Holy Cross Sister on a mission from God: To end Human Trafficking
Local Sister dedicates her golden years as a ministry to increase awareness and help eliminate Human Trafficking
TINA L. SCOTT
Sister Celine Goessel of the Sisters of Mercy of the Holy Cross, who recently returned to the U.S. headquarters for the Catholic order [yes, right here in Merrill] is an 86-year-old little firecracker of a nun who also happens to be a former Provincial of the Order [from 2006-2012] [formerly called a Mother Superior].
She returned to Merrill in early spring 2021, and has made it her passion and personal mission to spend her golden years [tongue in cheek, since she has already twice retired and twice come out of retirement, and she has more energy than most 35-year-olds] educating people about and helping to eradicate Human Trafficking.
Sister Celine calls it “the worst crime that we humans need to deal with” and said that, “Since COVID-19 invaded our world, the crime of drugs and the misuse of guns in our American society has been surpassed by Human Trafficking.”
One of the best ways to eradicate it is to educate the public about what Human Trafficking is, how to recognize when it is happening right in our community, how to report it, and how to stop supporting it. And yes, you read that right. Because sometimes, she says, we do things or make decisions that inadvertently support ongoing Human Trafficking activities without even realizing it.
If you don’t think Human Trafficking exists in Wisconsin, and in Merrill, think again, Sister says. While often hidden from view from the ordinary person, it’s here, and it’s happening, in our own back yards. Human Trafficking is in cities and rural areas, and in all 72 counties in Wisconsin, she says.
Three ways human beings are trafficked
Human Trafficking happens in three key ways, Sister Celine explained: Trafficking of children as child brides, Labor Trafficking of children and adults, and Sex Trafficking of children and adults. Though possibly the most horrific to even think about, Sister Celine focuses most on helping to educate and eradicate Sex Trafficking, which encompasses many different forms and activities.
The victims of Sex Trafficking are both male and female, although more frequently female, she says. And victims can be all ages, from very young children on up, though the most frequent victims are young, and those seriously victimized don’t live to be very old. The average age of a victim of Sex Trafficking is 13 years old. These are some of the cold, hard, but strikingly horrifying and tragically sad, facts.
Sister Celine was never what one would call a super pious, obedient servant of God, and she would be the first to tell you that. But this slightly and delightfully sassy woman of God is passionate about doing God’s work, and has been devoted to Him since her Junior year in high school. In this season of her life, that spunk and her warm, down-to-earth ways make her relatable and approachable. When you’re dealing with a topic like this, that demeanor and her genuine sense of humor make her the perfect Sister for the job! Picture Whoopi Goldberg in Sister Act, but white, including her short white hair – sometimes with a streak of blue to show her solidarity with the victims of Human Sex Trafficking – and no dreadlocks. Sister Celine loves that movie, and believes that, like the nuns in that movie, she and her fellow Sisters need to get out of the hospitals and schools and get out on the streets where the real issues are.
Sisters against Sex Trafficking
In 2008, Sister Celine Goessl attended an international meeting of the Sisters of Mercy of the Holy Cross at the Mother House in Switzerland. It wasn’t her first trip there, but on this particular trip, she met and was inspired by Sister Eugenia Bonetti from Italy.
Sister Eugenia called upon the international community of religious to “follow the need of the time and launch into a new ministry of saving people from the slavery of Human Trafficking,” said Sister Celine.
At that time, Sister Celine didn’t know very much about it, but when she returned to Merrill, she started researching like crazy and hasn’t quit since. The knowledge she has gleaned, and continues to glean, has made her an expert in a field no one wants to talk about, let alone teach or be an expert in. But that expertise is paying off. She was chosen to represent the United States Province of the Sisters of Mercy of the Holy Cross and tasked with helping keep her 3,000 Sisters current on this crime – what it entails and how to help crush it. She is one of 12 Sisters tasked with this mission in each of their 12 countries within her Order.
She has worked directly with victims of Sex Trafficking who have shared their stories with her, including those at The Rose Home, a safe house in Brown County for female victims ages 18-25.
And as a result of all that she has learned and continues to learn, and as part of her mission, she gives awareness talks to any person, persons, or groups that will invite her in and listen to what she has to say. Presentations are free, although free-will donations to help cover expenses are more than welcome.
From police and sheriff’s departments and dispatch personnel; to EMTs and hospital staff/doctors/nurses; to social workers and school teachers, Sister Celine will talk to any professional group about everything from signs to look for, to how to identify possible victims and how to report it, to how to respond to and follow up on those calls. She will also present at churches, women’s group meetings, civic organization meetings, seminars, retreats, symposiums, PTA meetings, and anywhere else where people are open to listening, learning, looking for the signs, and helping the victims of Sex Trafficking be restored to freedom, safety, and wholeness.
Sister Celine is adamant that this is a topic the general public needs to learn about. Because they, too, can do something about it. And because, far too easily, anyone could become a victim.
Education is key
Several years ago, Sister Celine and the other Sisters working with her met Morgan Meadows [not her birth name]. Morgan was a survivor of Human Sex Trafficking from a very young age. The Sisters were learning about the issues, but Morgan spoke from firsthand experience. Her words lent credibility to the information the Sisters were learning about and sharing. Her testimony at presentations touched people. When Morgan spoke, listeners knew it had “just gotten real.” Today Morgan is in the process of recording some presentations the Sisters can take to speaking and teaching engagements with them so more people can hear her message of horror and then hope, of survival and revival, from victim to victor.
Sister Celine and the other Sisters she works with are available to share their expertise on this subject with groups of any size. From general audiences to a specific demographic, they can tailor the presentation accordingly. The Sisters are particularly passionate about reaching out to parishes of every denomination and civic organizations in large and small towns alike, because working together is the only way to make a difference.
“Because this cause is so urgent,” Sister Celine says, “the Holy Cross Sisters do not charge a fee, but are open to donations and gas money for traveling and perhaps an overnight in someone’s home.”
Though difficult to hear, “word of this heinous crime” must be shared so that people can listen, learn, and hopefully avoid being victims themselves. And so that they can help alert authorities to other victims. And that survivors can be helped and supported.
It’s a horrendous topic, but only through education can we hope to “join together to bring our children and young people back to their innocence and family living,” Sister Celine says.
There is an entire organization dedicated to Catholic Sisters tackling this tough cause. It’s called U.S. Catholic Sisters Against Human Trafficking (USCSAHT). That organization also offers educational resources, provides access to support services for survivors, and advocates to eradicate modern-day slavery.
The organization covers the various forms of Human Trafficking and also works to educate and raise awareness about Human Trafficking to prevent this crime and identify potential victims, advocate to address root causes, and accompany survivors on their journey to heal and thrive, according to their website. They also teach actions individuals can take on a daily basis once they know how, including ethical purchasing, identifying/reporting, and educating others.
Booking Sister Celine to speak
For more information or to book Sister Celine and the other Sisters to speak to your group, please contact Sister Celine Goessl, SCSC, at 715.457.5649 or e-mail her at [email protected].
“This is not the work of only a few, but when many are involved, we will be able to follow the dream of Pope Francis, who calls us to help rid the world of this atrocious evil that erodes the value system of the Reign of God,” Sister Celine says. “May peace once again reign on earth!”