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Life and Ministry of Sister Barbara Bieker Celebrated by Family, Sisters, and Tribal Members

By Sister Francine Barber, OP

December 28, 2016, Swinomish, Washington – Adrian Dominican Sisters Lorene Heck, OP, Janice Holkup, OP, Cele Gorman, OP, Iva Gregory, OP, Jean Marie Lehtinen, OP, and Francine Barber, OP, gathered this Fall with Rosemary Whaley, the sister of Sister Barbara Bieker and members of the Swinomish and Tulalip tribes, with whom she ministered, to celebrate Sister Barbara’s life and ministry. 

The Mass – held at St. Paul Church on the Swinomish Reservation – lasted two hours as many people Sister Barbara lived with and served shared memories shared. Sister Barbara, who had ministered with the Native Americans for 31 years, died at the age of 83 on August 4, 2016, at the Adrian Dominican Sisters Motherhouse in Adrian, Michigan.    

Three priests presided at the Mass: Father Mel Starzich, the pastor of the Swinomish tribe; Father Thomas Mc Michael, pastor of the Tulalip tribe and the former pastor of St. Paul Parish; and Father Pat Twohy, SJ, who ministered with Sister Barbara for many years. They expressed deep gratitude for her presence in their parishes. 

The chiefs of the Swinomish and Tulalip tribes, other tribal elders, and those whose lives were greatly affected by Sister Barbara also spoke of her impact. 

The Dominican Sisters were delighted to hear about the impact that Sister Barbara had among the Native Americans, the clergy, and Sisters with whom she ministered.  What emerged was the picture of a woman who was gentle, affirming, and kind – but who also could be challenging. One woman spoke of repeatedly asking Sister Barbara the meaning of a contemplative experience and getting no response. Finally, Sister Barbara noted that such experiences have to be lived and taken in, not analyzed intellectually.  

No account of Sister Barbara’s life could be complete without mention of her beloved dog, Petey, described by one gentleman as bald, black, and ugly, appealing to no one.  Sister Barbara, however, showed Petey great affection, undeniably a symbol of her acceptance of all types of people.  

When that dog died, she got Petey 2, beloved by many. He accompanied her everywhere: home visits, walks on the reservation. As one gentleman said, “Petey probably attended more Masses than most Catholics.”  

Mass was followed by a celebratory meal. In the tradition of Potlach of the Northwest Native peoples, guests were all presented with gifts at the end of the feast.

What a privilege it was for us, especially the Sisters, to be immersed in the love and gratitude of the Native people Sister Barbara served so beautifully – and who were also such a gift to her. She was a grace-filled Preacher of the Gospel in word and action.

Left: Sister Barbara Bieker. Right: From left, Fathers Pat Twohy, SJ; Mel Starazich, and Thomas McMichael concelebrate the Mass celebrating the life of Sister Barbara Bieker, OP.


Left: Lesa Roehrich, the catechist for the Tulalip tribe, mentored by Sister Barbara, proclaims the second reading. Right: Among those celebrating Sister Barbara’s life were her blood sister, Rose, left, and Sister Cele Gorman, OP. 


‘Late Night Catechism’ Performance Brings in $1,000 for Sisters’ Retirement

April 14, 2016, Covington, Washington – A humorous performance reminiscent of old-fashioned Catholic schools in brought forth an evening’s of entertainment for some 250 people in Covington, Washington – and more than $1,000 to benefit retired Adrian Dominican Sisters. 

Sister’s Easter Catechism: Will my Bunny Go to Heaven, one of seven distinct plays devised by the national theater group, Late Night Catechism, was performed on the evening of April 1 at the Kentwood High School Performing Arts Center in Covington, Washington. The performance was supported by the efforts of Ronda Billerbeck, cultural programs manager with the City of Kent (Washington) Arts Commission.

Actress Kimberly Richards

Among the evening’s special guests were four Adrian Dominican Sisters: Sister Lorene Heck, OP, Chapter Prioress of the Dominican West Chapter, and Sisters Francine Barber, Cele Gorman, and Iva Gregory. Actress Kimberly Richards, of Late Night Catechism, issued the invitation by phone to Sister Cele at Assumption Convent on March 30. While the Sisters were not excited by this last-minute invitation, Sister Lorene said, they enjoyed the performance, in which Kimberly, dressed in habit, conducted her class and corrected audience members who came in late or chewed gum in “class.”

But the evening also gave Kimberly and the Adrian Dominican Sisters a special opportunity to educate the audience about the situation facing today’s Sisters: fewer new members entering religious life, many Sisters retiring, and the merger of many congregations – such as the local Edmonds Dominican Sisters with the Adrian Dominican Sisters. When the audience had the opportunity to make donations for Sisters, Sister Lorene said, Kimberly asked them to be generous – and the audience contributed a total of $1,173.15 to benefit retired Adrian Dominican Sisters.   

“At the mention of your order, the audience responded with overwhelming respect and gratitude,” Kimberly wrote in a letter to Sister Cele. “The Dominican Sisters are deservedly well loved by the community!” Sister Lorene explained that many of the audience members spoke of their experiences with the Tacoma Dominican Sisters. Also serving in the Seattle area were the Edmonds Dominican Sisters, who merged with the Adrian Dominicans in 2003.

Kimberly herself was a product of Catholic education, having been educated by the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary at Holy Names High School in Oakland, California. 



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