October 19, 2017, Adrian, Michigan – Many think of the influence of Adrian Dominican Sisters and Associates, as they strive daily to live out the Congregation’s Mission and Vision. But another group has also had a profoundly positive impact on the world: former Adrian Dominican Sisters. They may have left vowed life, but many continue to live out the Dominican spirituality and charism.
For the past 12 years, many former Adrian Dominican Sisters have renewed their connection to the Congregation and to each other through Companions in the Dominican Crossthreads, an organization of former Sisters founded by Associate Joan Ebbitt. The group has been meeting twice a year to discuss books or articles on spiritual themes, to pray together, and to renew the connection to the Congregation. Recent meetings have focused on the themes of loss and aging.
Joan had the idea of starting a group of former Adrian Dominican Sisters during a conversation about her longings to reconnect with the Congregation with then-Prioress Sister Donna Markham, OP. Sister Donna gave Joan addresses of 650 former Sisters, to whom Joan wrote, describing her own need for connection and encouraging them to contact her if they were interested in getting together.
“Through all these years, I have missed belonging to a community of women who challenge each other, support one another in difficult times, laugh together and cry with one another,” Joan wrote in the letter. “I have missed listening to new ideas, sharing edgy and tense moments that often unveil passionate beliefs and questions, and experiencing the abundance of hope that I believe is apparent when I spend time with Adrian Dominicans.”
More than 70 people responded to the letter, Joan recalled. “The first coming together was really a sharing of our stories and what had happened in the ensuring years since people had left the community.”
The women who gathered at the first meeting quickly felt comfortable with one another. “There was a strong thread holding us to our Dominican roots. So we started to refer to ourselves as crossing the threads with our Dominican roots and our Dominican Sisters who are still vowed members of the community.”
Joan and her companions named themselves Companions in the Dominican Crossthreads after reading the book Dominican Spirituality by Eric Borgman, with an Appendix by theologian Edward Schillebeeckx, in which Schillebeeckx noted the beauty that new threads bring to tapestries.
Joan describes the meetings as a time of heart-sharing. “It was sharing our spirituality, our sense of God, our connection with one another. It was mutual sharing from the very start.”
Kathy Hagemann Almaney joined the Congregation after being taught by Adrian Dominicans at Queen of Angels School in Chicago. “I felt the Adrian Dominicans had a joyfulness, a sense of life that I didn’t see in the other orders,” she explained. She left the Congregation after six years because of her desire for marriage and family life.
But her time as an Adrian Dominican Sister affected her throughout her life. In her human resources work, Kathy said she felt she could be a positive influence. “I really felt I had an opportunity to take what had been given to me [in the Congregation] and put it into practice.”
Now retired, Kathy serves on two boards for Christian Brothers, is active with Catholic Charities in Chicago, and chairs the Congregation’s Camilla Madden Charitable Trust, ensuring that retired Sisters have the funds they need to sustain them in retirement.
“There has never been a time when I haven’t felt close to Adrian, when I haven’t felt I could come back and feel welcome,” she said. “I can’t say enough how grateful I am for the way the Adrians have influenced my life and the decisions I’ve made.”
Martina Frugé O’Sullivan, who grew up in the Detroit inner-city parish of St. Teresa, said she entered the Congregation but left a few months later. Still, she said, she has been very much influenced by the Adrian Dominican Sisters. She served for 23 years at Dominican Hospital, Santa Cruz, California, sponsored by the Congregation, first as Director of Behavioral Health and then as Director of Community Engagement. “I was involved with the Adrian Dominican Sisters all through that ministry,” she recalled. “They’ve been a part of my life.”
Currently Martina serves as Vice President of the Board for Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Monterey, California; on the Catholic Charities USA Board; and on the Development Committee for the Adrian Dominican Sisters. Active in efforts against human trafficking, Martina noted that commitment to social justice has been a strong component of Adrian Dominican life.
Mary Jo Gras Alexander, a graduate of Hoban Dominican High School near Cleveland, was “extremely impressed” by the Adrian Dominican Sisters who taught her. After entering the Congregation and leaving, she studied psychology at the University of Detroit. Before attending graduate school, she taught for a year in Puerto Rico, where she was mentored by Sister Rosa Monique Peña, OP. She returned to the United States, where she taught in Catholic schools and was later involved in special education. She has also worked against human trafficking.
“The theology made all the difference in the world, and the Dominican spirit touched us all,” she said.
Betty Deutsch Harken never had Adrian Dominican Sisters in school, but was very much influenced by her aunt, the late Sister Cathryn Deutsch, OP. Betty entered the Congregation, stayed for four years, and later got married and worked for a railroad for 26 years. “I did not work in the Adrian Dominican realm, but I always carried what I am because of my years in the community,” she said. “I was certainly formed by that.”
After her children were grown, Betty moved to California, close to Sister Cathryn, and is now involved in the Ethics Committee at Dominican Hospital. “When we left the Dominican order, we did not leave Adrian behind,” Betty said. “We have continued with what we learned here and have brought it to the world.”
Adrian Dominican Sisters have been very supportive of Companions in the Dominican Crossthreads, Joan noted. Through the years, each General Council has named a liaison to the group. Sister Patricia Siemen, OP, Prioress, is the current liaison and has attended two of the gatherings. Other Sisters have also attended out of friendship and a sense of connection.
The Companions in the Dominican Crossthreads membership includes 130 people: former Sisters, Adrian Dominican Sisters and Associates, and people who are simply interested in making a spiritual connection with Dominican life.
“We’re open to people seeking to be connected to Dominican roots,” Joan explained. “They’re welcome to join us, as long as they have that desire to be connected to the Dominicans, specifically Adrian Dominicans.” Companions in the Dominican Crossthreads now meets on the third Saturday of May and September. Those interested in attending should contact Joan at email@example.com.
Joan noted that similar groups of former Sisters have gathered in Florida and Chicago.
Feature photo: Attending the September 16 gathering of Companions in the Dominican Crossthreads are: standing, from left, Sherry Goff, Carol Fowler, Carol Stokes-Measel, Joan Ebbitt, and Connie Meyer, and seated from left: Mary Sweet Rooney, Joyce Kamowski Hempen, and Paula Zimmer.