January 26, 2018, Detroit – Sister Mary Hemmen, OP, founder of two literacy centers based in Detroit, recently received a Distinguished Service Award from the city for her contributions to the community.
After being a traditional classroom teacher, Sister Mary turned to adult education when she founded Siena Literacy Center in Detroit in 1995. Building upon that success, she was also instrumental in founding All Saints Literacy Center, which opened in 2015 in a predominantly Hispanic section of Detroit.
“Sister Mary has been a champion for adult education for many years and has inspired numerous volunteers, tutors, and staff,” said Roger Frank, Director of All Saints. “All Saints Literacy Center is forever in debt to her for her work at the Center, and we continue to grow our program as one that has high standards that she set.”
Roger worked with members of the Board of Directors to obtain the Distinguished Service Award for Sister Mary. He contacted Raquel Castañeda-López, Council woman for All Saints’ district.
In his letter to the council, Roger wrote that Sister Mary “is a person who has given so much of her time and talent assisting Detroiters and has never sought any recognition. Sister Mary has worked tirelessly for the adults in Detroit who have struggles with literacy. Her work continues through the many volunteer tutors at Siena Literacy Center and All Saints Literacy Center.”
Although the Detroit City Council announced the award in November 2017, Sister Mary only recently received the certificate, just days before she died on January 25, 2018.
“I never stopped teaching,” she said in an interview after receiving the award. “Very often I worked with the learners.” She also served as mentor to the staff and on the Board of Directors.
Siena and All Saints are among the seven literacy centers sponsored by the Adrian Dominican Sisters. The centers offer free tutoring and other services to people who seek to improve their skills in the English language – either native English speakers or people in the English as a Second Language program.
Sister Mary noted that she “loved every minute” of her work in the two literacy centers, adding that the need for these services is increasing.
Donna Nesbitt, Executive Director of Siena Literacy Center said Sister Mary was a “champion of those in need of literacy skills necessary to improve their lives and the lives of their families.. She was tireless and tenacious in her efforts to secure funding, materials and supplies necessary to do this most important work.”
Mary Francis, former member of the Siena Literacy Center Advisory Board and Board of Directors, spoke of her delight in working with Sister Mary. “Sister Mary was no fuss, no drama, kind, and compassionate, a dedicated, professional educator who did her absolute best to ensure everyone felt welcome and respected… Many people's lives were changed as a result of Siena Literacy Center. Sister Mary believed in the power of education to reduce poverty and she believed in the city of Detroit. Thank God for her efforts.”
From left, Roger Frank, Director of All Saints Literacy Center; Sister Mary Hemmen, OP; and Chris Verklan, administrative assistant at All Saints Literacy Center in Detroit.