Sister Missionaries Lift and Serve on Liberty Island, New York

  • 6 November 2013

Sister Ashlyn Jorgensen, left, and Sister Holly Larson stand in front of the Liberty Island family history booth.  Photo by Tom Dunning, New Jersey Morristown Mission.

Article Highlights

  • Eighty missionaries have offered their service at the Liberty Island family history booth.
  • Although the missionaries do not proselyte on the island, their radiating smiles and kind ways speak volumes.
  • Visitors from around the world have been able to converse with the missionaries, often in their native tongues.

“That joyous energy that they have brought each day to Liberty Island has been deeply felt by all that come in contact with them.” —Catherine A. Daly, director of the American Family Immigration History Center 

LIBERTY ISLAND, NEW YORK

Ellis Island, which has been closed to the public since sustaining damage during Superstorm Sandy in October 2012, reopened partially October 28. However, the Statue of Liberty on Liberty Island in New York Harbor reopened for public visits on Independence Day, July 4, 2013.

The family history booth on Liberty Island, currently located under a temporary covering adjacent to the Statue of Liberty, allows visitors to research their families’ arrivals in America. Visitors stand in lines each day in order to receive the Statue of Liberty National Monument Official Certificate of Visitation, along with the opportunity to conduct research. For the first time this past summer, sister missionaries in the New Jersey Morristown Mission began serving at Liberty Island as volunteers at the booth to assist visitors in their efforts.

Catherine A. Daly is the director of the American Family Immigration History Center at the Statue of Liberty–Ellis Island Foundation, a private partner of the National Park Service. She asked Jon M. Jeppson, New Jersey Morristown Mission president, for the privilege of having sister missionaries serve in the family history booth on Liberty Island.

The missionaries are required to complete U.S. Park Police background and identification forms and have a background check in order to receive clearance for individual identification badges. President Jeppson assigned Elder Tom Dunning and Sister Helen Dunning the responsibilities of the Liberty Island service project. Since opening, 80 sister missionaries have been part of working at the booth, four at a time, on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays.

The New Jersey Morristown Mission sister missionaries are making the presence of the Church known as they serve in the family history booth at the Statue of Liberty. While on Liberty Island, the missionaries do not proselyte, but their example, enthusiasm, love, and radiating smiles, as well as their thoughtful and considerate ways, speak volumes.

Ms. Daly described the experience of working with the sister missionaries: “The sisters have been a joy to work with. When I sit with them and all their languages are flying about me and their kind way of dealing with the visitors, it is a joy.”

Visitors regularly ask questions, however, about why the sisters are involved and, specifically, why the emphasis on family history.

“I don’t know of many places where a missionary can go where they constantly have people walking up to them from all over the world. At Liberty Island, we have that constant interaction with people who come up to us and ask us what we do,” said Sister Hillary Schwendiman, one of the missionaries working at the Liberty Island booth.

Visitors from the United States and from many countries wait in a long line to visit the family history booth on Liberty Island. Photo by Tom Dunning, New Jersey Morristown Mission.

Sister missionaries continually receive comments from visitors regarding their modesty; their friendly, welcoming, and gracious personalities; and the kind and caring demeanor they demonstrate.

Visitors from around the world have been able to converse with these missionaries, often in their native tongues, and receive assistance in finding their families’ roots.

While two of the missionaries greet and visit with tourists, the other two are in the booth under the canopy on computers, assisting patrons with family research. While more extensive research was possible on Ellis Island, the long waiting lines at Liberty Island—proof of the high interest level—allow only for collection of basic information that will let people search on ellisisland.org.

According to supervisors, it is common to receive feedback from visitors about how much they appreciate the missionaries’ example, enthusiasm, and caring.

Ms. Daly added, “The experience has been wonderful for us. Liberty Island visitors come from all over the world, and this posed no challenge to the sisters. Their volunteer presence has demonstrated their kindness, patience, and adaptability with people. The contribution of their multiple skills, including so many different language skills, were truly a witness of their training and missionary presence. That joyous energy that they have brought each day to Liberty Island has been deeply felt by all that come in contact with them.”