April 4, 2018, Washington, D.C. – As youth from throughout the United States marched on March 24 to protest gun violence and the mass shootings of several of their peers throughout the years, Adrian Dominican Sisters and Associates stood with them in support and solidarity. Sisters attended the national march in Washington, D.C., as well as “sibling marches” throughout the country.
Adrian Dominican Sisters Kathleen Nolan, OP, and Maurine Barzantni, OP, were among an estimated 800,000 people who crowded into the streets of Washington, D.C., to protest the epidemic of gun violence and mass shootings. The event was organized by students from Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, who lost 17 classmates in the latest school shooting.
“It was a different experience because of the density of the people,” Sister Maurine recalled. “We were so packed that we could not even move.” Instead, the two Sisters watched the program on a nearby large screen. Still, Sister Maureen added, “it was wonderful to think of 800,000 people supporting a cause that had not [previously] been popular to support.”
Sister Kathleen, Director of the Congregation’s Office of Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation, noted that the event was clearly the work of the students, who all spoke articulately about their hopes to end gun violence. “It was also clear that the adults were there to support the students,” she said. “The adults knew their role.”
Both Sisters noted the failure of U.S. adults to persuade Congress to pass a bill that would include a sensible solution to the rampant gun violence in the nation – and most notably the mass school shootings that have taken place over the past 20 years. “We should have stopped this at Columbine [High School],” Sister Maurine said. “And then they killed children” at Sandy Hook School and other schools.
Still, both Sisters Kathleen and Maurine were happy at the groundswell of support for reasonable gun control measures – and by the diversity of people calling to an end to gun violence. “It wasn’t about being a Democrat or Republican or about religion,” Sister Kathleen said. “It was about saving lives. Everybody who was there that I saw was there to support the kids and promote gun safety to save lives, so that this would never happen again.”
In Washington, D.C., and around the country, students leading the marches also focused on making an end to violence in the schools into a political issue in the 2018 and 2020 elections.
In Adrian, Michigan, as in other places, voter registration was a key effort of the students. Speaking to a crowd of about 300 people – including numerous Adrian Dominican Sisters – leaders from Adrian High School and Tecumseh High School noted their own eligibility to vote in 2020. They promised to hold candidates to their responsibilities to vote for reasonable measures to end the violence at schools and in the city streets.
The student leaders in Adrian spoke articulately of the pain and fear of growing up as part of the generation of school violence and promised that the issue would remain way past the day of the marches. At the invitation of the students, teachers spoke eloquently of their refusal to be armed as part of the solution – and of their role to teach children, not to add to the violence.
While Sisters attended the march and rally at Adrian’s Old Courthouse, participants attending an Adrian Dominican Sponsored Institution Conference in Adrian took time from an already-packed schedule to pray in solidarity with the students and for an end to the violence.
Attending the March in Detroit, Sister Suzanne Schreiber, OP, said she was impressed by “the number of young people at the March, their passion for dealing with the gun violence issues and their emphasis on voting.” She was also inspired by a young woman who spoke of her own mental and emotional illness “in relation to what is often a misdirected focus on mental illness in the conversation [on gun violence].”
Although thousands attended the event in Detroit, Sister Suzanne said it was a very peaceful experience. She noted that members of the Meta Peace Team were on hand to offer mediation in case of conflict, but “all was peaceful.”
Sisters Patricia Leonard, OP, Judith Rimbey, OP, and Donna Baker, OP, faced some opposition when they participated in the march in Palm Beach, Florida. “We marched down Southern Boulevard, [President] Trump’s access to his home on Mar-a-Lago, with thousands of people, all age groups,” she reported. “It was truly impressive.” They noted that the march participants were heckled by only a couple of supporters of President Trump, but the crowds responded peacefully, waving their signs.
In San Francisco, Sister Judith Benkert, OP, and San Rafael Dominican Sisters Mary Kiefer and Patti Bruno joined a crowd of thousands, taking public transportation to the march site on Market Street. Amid signs with messages such as “Guns do kill people” and “This is a not a moment! This is a movement,” they gathered to hear the speakers. “Senator Diane Feinstein was the oldest,” Sister Judith noted. “The youngest were sixth-graders to 20-somethings. All were short and to the point: schools should be safe. Signs asked for laws that required background checks for everyone – with no loop holes.”
