In this week’s Kilkenny People, 24-year-old Stiofán Ó Murchadha discusses his incredible journey of moving from Kilkenny to Chicago.
He has twice travelled into an America that was going through a tumultuous time with tectonic shifts in immigration policy taking place as President Donald Trump made his mark.
The story started in 2011 when Stiofán began studying Theology and English in the oldest Catholic College in Ireland, St Patrick’s Carlow College.
He said: “It was here where I learned of the term ‘Chaplain’ and what they do. After the years of discernment with the fantastic friars in Kilkenny, I decided the chaplain road was for me and in 2015, I started a masters in Chaplaincy Studies and Pastoral Work in Mater Dei Institute of Education – DCU.
“As part of this masters I had to go through training and went back to Carlow College. Here I was student chaplain for the academic year.
“Little did I know that it was during this time when I would meet my future wife, Katelyn, who was studying abroad in Carlow College all the way from Chicago, Illinois.
“After my training while still doing my thesis, I decided in May 2016 to go back with Katelyn to her home in Chicago where I was going to try get a work visa to stay with her. Chicago Irish Immigration Centre told me it would take years to get any visa to work here so by the end of the summer of 2016 I had to return home. Katelyn could not return with me as she was finishing her degree.
“I tried to get work at home, but Ireland has nearly no place for chaplains and work in ministry. I, like many others from college, was unemployed. Christmas of 2016, Katelyn visited with her family and it was then in Jenkinstown Woods on a cool, misty night under fairy lights that Katelyn and I got engaged.
“It was decided soon after that I would go back to Chicago with her where I could now stay without being deported since I would marry an American citizen.
“We had to marry without much planning after I followed her over to America in February 2017 - I had a hard time passing customs to get into the States. We’ve had to deal with Immigration (Homeland Security) ever since.
“Firstly, we had to hire an attorney ($2,500) to do all the complex paper work and it takes months to get any reply from Immigration."
He added: “I understand the security in America because of terrorism but the fear of terrorism here is unnatural. We had to submit a massive amount of evidence to show our marriage was genuine, including a fee ($3,000). This included having to give numerous blood samples, vaccines, fingerprinting, background checks, headshots, and much more.
"I was told I would be allowed to work after three months (August) but this extended to five months (October). I then could not accept the offer I received as a chaplain intern in Northwestern Memorial Hospital for September, but they were good enough to keep my place to begin in December.
“I realised, after talking with attorneys that Homeland Security was trying to get me to give up and leave by having no money and not being able to work. Fortunately, my wife’s family have been a blessing as they have room at their inn for us both until we sort out Immigration.
“After getting permission to work (through a Work Authorisation Card) I was called back and forth for interviews with my wife to attest to our real marriage which was really interrogations with cameras in my face, voice recorders, and more fingerprinting. I felt like a criminal to say the least. Recently I had my Green Card interview where they get to decide if you love each other or not and they simply showed us the door out with the words 'we will review your case’.
“At this point I would love to return home with my wife but if I did the thousands of dollars will be wasted and I may receive a ban where I cannot visit my in-laws for many years. Would I ever return home? That is yet to be seen.
“We don’t know how blessed we are at home regarding how our Government treats us. Really, if I was offered a place at home in ministry I would return after I gain American citizenship (four years) as my wife could get work as an accountant.
“Do I miss home? I do indeed. I am and always will be proudly home sick. I cannot go home until I get the Green Card. Since I came here I find myself singing songs of home. I constantly wish I was home, but it doesn’t always work out that way. By the lake of this Windy City I will always see the reflection of Kilkenny Castle.”