June 9, 2020, West Palm Beach, Florida – Sister Donna Baker, OP, long-time teacher and administrator at Rosarian Academy, received the prestigious Rose and Torch Award from the school during its virtual graduation ceremony.
The Rose and Torch Award is presented to an individual who has contributed exemplary service to Rosarian Academy. Through faith and commitment to the common good, the recipient rises above daily challenges and perseveres for the good of others.
In presenting the award, Linda Trethewey, Head of School, described Sister Donna as one who “dedicated her life to the Dominican tradition of preaching through prayer, study, common life, and ministry” and who strove to live out the Adrian Dominican Vision: “Seek truth; make peace; reverence life.”
Sister Donna ministered for 16 years at Rosarian Academy: first as English and religion teacher in grades 6 to 8; as coordinator of the school’s chapter of the National Junior Honor Society; committee chair for the school’s accreditation process; and facilitator for religious education and mission development. She then served in administration, as assistant principal, director of the middle school, and as principal of the middle school. It was a surprise diagnosis of bone cancer that abruptly ended her career at Rosarian Academy.
Sister Donna said she learned about receiving the award only a few minutes before it was presented, as she and Sister Mary Ann Caulfield, OP, Chapter Prioress of the Florida Mission Chapter, sat with her for the Zoom presentation. “She kept telling me I might want to look nice,” Sister Donna recalled, and finally told her about the award.
“I think my first reaction was shock,” Sister Donna said. “I never thought about it. I was speechless. It still hasn’t settled with me.” She added that the Rose and Torch Award is the most prestigious award granted by Rosarian Academy.
“I looked forward to every day” at Rosarian, Sister Donna said. “I looked forward to meeting the students in the morning, their activities, the camaraderie.” As an administrator, she said, she worked as part of a team with the other administrators.
Sister Donna said she especially loved watching the students’ participation in liturgies, plays, and other activities. She particularly enjoyed Field Day, when the students were divided into teams. “I enjoyed the competition and loved cheering for my team.”
But Sister Donna said she also faced challenges. “As a teacher, you want to do the best for each of the students, to meet each child where they were, and it was difficult,” she said. “I often felt there was more I could do.”
Along with classwork, Sister Donna focused on the kinds of people her students would become. “I often told them, ‘You are our future. Do your best and accomplish what you can,’” she said. “I also often told them to keep God in their lives – don’t ever stray too far away from God.”
Sister Donna was inspired to become an Adrian Dominican Sister and a teacher by Sister Rose Patrick Conroy, OP, her first-grade teacher at St. Agatha in Redford, Michigan. “She was a great influence on my life – in my vocation and my career,” Sister Donna said. “All I ever wanted to do was teach and become an Adrian Dominican Sister because of the influence of Sister Rose Patrick.”
Sister Donna has had a positive influence on her students, who were constantly reminded of Rosarian Academy’s mission statement to live the Gospel values.
Watch this video of Rosarian Academy’s virtual graduation. The Rose and Torch Award presentation can be found at about 15 minutes into the video.
The Rosarian Academy Class of 2020 stands six feet apart on the Oakley Gage Debbs Memorial Field in honor of their late classmate. Photo by David Scarola Photography
June 5, 2020, Adrian, Michigan – Where can we find hope in a time that seems fraught with uncertainty, such as in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic? Sister Carol Johannes, OP, addressed that question in “Hope – Despite it All,” the second in a monthly series of talks by members of the Adrian Dominican Sisters’ Spirituality Committee.
Sister Carol’s presentation was live-streamed to the Congregation from her home in Ann Arbor, Michigan, on May 20, 2020.
Sister Carol – spiritual director, retreat director, and former Prioress of the Adrian Dominican Congregation – offered four avenues for hope during these troubled times.
Trust in God
Noting the “huge strides in technology” that have taken place in the last several decades, Sister Carol said that the pandemic has “put us in touch with how very fragile life can be, despite all of these advances.” For people of faith, she said, this newfound sense of fragility reminds us “who we are and whose we are,” and of the need to place ourselves “consciously every day in God’s hands.”
Essential Unity of the Human Family
Sister Carol said that the pandemic has reminded us that we are one human family. “We’re all in this together,” she said. “We’re all called to reach out to help each other in any way that we can. If we’re open to grace, this time can be transformative – it can break down barriers between nations and cultures.” This time also can reveal to us the inequalities that force people in poverty to “misery, sickness, and death.” Sister Carol encouraged her listeners to challenge social structures that prevent people who are poor and people of color from being safe during the pandemic. “Today, like Jesus, we’re called to name injustice and do it with strength and conviction,” and without rancor or hostility, she said.
Name our Feelings
We are likely experiencing a number of feelings – fear of losing our loved ones or of contracting the virus and dying, as well as grief over the loss of loved ones or employment, and concern about the future. Sister Carol extensively quoted author Jack Kornfield, who spoke of the foolishness of fearing these emotions. “It’s important to hold the emotions and humanity of others with empathy – not trying to fix things simply holding them with gentle compassion,” Sister Carol said. She also recommended placing our own feelings in the hands of God or of Mary. “This is the formula for coming to a place of peace and healing.”
Faith in the Resurrection of Jesus
Sister Carol noted that many people during the pandemic will be confronted with the possibility of death, of mortality. “As those who see the resurrection of Jesus as the cornerstone of our faith, perhaps we might reframe the issue of challenge from dealing with the inevitability of our mortality to ponder the inevitability of our immortality” in Heaven, she said. Noting the fear that many have of entering Purgatory, Sister Carol pointed to the way that many Vatican II theologians understood it: “At the moment of our death, as we meet the All-Holy One, we become aware of our sinfulness in response to God’s holiness,” Sister Carol explained. “As we have this experience, we feel great sorrow and repentance. This purifies us and opens our way to eternal happiness.” She encouraged her listeners, when they are confronted with the possibility of dying during the pandemic, to be open to the bigger picture: “to the inevitability not only of our death but of the joy that will be ours.”