love it.”