Joan Rosenhauer Reflects on her Tenure with JRS/USA

09 May 2024|Chloe Gunther

We work with people who are so optimistic and resilient, how could I not support them in their hope for the future?
Joan Rosenhauer

This story first appeared in JRS INSIDER, a monthly newsletter including stories of impact across JRS global.

Joan Rosenhauer, who has served as President of Jesuit Refugee Service/USA for six impactful years, recently announced her retirement plans for 2024. Under her stewardship, JRS/USA has flourished, growing more than three–and-a-half times in size and significantly enhancing its ability to accompany, serve, and advocate for refugees.

As Joan Rosenhauer bids farewell to JRS/USA, she sat down for this special edition of INSIDER to reflect on her experiences working with JRS to fulfill its mission worldwide and bring to life the concept of accompaniment.

Joan learned about JRS while she was working at Catholic Relief Services. She said JRS was known among the Catholic, humanitarian space as an organization that “punches above its weight.” After hearing such a description, Joan knew she wanted to learn more and somehow get involved.

Joan with children in JRS GreeceFirst, Joan got involved as a board member. She had been a board member for six years when the president position became available.

“One of my first field visits was to our offices in Greece. That was where I first saw how JRS ‘punches above its weight,’” Joan said. She spent her days not only meeting with her JRS colleagues but also the many refugee families staying in JRS’s shelter, listening to their stories.

One woman and her young child had fled Pakistan when violence and persecution threatened their lives. They arrived in Greece after a long, dangerous journey, looking for a place to sleep and food to eat.

At the time, JRS’s shelter was at capacity. But when they knocked on the door, the director of JRS Greece would not turn them away. Instead, Joan explained, priest converted the JRS conference room into a space where the mother and child could sleep – an embodiment of JRS’s mission.

Having largely spent her career in service to others, Joan has put her faith into action, leading others with the Jesuit values of generosity, humility, and seeing God in all people and things.

This leadership style has had a profound impact on JRS/USA. “Joan’s leadership and passion for our mission have helped make JRS/USA the success story that it is today,” said Robert Neihaus, JRS/USA Board Chair.

Under her leadership, JRS/USA successfully launched Caminar Contigo, a bi-national border program to respond to the emergency, legal, and mental health needs of migrants and asylum seekers arriving at the US-Mexico Border.

In our conversation, Joan spoke to how she has seen JRS develop as an organization that proactively responds to people’s specific needs in a sustainable, long-term way. She saw this in Burundi several years ago when she visited a refugee community.

“There was almost no opportunity for the refugee community to exchange with the surrounding host community.” Joan said. “They were so isolated.” Joan at US Border

When refugees arrived in the camp, they received small hygiene kits that included a single bar of soap. Naturally, this soap ran out quickly and with handwashing being one of the simplest and most effective ways of halting the spread of disease, it was imperative that this problem be solved.

JRS was present in the refugee camp and in response, trained members of the community in soapmaking, starting a soap business in the camp.

“There is an economy everywhere,” Joan said, “we just have to give people the opportunity to engage.”

When asked about staying hopeful in the midst of devastating world events, and having worked in the humanitarian space for as long as she has, Joan said: “How could I not?”

“We work with people who are so optimistic and resilient, how could I not support them in their hope for the future?” She said she sees this hope, optimism, and energy every time she has the chance to visit with displaced people, whether they are students in Chad, eager to practice their flashcards, or folks at the border working on mindfulness techniques to cope with the troubling experiences they have experienced.

While Joan’s tenure as president might be ending, she remains confident in JRS’s trajectory and its expanding capacity for accompaniment under JRS/USA’s new president, Kelly Ryan.

As she looks forward to retirement, Joan is excited for the chance to practice hobbies like playing the piano, making pottery, and kayaking, all while keeping in touch with happenings at JRS.

We are so incredibly grateful for Joan’s transformative leadership over these last six years and the indelible mark she has left on JRS/USA and the lives of refugees worldwide.

Click here to watch a short video of Joan answering questions from JRS/USA staff members and the greater JRS community!

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