May 5, 2017, Washington, D.C. – A number of Adrian Dominican Sisters, Associates, and friends braved the heat and crowds of Washington, D.C., to express their commitment and concern for Earth and her inhabitants. The group – along with students from Siena Heights University in Adrian – were participating in the People’s Climate March on April 29.
The crowd was estimated in the tens of thousands, and some say up to 200,000 people took part in the march, which was organized into eight blocs of activists. The march coincided with the 100th Day in office of President Donald Trump – and of the Feast of St. Catherine of Siena, great Dominican mystic and reformer.
Sister Janet Stankowski, OP, and Patty Gillis, an Adrian Dominican Associate, were among the staff members and supporters of Voices for Earth Justice (VEJ), an interfaith network of people who care for Earth. Their group marched as part of the Defenders of Faith bloc.
“I wore my Dominican scarf in honor of the Feast of St. Catherine of Siena,” Patty said. “I felt her energy in all the caring people taking their concerns to the seat of power, much like Catherine did in the Middle Ages.”
Patty said she was uplifted to be among the indigenous peoples who took part in the march, and among people of so many faith traditions. “They reminded us all that Care for Creation is a moral and spiritual issue.” She was also pleased to see the influence of Pope Francis on many participants through his picture and quotes from his encyclical, Laudate Si, on banners carried through the streets of Washington, D.C.
“The People’s Climate March was very impressive, with many, many activists,” Sister Janet said. “We stood in respect as the indigenous communities and Protectors of Justice prepared to lead the March. They were followed by the immigrants, water keepers, and Creators of Sanctuary.” In all, Sister Janet said, her participation in the Climate March was “a meditative, powerful, and hopeful experience.”
Members of the group from Adrian – marching with the Defenders of Truth group – also found the Climate March to be a hopeful experience, in spite of the urgency of the climate change issue and challenges such as the 90-degree heat, crowds, and the difficulty of traveling to the march site.
“It’s so hopeful, because you are out there with all these people and you think, ‘Wow, these are all people who care about the same things I do, and there are so many of us,’ ” explained Sister Kathleen Nolan, OP. She is the Director of the Adrian Dominican Congregation’s Office of Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation. “How can [the March] not make an impact?”
Sister Kathy – along with Sister Maurine Barzantni, OP, and Holly Sammons, Dominican Volunteer – were impressed by the kindness of the people they encountered, whether at their hotel or among other participants, in spite of the discomfort and inconveniences.
“Everyone is so peaceful and kind,” Holly said. She noted that the atmosphere of peace among the participants made parents feel secure enough to bring their young children to the march. “It’s kind of cool to see people being introduced to this [activism] at so young an age, and parents feeling it’s safe enough to bring their kids, too.”
They were also impressed by the commitment of so many people, not only at the People’s Climate March, but the weekend before, at the science march and at a May Day demonstration in Chicago. “Week after week, the crowds continue to come out,” Sister Kathy said. “The energy hasn’t lagged.”
Sister Maurine saw the interconnectedness of issues represented by many of the marchers, from Black Life Matters activists to indigenous peoples who carried signs such as “Don’t Break Treaties.” But the various agendas “all fit under the same category – respect for our world and respect for the inhabitants of our world,” Sister Maurine said.
In general, the participants from Adrian came away from the People’s Climate March with a renewed commitment to caring for Earth – and a greater sense of a culture of respect. Sister Maurine said the message she would like to bring to others after her experience of the march is that “people desire to respect the Earth and everything in the Earth and on the Earth.”
Feature photo (above): Staff and supporters of Voices for Earth Justice (VEJ) took part in the Climate March: back row, from left, Karen Clarke; Patty Gillis, Associate and Director of VEJ; Sister Janet Stankowski, OP; Marian Gillis; and Laura Gillis. Seated in front is Nate Butler, Laura’s husband.
Sisters Kathleen Nolan, OP, third from left, and Maurine Barzantni, OP, front row, right, with a group of Co-workers, friends, and Siena Heights University students, take part in the People’s Climate March on April 29.
February 23, 2017, Adrian, Michigan – Racism and prejudice, on both the personal and systemic level, are difficult issues for many people to address in their own lives. But 10 Siena Heights University students – five men and five women, some African-American and some Caucasian – gave fellow students, faculty, and administrators, and Adrian Dominican Sisters, an enjoyable way to explore the issue.
In the presentation, “Culture Shock,” hosted at Siena Heights’ Rueckert Hall January 31, the student volunteers gave their appreciative and engaged audience an honest look at how they view others. The students – hypnotized by Dimondale, Michigan, expert Chuck King – acted out their unconscious views of other races, genders, and sexual orientation, and of those with physical disabilities.
The program was sponsored by the Adrian Dominican Sisters; the Pi Lambda Phi Fraternity at Siena Heights, whose goal is to eliminate prejudice in daily life; and the University’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion, directed by Sharese Mathis.
Culture Shock has been presented since 2006 in almost 40 states, in large and small institutions. The program was started by students who moved from Detroit to Grand Valley State University where they dealt with their own “culture shock” in the predominantly white culture of the area.
The humorous evening revealed that the students, for the most part, felt accepted at Siena Heights. But it also helped members of both the Siena Heights and the Adrian Dominican campuses to explore their personal challenges in a diverse world.
The day after the event, students and Sisters gathered on two separate occasions to discuss what they had learned from Culture Shock.
“Experience is one thing, but reflecting on the experience and sharing it really helps us to grow,” said Sister Mary Priniski, OP, one of the organizers of the January 31 program.
Sister Marilyn Barnett, OP, said this emphasis on exploring racism and diversity began years ago when a group of Sisters discussed the topic during a Chapter meeting. Since then, diversity and racism became an initiative of the Adrian Crossroads Chapter, based in Adrian, Michigan. The issue also fits well with the Enactments approved by delegates to the 2016 General Chapter of the Adrian Dominican Sisters.
Hopes are for the discussions between students and Sisters to continue. Sister Marilyn noted that the issue of racism can be explored and discussed in a variety of ways by Sisters and concerned citizens throughout the country, and that it’s important to keep the discussion going in any way possible.
“Systemic racism – how do we get at that?” Sister Marilyn said. “Put me in a group of people, and if I’m willing to admit to it and speak about it, then that’s one way that we can begin to wear it down.”
Feature photo: Sisters Esther Kennedy, OP, (second from right) and Annette Sinagra, OP, take part in a discussion with Siena Heights University students the day after the “Culture Shock” presentation.