History of GATE

In response to the call of Pope John XXIII to religious congregations in the United States to send 10% of their members to Latin America, many congregations of Sisters established a missionary presence there, from Mexico to Chile.  One of those who participated was Stephanie Lindsey, a Sister of Charity from Cincinnati.  She found her life profoundly affected by what she experienced in her ministry in Lima, Peru, where for 18 years she served the people as she sought to respond to the challenge of Vatican Council II.  When she returned from South America, she was asked by her congregation to share her understanding of liberation theology and the way its preferential option for the poor was transforming the Church in many Third World countries.
Stephanie responded to this need by going to Mexico and designing a program called Global Awareness Through Experience (GATE).  GATE’s mission is to create an awareness of other cultures and their realities through people-to-people connections.  GATE’s alternate tourism allows the traveler to approach a people as pilgrim; in deep respect for their culture and history and presents the opportunity to learn from the poor as well as from social analysts, teachers, theologians and economists. Stephanie found support both from Chess Campbell, a Presbyterian missionary, and from the Lutheran Center in Mexico City. It was in Mexico City in 1982 that Stephanie and Chess offered the first GATE program to eight participants.
Interest in the programs grew rapidly, and in 1984 GATE offered 15 programs in Mexico, eight in Nicaragua, and one in Honduras.  Later they added tours to Cuba, Peru and the Caribbean, as well as the Eastern Block countries.  People came from many different religious backgrounds, from every part of the United States and Canada and even from countries in Europe.
After nine intense years of working with GATE, Stephanie was both exhausted and ill. In late 1990 she left Mexico and turned the program over to Sisters Cecilia Corcoran and Marie Des Jarlais, both Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration (FSPA) of La Crosse, Wisconsin.  In 1991 they became co-directors while the FSPA became the sponsors. GATE offerings remained open to all denominations and all persons interested in first-hand experience of Third World life.
GATE programs have continued to evolve. Sisters Cecilia and Marie developed immersion programs in El Salvador and Guatemala in 1992 while continuing the ones in Mexico and Eastern Europe.  S. Marie designed the Franciscan Pilgrimage GATE Retreat and offered it for the first time in 1997. In 2003 a trip to Oaxaca, Mexico, made its first appearance. In 2013, GATE will return to Peru.
In 1996, as part of her doctoral internship, S. Cecilia developed the Women’s Spiritual Quest program, which explored ancient images and myths of Central Mexico and sought to connect feminine energy and metaphors with the traditional God concepts. Shortly after, she and S. Linda Mershon developed a similar program in Eastern Europe. In 2004 a Da Vinci GATE became part of this program, exploring the mystery of Mary Magdalene as pilgrims visit the sites of Dan Brown’s novel.
Current staff members include our Director, S. Marie Des Jarlais, S. Linda Mershon in the North American GATE office and Rochelle Nicks, the GATE Charitable Giving Coordinator.
At its 25 year mark, GATE began an initiative to connect those who are able to give with those who are in need, across cultures. GATE Charitable Giving seeks to support charitable organizations in Mexico, El Salvador and Guatemala. GATE has chosen to build from the success of the cultural immersion program and invites individuals to explore further meanings of global solidarity through compassionate giving. For more information please click here.
GATE continues to respond to requests from colleges, universities, church and civic organizations for programs designed for their groups.  However, GATE is committed to providing open programs each year for individuals who want to discover how they can become informed friends of the people in Latin America. Our office in La Crosse, Wisconsin, is always ready to serve you.