October 30, 2019, New York, New York – Sister Durstyne Farnan, OP, is building on her years of experience in justice and peace advocacy, collaboration with the Dominican family, and global travel as she embarks on a new ministry: United Nations Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) Dominican Representative. She succeeds Sister Margaret Mayce, OP, a Dominican Sister of Amityville, who was recently elected International Coordinator of Dominican Sisters International (DSI).
Sister Durstyne is accountable to the Dominican Sisters Conference (DSC), an organization of U.S. Dominican Sisters, and is a member of the DSC Executive Committee.
“I’m excited. I hope I represent the Dominicans at the UN well,” Sister Durstyne said from New York, where she began her three-year term in late October. Already, she is keeping up a hectic pace: attending a meeting in Rome earlier in October with the Dominican International Justice Promoters; settling into her new home in New Jersey, not far from the Caldwell Dominican Sisters Motherhouse; attending a UN side event on the environment; and attending an all-morning orientation on ministry at the UN offered by Religious at the United Nations (RUN).
Sister Durstyne’s principle job will involve attending sessions of UN working groups, particularly the working groups on homelessness and women and girls. “Homelessness is not necessarily a UN effort at this point, but what they’re trying to do is shift from homelessness as the fault of homeless people to the idea that having a home is a human right,” she explained. “They’re trying to change the language around homelessness and advocate more,” both at the UN in New York and in Geneva, where human rights issues are discussed.
Much of Sister Durstyne’s ministry involves connecting the Dominican family to the United Nations. “I’d like to communicate with the Dominican Sisters in the United States about what’s happening in the United Nations and how they might be able to assist me at their level,” she said. She would also like to know which issues the Dominican Sisters are working on with their justice promoters and how she can help them.
In addition, Sister Durstyne would like to work directly with special groups of Dominicans. She sees the Women and Girls Working Group as a connector to the Commission on the Status of Women and hopes that continental coordinators at the DSI can identify the names of two women from their continent who can attend the 64th session of the Commission, which will meet at the UN March 9-20, 2020.
In response to the UN’s concern about reaching out to youth, Sister Durstyne also hopes to get Dominican youth more involved, particularly members of the Dominican Young Adults and the International Dominican Youth Movement. She also encourages Dominican colleges and universities in the United States to establish UN Clubs so that students can learn more about the United Nations.
Sister Durstyne was encouraged to respond in the Spring of 2019 to an announcement that Sister Margaret Mayce’s position as Dominican Representative to the United Nations was opening. “People sent me the application,” she recalled. “Some of our Sisters and Sisters from other congregations encouraged me to reply.” After her third interview, she learned that she had been chosen for the position. “I felt very honored and blessed that they chose me,” she said.
Sister Durstyne said that her experiences prepared her for her new ministry. “I’ve had so many opportunities as a religious,” she said. For the past three years, she has served as Justice Coordinator for the School Sisters of St. Francis and the Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi, both based in Milwaukee. Before that, she was Director of the Adrian Dominican Sisters’ Office of Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation, coordinating the justice and peace efforts of Adrian Dominican Sisters and Associates. She also served as North American Justice Promoter with DSI and has been part of delegations to Iraq to visit the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena, based in Iraq.
“The various opportunities that I’ve had as a Dominican have really prepared me for this ministry, and that’s the feedback I get from so many people,” Sister Durstyne said. “My working with Dominican Sisters International has given me a more global perspective. My hope is to become more familiar with the UN and its structure and to connect the Dominican family even more to the UN.”
October 29, 2019, San Fernando, Philippines – Adrian Dominican Sisters from North America – the Dominican Republic and the United States – experienced inspiration, joy, and many graces and memories when they attended a Congregational gathering with the Adrian Dominican Sisters serving in the Philippines and their Partners in Mission.
This summer, July 31 to August 4, 2019, the Adrian Dominican Sisters held a congregational gathering, Embracing the Future / Encuentro con el Futuro / Pagyakap sa Hinaharap, during which Sisters, Associates, Co-workers, and Partners in Mission from sponsored institutions gathered in Adrian, Michigan, to celebrate the present and look together toward the future. The Our Lady of Remedies Mission Chapter, based in Pampanga, the Philippines, hosted its own Pagyakap sa Hinaharap at University of the Assumption in San Fernando October 5-6, 2019, with 300 Partners in Mission.
