Catholic Charities paves the way to citizenship

May 28, 2013

HOUSTON — Ask any number of naturalized citizens where they came from and how they got here, and they have an interesting story that often involved challenges, hardship and sacrifice. Sometimes, it seems getting here was the easy part, while the act of becoming a citizen can be the overwhelming part.

No one knows this more than Craig Pritchard, a native Australian who put off his citizenship application for almost a decade because it seemed too much trouble, too costly, and there was lingering ambivalence about pledging allegiance to a country other than his own.

“As a small business owner and the life circumstances that were going on, it was really hard to find the time to do the research and complete the application on my own,” Pritchard said. 

When Pritchard learned about the citizenship workshops hosted by Catholic Charities, he realized there was no reason to prolong becoming a citizen. The agency provided free legal advice, helped him fill in the forms and put him through a mock interview. 

On Jan. 23, the League City resident, with wife Lauren and children Isabella, 10, Lillian, 7, and Elijah, 4, in tow, took the oath of allegiance and became a U.S. citizen.

“I remember looking around, and I had one daughter each side of me — I was very proud,” Pritchard said. 

Pritchard, 46, came to the United States from Australia in 2002 on a fiancé visa, having met the woman he would marry five years earlier while traveling on a ferry across the English Channel. 

He was from Adelaide, and Lauren a Vietnamese-born American citizen from Houston. Unlikely as it was, the two kept in touch, he visiting her several times before they became engaged. He converted to Catholicism for his wife. 

They married and settled in League City, where Lauren grew up. By then, he was a permanent resident and bought into a print business, which he now runs.

But as his children grew older and started to question why he wasn’t American, his connection with friends and family getting deeper, and the early retirement of his business partner due to illness, Pritchard had a growing desire to become a citizen. A family friend who worked at Catholic Charities told him about the citizen workshop, and the rest, Pritchard said, fell into place.

“I think God was guiding me to be in this situation, with all that has happened,” said Pritchard, who belongs to Mary Queen Catholic Church in Friendswood. 

The next citizenship workshop is set for Saturday, June 8, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at St. Charles Borromeo Church, 501 Tidwell Rd., in Houston. 
Experienced attorneys will be on hand to screen for eligibility, help attendees fill out applications for U.S. citizenship and provide free study materials for citizenship applicants to prepare for the exam. “They clear up a lot of misconceptions about immigration, plus you can get reliable advice for free from attorneys who specialize in immigration law,” said Alyssa Firkus, outreach coordinator for Catholic Charities.

The naturalization process currently takes approximately three to four months. To register for the workshop or to volunteer, please call Catholic Charities at 713-874-6593.