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Adrian Dominican Sisters Share Stories of Experience in Resilient Communities

August 28, 2018, Adrian, Michigan – Neighbors in an abandoned area of Detroit, people evicted from their ancestral lands and living in a “squatters’ community” in a desert area of the Dominican Republic, and the homeless population in the State of Washington. People in these situations were able to overcome their desperate circumstances, form community, and improve their lives with the help of individual Adrian Dominican Sisters. 

| VIEW A VIDEO RECORDING OF THE PRESENTATION AT THE BOTTOM OF THIS ARTICLE |

Sister Patricia Siemen, OP, Prioress, lights the Christ Fire at the beginning of Resiliency in our Midst.

The Sisters who ministered with the people to form these communities shared what they learned during an educational forum that was designed to help others in the Congregation to help create resiliency in their own communities. One of four Enactments of General Chapter 2016 commits the Congregation to “facilitate and participate in creating resilient communities with people who are relegated to the margins, valuing their faith, wisdom, and integrity.” 

Although resilient communities can be defined in a number of ways, the Adrian Dominican Sisters have adopted this working definition: “one that has a long-range sustainable vision that emerges from the community through an inclusive, collaborative process that engages diverse grassroots leaders and persons who have traditionally been marginalized; creates partnerships built on trust; seeks equity and justice; draws on spiritual wisdom and is healing; and reflects a concern for future generations, living within Earth’s regenerative capacity (i.e., ‘one-planet thinking’). These elements combine to promote the well-being and vitality of the community and its ability to address ongoing stressors from crises or disasters and sustain itself into the future.”

The Adrian Dominican Sisters’ Leadership Council designated 2018 as a year of study about resilient communities. Resiliency in our Midst, held on August 22 at Weber Retreat & Conference Center, brought forward the personal experiences of Sisters Janet Stankowski, OP; Maurine Barzantni, OP; and Judy Byron, OP. 

While the ministries they spoke of differ, the three Sisters also spoke of ways that they specifically fit the Congregation’s working definition of resilient communities. Many of these communities fit a number of aspects of the definition, but below are highlights. 

“… engages diverse grassroots leaders and persons who have traditionally been marginalized.”

Sister Maurine Barzantni, OP

In their ministry, Sisters Maurine Barzantni, OP, and Renee Richie, OP, waked with and fostered the leadership abilities of the local women living with their families in a cluster of houses – essentially a “squatter’s community” at the crossroads of Cruce de Arroyo Honda in the Dominican Republic. “We told them we couldn’t lead the meetings because our Spanish wasn’t good,” Sister Maurine said. They role-played with the women so that they could manage an upcoming meeting – and helped them to build up their confidence. “About a dozen women emerged as leaders.” 

Once the women came to understand that God did not want them to be poor, they worked together to meet the community needs that they themselves identified. Working as committees, they brought to their community prefabricated latrines; medical services, such as weekly consultations by two doctors, a pharmacy, and a medical lab; and Fe y Alegria Espiritu Santo, a school that began with 127 first-grade students ages 6 to 16. Because of earlier lack of educational opportunities, many of the students began first grade at an older age. The school now boasts a K-12 program with 1,500 students and professional teachers who graduated from their school. 

“Draws on spiritual wisdom and is healing …” 

Sister Janet Stankowski, OP

Sister Janet Stankowski, OP, and Associate Patricia Gillis founded Voices for Earth Justice as an interfaith community “praying, learning, and taking action together for Earth justice.” The community was developed to address the environmental injustice plaguing the people of Detroit. In 2011, they purchased five lots with two buildings in the Brightmoor area of Detroit and built Hope House as a “gathering place and resource for neighbors and visitors,” especially around the area of environmental justice. 

Voices for Earth Justice offers a number of workshops and retreats and leads the community in actions such as climate marches and lobbying with legislators, but remains focused on spirituality. “Prayer was and is our focus – to bring people together to pray for peace for all creation,” Sister Janet said. “We believe a spiritual transformation was needed to make the pollution and destruction stop.”

“Creates partnerships built on trust …” 

Sister Judy Byron, OP

Sister Judy Byron, OP, serves on the Board of Directors of Mercy Housing Northwest, an organization founded in 1992 through a collaboration of five communities of women religious in the Seattle area – including the Edmonds Dominican Sisters, now merged with the Adrian Dominican Sisters – and Mercy Housing, Inc. The goal was to create stable, permanent, affordable housing for groups that could otherwise be homeless, including low-income families, seniors, and immigrants and refugees. 

Today, Mercy Housing Northwest manages about 54 properties, residential complexes in the State of Washington that offer services such wellness and after-school programs. Many of those complexes were developed through partnerships. For example, Emerald City Commons – a 60-unit complex in Seattle – was developed through collaboration with an evangelical church, which had owned the property and wanted to build housing on it. Mercy Housing Northwest partnered with them to develop the complex, Sister Judy said. She explained that Mercy Housing Northwest also collaborates with government organizations, foundations, and other social service and non-profit agencies to develop housing for people in need. 

The models described by Sisters Janet, Maurine, and Judy can serve as inspiration for the various Resilient Communities Committees in the Congregation’s Mission Chapters explore areas in their geographic region where they can work with local residents to create resilient communities.

Feature photo (top): Sister Christa Marsik, OP, poses a question to one of the three panelists speaking during the Resiliency in our Midst educational forum.


From left, Sisters Janet Stankowski, OP, and Judy Byron, OP, listen to Sister Maurine Barzantni, OP, during a panel presentation. Associate Dee Joyner, Director of Resilient Communities, listens from the podium. 






