August 30, 2017, Adrian, Michigan – A few weeks after the third anniversary of their displacement from their homes on the plain of Nineveh in Iraq due to the threat of ISIS, the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena of Iraq are beginning to return home – to face new challenges.
Sister Marie Therese Hanna, OP, former Prioress and member of the community’s General Council, gave an update on the lives of the Sisters following Mass August 30 at St. Catherine Chapel at the Adrian Dominican Sisters’ Motherhouse.
“Today we see the marvelous work of God,” she said. “The rebuilding process started. Many of the families returned to their homes in the two Christian cities, Telskuf and Qaraqush.” The Sisters are also beginning to return, living in small houses because of the extensive damage done to their convents, and are planning to open private schools.
For the past three years, the Sisters had been living as internally displaced persons in the Kurdish area of northern Iraq, reaching out through schools, clinics, and their very presence to other refugees also living in difficult situations. The Sisters and other residents of the Nineveh Plains area were able to return to their homes after the recent liberation of the area by Iraqi forces. However, they found their homes to be severely damaged.
Sister Marie Therese noted that her community faces external and internal challenges: destruction of their communities, the difficulty of change by leaving behind the lives they had led for three years.
“What matters to us is to understand the will of god in our uncertain circumstances,” she said. “It is not important for us to have buildings or projects, but have mission and serve our people and accompany them because we have the same fate.”
In the past three years – with its drama, challenges, and hope – the Dominican Sisters felt the “powerful prayer” of their Dominican family in the United States. “On behalf of our Sister Clara, our Prioress General, and the Council and the Sisters, I want to thank you, Sister Patricia [Siemen], the Councilors, and each of you for your love, prayers, solidarity, and concern.”
For more information on the situation of the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena, of Iraq, read the update written by Sister Clara Nas, OP, Prioress, on the third anniversary of the ISIS attack, August 6, 2017.
Feature photo: Sister Marie Therese Hanna, OP, seated, left, met with the General Council of the Adrian Dominican Sisters: Sister Patricia Siemen, OP, seated right, and, standing, from left, Sisters Elise García, OP, Mary Margaret Pachucki, OP, Patricia Harvat, OP, and Frances Nadolny, OP.
July 19, 2017, Seattle, Washington – The Adrian Dominican Sisters living at Assumption Convent recently bade a sad farewell to a beloved friend. Sister Lan Thu Thi Nguyen, OP, a young Dominican Sister from Vietnam, recently left Seattle to make some visits in the United States before returning to her home country after spending 2 ½ years with the Sisters.
“It was just a wonderful, wonderful experience,” said Sister Cele Gorman, OP, Coordinator of Assumption Convent. “No one will ever forget Lan, and her spirit will remain here.”
The Sisters at Assumption Convent had no idea 2 ½ years ago how positively they would be impacted by their decision to allow a Dominican Sister from Vietnam live with them. Sister Lan had been sent to the United States by her superiors to study pastoral ministry. After spending a year with the Houston Dominican Sisters to study English, she was to attend Seattle University to earn her master’s degree in pastoral theology.
Sister Cele received a call asking if Sister Lan could stay with the Sisters at Assumption during her studies. “We had a meeting to see how everybody felt, and everybody was very open to it and excited that a young Sister was coming,” Sister Cele recalled.
Sister Cele described Sister Lan as very outgoing, a young Sister who enjoyed new experiences and adapted well to new situations. “She was very open to new ideas, very accepting of people, and respectful of her elders,” Sister Cele said. She was also very studious, taking difficult courses and studying frequently – while still being engaged in community life at Assumption.
Along with her studies, Sister Lan served as an intern at St. James Cathedral in Seattle, helping with a weekly dinner for people who are homeless. In addition, she served as a catechist for children in a Vietnamese parish in Seattle.
But she also ministered to the Sisters at Assumption, even as they supported and encouraged her in her studies. “She shared her youthful energy with us,” Sister Cele said. “She was 39 when she came. We were her grandmothers and great-grandmothers.”
The differences in age, however, did not prevent Sister Lan and the Sisters at Assumption from forming a close community. The Sisters – particularly Sister Alice Marie Schmid, OP – helped Sister Lan with her English as she wrote her theology papers, and encouraged her as she faced the challenge of studying theology in a language that was not her own.
In turn, Sister Lan introduced the Sisters to the food and culture of Vietnam. “She took us to a Vietnamese restaurant when she first came and told the waitresses what to prepare for us,” Sister Cele recalled. “She was delighted. She loved her culture and she shared it with us.”
Sister Lan frequently took advantage of the large Vietnamese section of Seattle to buy Vietnamese food and prepare special meals for her U.S. Sisters. “She was very generous in sharing that part of her culture,” Sister Cele noted. Sister Lan also taught the Sisters some of her language and celebrated Vietnamese holidays with them.
In addition, Sister Lan connected with the Vietnamese community in Seattle, as well as with a community of Sisters from Vietnam who were ministering in Seattle. An intelligent and independent young woman, Sister Lan quickly learned the transit system in Seattle, using the light rail to attend classes at Seattle University.
Recently, Sister Cele said, the Sisters were delighted to meet Sister Lan’s brother, who had come for her graduation and joined the Sisters for dinner at Assumption Convent. Sister Lan left after graduation to make some visits in the United States before returning to Vietnam. While her exact ministry back home is still unknown, Sister Cele said, she will most likely make use of what she has learned in pastoral theology.
In the meantime, she has certainly had a positive impact on the Sisters she has left behind. “It could not have been a better situation for her or for anyone else,” Sister Cele said. “We were just very blessed and sorry to see her heading back to Vietnam. It was truly a gift and a blessing.” Sister Cele believes that her time at Assumption was also a blessing for Sister Lan. “I’m sure it’s an experience that will be with her for the rest of her life.”
Feature photo: Celebrating Sister Lan’s graduation are, from left: Sisters Cele Gorman, OP, Francine Barber, OP, Sharon Park, OP, Iva Gregory, OP, Alice Marie Schmid, OP, Patrice Eilers, OP, Lan Thu Thi Nguyen, OP, Virginia Pearson, OP, Sister Lan’s brother, Son Bui Nguyen; and Sisters Judy Byron, OP, and Jean Marie Lehtinen, OP.