A Higher Calling

A former nun spends her days in the Second Ward, trying to bring a better life to its Latinas

"Now he doesn't hit me," she says. "I feel safe here. I feel like these women are my friends."

As the women talk, someone brings up Mary Jo May. They speak of her as a good friend, and of El Centro as a second family. They would be lost without it.

But for May, the reverse seems to be just as true. Rising each morning at four to get to El Centro before any other employee, she works quietly on different projects, saying this is the best time of the day to get things done.

"It's my normal waking time," she says of her early-morning schedule, shrugging off the notion that her hours are superhuman. She also laughs off the idea that there is anything very special about her.

"The real story about all of this, for me, is my experience of being adopted by this community," says May. "The elders say things like, 'When you used to be a gringa…' I've learned so much from them. I don't know who I'd be otherwise."

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