By Sister Francine Barber, OP
December 28, 2016, Swinomish, Washington – Adrian Dominican Sisters Lorene Heck, OP, Janice Holkup, OP, Cele Gorman, OP, Iva Gregory, OP, Jean Marie Lehtinen, OP, and Francine Barber, OP, gathered this Fall with Rosemary Whaley, the sister of Sister Barbara Bieker and members of the Swinomish and Tulalip tribes, with whom she ministered, to celebrate Sister Barbara’s life and ministry.
The Mass – held at St. Paul Church on the Swinomish Reservation – lasted two hours as many people Sister Barbara lived with and served shared memories shared. Sister Barbara, who had ministered with the Native Americans for 31 years, died at the age of 83 on August 4, 2016, at the Adrian Dominican Sisters Motherhouse in Adrian, Michigan.
Three priests presided at the Mass: Father Mel Starzich, the pastor of the Swinomish tribe; Father Thomas Mc Michael, pastor of the Tulalip tribe and the former pastor of St. Paul Parish; and Father Pat Twohy, SJ, who ministered with Sister Barbara for many years. They expressed deep gratitude for her presence in their parishes.
The chiefs of the Swinomish and Tulalip tribes, other tribal elders, and those whose lives were greatly affected by Sister Barbara also spoke of her impact.
The Dominican Sisters were delighted to hear about the impact that Sister Barbara had among the Native Americans, the clergy, and Sisters with whom she ministered. What emerged was the picture of a woman who was gentle, affirming, and kind – but who also could be challenging. One woman spoke of repeatedly asking Sister Barbara the meaning of a contemplative experience and getting no response. Finally, Sister Barbara noted that such experiences have to be lived and taken in, not analyzed intellectually.
No account of Sister Barbara’s life could be complete without mention of her beloved dog, Petey, described by one gentleman as bald, black, and ugly, appealing to no one. Sister Barbara, however, showed Petey great affection, undeniably a symbol of her acceptance of all types of people.
When that dog died, she got Petey 2, beloved by many. He accompanied her everywhere: home visits, walks on the reservation. As one gentleman said, “Petey probably attended more Masses than most Catholics.”
Mass was followed by a celebratory meal. In the tradition of Potlach of the Northwest Native peoples, guests were all presented with gifts at the end of the feast.
What a privilege it was for us, especially the Sisters, to be immersed in the love and gratitude of the Native people Sister Barbara served so beautifully – and who were also such a gift to her. She was a grace-filled Preacher of the Gospel in word and action.
December 12, 2016, Boca Raton, Florida – Sister Carmen Álvarez, OP, received the Golden Rule Award from the Catholic Realtors of Boca Raton, Florida, in recognition of exemplifying and living out Jesus’ rule to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
The award ceremony was December 2 at the Royal Palm Country Club during a breakfast after the first Friday Mass. The Realtors gather for Mass on the first Friday of every month, and bestow the Golden Rule Award annually, usually in December.
“I was full of joy and surprise,” Sister Carmen said. “I did not know anything about this until I was presented with the honor. I became aware that I partner with the Catholic Realtors of Boca Raton in bringing the love of God to others.”
Sister Carmen was recognized for a life of service, beginning in her childhood years in the province of Havana, Cuba. She first worked with other children, and then, as she matured, felt called to minister to adults, said Sister Frances Madigan, OP, who gave a presentation on her life during the award ceremony.
Sister Fran noted priests in Cuba were asked to minister to three or four parishes and communities were “fortunate to see a priest maybe once a week.” Sister Carmen became active in keeping her church open every day for prayer, meetings, and social events. She continued this work even after churches were threatened and closed under the rule of the late Fidel Castro.
After Sister Carmen was arrested and spent two weeks in jail with 300 other women, her family sent her to the United States for protection. While serving at an immigration center in Miami helping families find sponsors among their families and friends, Sister Carmen met the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine de’ Ricci and became a member of the congregation. She transferred to the Adrian Dominican Sisters in December 2012.
Sister Carmen spent some time ministering in the north before she was again called to serve the refugees in Miami. She later ministered at St. Hugh and St. Helen Parishes, training parishioners to be catechists.
Sister Carmen’s last years of active ministry before retirement were spent at St. Joan of Arc Parish in Boca Raton, directing the parish’s Hispanic Ministry. The invitation by Monsignor John McMahon to serve at St. Joan of Arc has been among her favorite memories. “The people began to feel at home sharing their customs with others and being part of another culture,” she said.
Still active in her retirement, Sister Carmen serves St. Joan of Arc as co-director of the parish literacy center and, through her work with the Santa Ann Circle of the Council of Catholic Women, made up of more than 100 women who serve the parish through time, talent, and treasure. She also coordinates donations given to repair a leaky roof in her home parish in Cuba.
Sister Fran said that Sister Carmen offers “the gift of joy, the ability to forgive and forget, and to be a peacemaker in a world where this is much needed. She is a gift to this parish, the Adrian Dominicans and to all with whom she comes in contact.”
Feature photo: From left, Monsignor Michael McGraw, pastor of St. Joan of Arc Parish, Boca Raton; Sister Carmen Álvarez, OP; and Bishop Gerald Barbarito, of the Diocese of Palm Beach attended a ceremony in which Sister Carmen received the Golden Rule Award.