Great Lakes Dominican Chapter Assembly Explores Racism and White Privilege

May 2, 2018, Detroit – More than 100 Adrian Dominican Sisters, Associates, and special guests continued their study of racism and white privilege during a workshop April 28 that focused on the social effects of institutional racism.

The group gathered at Samaritan Center in Detroit for the Great Lakes Dominican Mission Chapter’s extraordinary Spring Assembly, “Continuing the Conversation on Institutional Racism and White Privilege.” The event was organized by the Leaven Mission Group to continue the discussion on racism begun at the Fall Assembly in November 2017.

The workshop focused largely on the social effects – especially on people of color – of institutional racism, which in many ways sets up the system to give advantages in almost every area of life to white people over people of color. The emphasis was on institutional racism rather than the prejudice of individuals against people of other races.

Maureen D. Taylor, Chair of the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization, presents the keynote address.

In her keynote address, long-time community activist Maureen Taylor noted her intention to make the connection between racism and poverty. “Poverty is the cruelest form of violence, and I don’t care what your face looks like,” she said. “I’ve seen veterans have their water cut off. [But] color always matters in America because it has been the most successful tool to allow people to be mistreated.”

Ms. Taylor, Chair of the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization since 1993, stressed the need for advocates of various issues – rights for women, African Americans, Hispanics, and people with same-sex attraction, for example – to work together for economic rights for all people. 

The fight for equality “cannot be from the top down,” Ms. Taylor said. “We have to be the ones [who struggle] from the bottom up. There are certain things we have to insist on. Everybody need to have something to eat, water, and homes. We have to bring these rules from the bottom up.”

A panel of activists spoke about particular issues related to institutional racism. “I grew up in a time when there were two separate educational systems,” said Sharon Mills, a member of the Escalating Economic Inequality Taskforce and a tutor at Siena Literacy Center in Detroit. “The great divide was color."

Ms. Mills, who grew up in an African American section of Dayton, noted the substandard education she received in her first three years in public school – before her parents pulled her out and sent her to a nearby white school. “There were not enough textbooks for children to take home,” she recalled. “Both the elementary school and the high school were in disrepair. The playground was always muddy and littered.” She noted that children who are educated in substandard school systems might come to believe that they, themselves, are “substandard.”

Sharon Mills, an activist since the March on Washington in 1963, discusses the continuing inequities in the public school system.

Ms. Mills noted that today – when separate education for African Americans and white people is not legally permitted – the separation continues because of the way public schools are funded – by local property taxes. “Local districts in rich areas can afford more for their public schools,” she said. “The system is rigged and it’s rigged against people in poor districts where property taxes are low. … The implications of this are grim for black and brown children in high-poverty areas.”

Ms. Mills described this system as self-perpetuating: the housing situation “disproportionally keeps families of color in poorer districts,” where they receive “inadequate and unequal education.” This leads to low-paying jobs or unemployment, which leads to poorer housing situations – and inadequate education.

“If we are truly interested in equity and social justice, the funding formulas for public school districts must be changed,” Ms. Mills asserted. “I urge you today to consider this and advocate for reform on this issue. Time is running out and the stakes couldn’t be higher.”

Kim Redigan, a teacher at the University of Detroit Jesuit High School, focused on the water shut-offs in Detroit – and her own experience of growing up in a poor area and being considered “white trash.” White people in poverty “were collateral damage,” she said. “The powers that be don’t mind throwing poor white people under the bus to keep black people off the bus.”

As a member of the Meta Peace Team, formerly the Michigan Peace Team, Ms. Redigan said she had spent time in Palestine. “When I was in Palestine, what I came to understand is water is used as a weapon – globally. Here in Detroit water is used as a weapon. People lose their water and then their homes.” 

She tied the plight of the people in Detroit to institutional racism. “The issue is not that people don’t get along personally,” she said, adding the issue is institutional, with disparities in education, housing, water, and other areas. She encouraged people do to their own internal work – to get past their denial of racism – but also to become active in addressing institutional racism. “We need to lean into our Catholic social teaching at this moment,” she added. “It brings us some good guidance” in the areas of social justice.

Rev. Barry Randolph, an Episcopal priest, speaks on how his Detroit parish, Church of the Messiah, helps members of the community with affordable housing, employment opportunities, and mentoring.

Rev. Barry Randolph, an entrepreneur and Episcopalian priest, spoke of the various ministries in his parish, Church of the Messiah, that respond to the needs of the local community. The church manages 213 units of affordable housing; provides free Internet to low-income families and individuals; and maintains services such as an employment office, a computer lab, an urban farm, and a bicycle repair shop. In addition, Rev. Randolph and his congregation have created businesses to employ the people in the local community.

“If you have an asset that you can use to help people, use that,” he said. “Stop asking God to do what you can do. We don’t have to ask God to lift people out of poverty. We’re not waiting on God. God is waiting on us. Anybody here who’s a child of God, if you believe a virgin had a baby, you can eradicate [racism and poverty].”

In a wrap-up session after an afternoon of small group discussions, panelists continued with motivational talk. Asked how to move from complacency to action, Ms. Taylor said, “Find your niche and work it until it turns – and keep working it.”

“You’ve all done wonderful things all along,” Rev. Randolph said. “Keep going. Take courage. Keep going. …You can make a difference in whatever state you’re in.”

Feature photo: Michelle Baines, Music Director for Corpus Christi Parish in Detroit, leads her choir and the assembly in singing the Black National Anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” Singing along in the background, from left, are Sisters Adrienne Schaffer, OP, Susan Van Baalen, OP, Virginia (Ginny) King, OP, and Ellen Schmitz, OP. 


 

 

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