Noting the population of 2,800 people in Watkinsville, Georgia, Sister Mary Priniski, OP, noted that an impressive number – 300 to 400 people – attended the March for our Lives at Veterans Park in that small town. People in the area were eager to raise their voices for common-sense gun control, Sister Mary said, speaking of a woman from rural Georgia who traveled 40 miles to attend the event.
Sister Mary recalled children carrying signs, asking that they not be the next victims of a school shooting. “The final two speakers were a sophomore and a senior at Oconee County High School, asking us to vote since they could not do so,” Sister Mary said. “However, we were reminded that in 2020 they could vote and in 2024 they could run for office. It was a day filled with hope and promise.”
Sister Maureen O’Connell, OP, saw moments of sadness, but more moments of promise and excitement during the march that drew an estimated 15,000 people to the march in Houston, Texas. Among the attendees were students from St. Agnes Academy and St. Pius High School, both sponsored by the Houston Dominican Sisters.
Sister Maureen was saddened by a 10-year-old boy who tried to figure out how he would respond to a shooter in his school – and concluded that he would stand near the door to protect his classmates.
On the whole, however, Sister Maureen was impressed by the students, who clearly led the event. “There was something about this that was so touching because it was all young people who were clear about what they wanted.” Although Mayor Sylvester Turner spoke and has promised to appoint a committee to study gun violence, the march was run by high school and college students.
The students’ emphasis on voter registration and on taking the gun violence issue to political leaders was hopeful for Sister Maureen. “We’re in the state we’re in because of apathy, because we don’t vote,” she said. “The young people have said, ‘We do have a voice. Let’s use it.’”
Feature photo (top): From left, Adrian Dominican Sister Maureen O’Connell, OP, with Laura Henderson, a member of the Dominican Family in Houston, and Houston Dominican Sister Carol Mayes, OP, participate in the march in Houston, Texas.
Left: Participating in the Chicago march are, back row, from left, Sisters Joan Mary, OP, and Marilín Llanes, OP, and front row, from left, Sisters Jean Keeley, OP, and Xiomara Méndez-Hernández, OP. Right: Sisters Mary Trzasko, OP, left, and Beverly Stark, OP, at the march in Charleston, South Carolina.
March 28, 2018, Adrian, Michigan – The presence, Mission, and Vision of the Adrian Dominican Sisters are lived out not only at the Motherhouse in Adrian, but wherever Sisters and Associates minister, and particularly in the universities, schools, hospitals, and literacy centers sponsored by the Congregation.
The widespread presence and Mission of the Congregation was celebrated March 22-24, 2018, during the Sponsorship Conference “Dominican Spirit: A Great Hope in Common” at Weber Retreat & Conference Center in Adrian. Attending were Sisters and Co-workers from Barry University, Miami Shores, Florida; Siena Heights University, Adrian; Regina Dominican High School, Wilmette, Illinois; Rosarian Academy, West Palm Beach, Florida; Dominican Hospital, Santa Cruz, California; and St. Rose Dominican Hospitals, Henderson and Las Vegas, Nevada.
Also attending were Sisters and Co-workers from the Congregation’s seven sponsored literacy centers, under the umbrella of Dominican Rea Literacy Centers: All Saints Literacy Center, Detroit; Adrian Rea Literacy Center, Adrian; Aquinas Literacy Center, Chicago; DePorres P.L.A.C.E., West Palm Beach, Florida; Dominican Literacy Center, Detroit; St. Luke’s N.E.W. Life Center, Flint, Michigan; and Siena Literacy Center, Detroit.
The conference gave participants the opportunity to get to know one another, learn about the Mission and history of the Adrian Dominican Sisters, experience times of contemplative sitting, share their experiences of living out the Congregation’s Mission in their institution, and learn new ways that they and their institution can live out the Mission.
“Today we gather in the spirit of St. Dominic – vibrant in our world for over 800 years,” said Sister Mary Margaret Pachucki, OP, General Councilor, in her welcome to the conference participants on March 23. Sister Mary Margaret is the General Council liaison to the Sponsorship Commission, which plans and organizes the sponsorship conference.