Special guests of the October gathering included eight North Americans from the United States and the Dominican Republic: Sisters Patricia Siemen, OP, Prioress, who spoke at the event; Patricia Harvat, OP, General Councilor; Carol Jean Kesterke, OP, Chapter Prioress of the Great Lakes Dominican Mission Chapter, based in Detroit; Basilia De la Cruz, OP; Marilín Llanes, OP; Carolyn Roeber, OP; Maria Eneida Santiago, OP; and Nery (Luchy) Sori, OP.
Read the reflection on Pagyakap sa Hinaharap, written by Sister Liberty Mendoza, OP.
Three of the North American visitors reflected on what they learned at the gathering, their experience of the culture of the Philippines, and the ministries of the Sisters: Sister Carol Jean; Sister Marilín, a school psychologist at the Joliet, Illinois, School District; and Sister Luchy, who ministers at Espíritu Santo School, Sección San José de Arroyo Hondo in the Dominican Republic.
Sister Luchy said she benefited from the presentation by attorney Alex Lacson. “The presentation helped us to understand the situation in the Philippines,” she said. “He explained very well what the problems are and where they are, the political and economic situation.”
She noted similarities between the economic challenges of the Philippines and the Dominican Republic – extreme poverty, with people owning small businesses to make some money, and a “deep division between the rich and the poor.” Sister Luchy said the division is greater in the Philippines than in her own country.
Sister Luchy also noted the situations of many families in both countries in which one parent has to leave home to earn money to send back to their families. “The children feel abandoned, and they don’t feel the same love from an uncle or aunt or brother or sister,” she said. “They understand that their parents have to go out of the country to make money so they can survive, but it isn’t the same.”
Sister Carol Jean also spoke of this challenge. “So many leave their country to support their families, which is so disruptive,” she said. She spoke to two lay co-workers who had once been in that situation, one working in Jerusalem and the other in Taiwan, both to support their families. “Their economy didn’t support them,” she said.
Sister Marilín, also reflecting on the presentation by the attorney, said she learned how the economy of the Philippines “plummeted” in 50 years. “This is happening because of 40 families in the Philippines who own the Philippines,” she said. “It’s a dynasty and they insert themselves in all the circles of power.” Sister Marilín also learned of the daily violence caused by extrajudicial killings – drug dealers, but more drug users who are targeted by the government and killed as part of the nation’s war on drugs.
Sister Marilín was also impressed by Father Quirico Pedregosa, OP, and his encouragement to Dominicans to follow their call to preach to people on the peripheries of society. “At the end he says that every time the [Dominican] Order flourishes, it’s when we respond to the peripheries,” to people who are cast aside or neglected by society.
The Sisters from North America also recognized many admirable qualities in the Filipino culture. Sister Luchy noted that one of the biggest differences between the Filipino and the North American cultures is the respect that the people in the Philippines have for their elders. She said she was especially impacted by the way children and young people come to the Sisters and humbly ask for a blessing.
“To experience another culture was just personally enriching,” Sister Carol Jean said. “It kind of changes you. You take in these beautiful people and you learn something of the sufferings that they endure.”
Sister Marilín was struck by the hospitality of the Sisters. “The Filipino culture is the most welcoming and so attentive to detail and to making sure you feel at home,” she said. “The minute I stepped into their house, I felt at home.”
The guests from North America also had the opportunity to come to know the Sisters from Our Lady of Remedies Mission Chapter, their various ministries, and the influence they have on the people they serve. The Sisters teach and administer in various schools; teach catechism and serve in a feeding program for students at Villa Maria, a private school that serves the indigenous Aeta people; reach out to street children; and advocate for justice and peace for their people.
“It was just such a gift to be with the Sisters and to be with the people they minister to,” Sister Carol Jean said. “[Ministry is] their life, and you can really see that – and how grateful the people on the panel were on Saturday to have the Sisters in their lives.” But, recalling the injustice and the difficulties that the people in the Philippines face, she added, “It’s hard for me to imagine how our Sisters carry the pain that is so prevalent there.”
Sister Luchy saw that the greatest gift the Sisters in the Philippines can give is hope. “They bring hope to the people they have in ministry,” she said. “Our Sisters are doing their best to bring hope to those people who are very poor.”
“It was a rich experience of integrating our Dominican charism in Asia and beyond, and then to understand how together we are embracing the future,” Sister Marilín recalled. “I was so honored to have had the opportunity to go.”
Feature photo (top): Sister Patricia Harvat, OP, left, and Sister Carol Jean Kesterke, OP, speak to some of the school children who danced for participants of Pagyakap sa Hinaharap.