Sister Patricia Siemen, OP, Prioress of the Congregation, gave an overview of the history of the Dominican Order and the Adrian Dominican Sisters and of the four pillars of Dominican life – study, prayer, community, and preaching. In addition, she introduced participants to the four Enactments from the Congregation’s 2016 General Chapter: Spiritual Longings, Sustainability, Resilient Communities, and Diversity-Relationships. Members of the General Council explained the Enactments in greater detail on the morning of March 24.
“My heart is abundantly grateful to each of you for your commitment to participate with us and even more so for your faithful commitment to your ministry or institution,” Sister Pat said. “As the number of our Sisters and Associates serving in our institutions decline, we give to you our Dominican history and heritage. We stand ready to assist and give moral and spiritual support.”
Co-workers from each of the institutions shared their own reflections and experiences of living out the Adrian Dominican Mission, both individually and in their respective institutions.
Ministering at St. Rose Dominican Hospitals has been “transformational and relational,” said Teressa Conley, President of the St. Rose de Lima Hospital. “We are changed by working side by side with our Sisters. They show us the ‘why’ of health care and the difference between a healing experience and a simple clinical experience.”
She recalled the tragic day, October 1, 2017, when 58 people in Las Vegas were killed in a mass shooting. “Our hospitals played a major part [in healing those who were wounded], and our Sisters were front and center in healing, ministering, and grieving – not only with patients and families but with the staff. … If you were to ask staff what is the most important part of being a faith-based community, I know what they would say.”
Jill Farrell, Dean of the Adrian Dominican School of Education at Barry University, said she always felt included and accepted in the Barry community – and challenged to grow. “I think I’m a reflection of what happens to all of us” at Barry, she said. “We are able to dig deep within ourselves. We get to know ourselves so well that we grow into the person we’re supposed to be.” She said she was then able to help develop leaders for the local community and the global community, bring Barry programs to the Bahamas, and “grow a vibrant presence there.”
Nanette Mickiewicz, MD, President of Dominican Hospital, said she sees the Adrian Dominican mission in action every day at the hospital: through traditional health care ministries such as the mobile van and the work of doctors and nurses – but also through other employees of Dominican. “I see the food and nutrition workers, the social workers, and the engineers,” she said “Even though their job isn’t specific patient care, we couldn’t do our job without them. They remind us that this isn’t our job – it’s our mission.”
In small groups, participants from different institutions discussed what their own institution was doing to “develop, live, nurture and sustain the Dominican identity and spirit” and how they could improve on what they were doing. The next morning, after hearing more detailed descriptions of the four General Chapter Enactments, participants discussed them in small groups.
During the final afternoon, Sisters and Co-workers from the same institution gathered to discuss how they would move forward the Adrian Dominican Sisters’ Mission, Vision, and Enactments. Drawing on the 2016 General Chapter theme, “A Great Hope in Common,” the conference culminated with the final formal session, in which representatives of each institution shared their “action plan” for continuing to nurture the Adrian Dominican spirit and Mission. Representatives of each institution wrote their action plan on the back of a puzzle piece that contained their institution’s name, so that the institutions – and the Adrian Dominican Sisters – together shared “A Great Hope in Common.”
Sister Mary Margaret sent the group out with a new responsibility: “to take this message to your board, your employees, your patients, your students.”
Sister Pat closed the last formal session by expressing her gratitude to the conference participants – and to their colleagues back home at their institutions. “You are the ones with feet on the ground who are literally living the Gospel, who are literally bringing our Dominican charism to life,” she said. “We support you and we entrust you to the future.”
Members of the Sponsorship Commission are: Roxanne Davies, Barry University; Sister Sharon Weber, OP, Siena Heights University; Sister Mary Jean Williams, OP, Regina Dominican High School; Linda Trethewey, Rosarian Academy; Sister Rita Eileen Dean, OP, Dominican Hospital; Sister Kathleen McGrail, OP, St. Rose Dominican Hospitals; and Sister Carleen Maly, OP, Dominican Rea Literacy Centers.