April 23, 2018, Adrian, Michigan – Hundreds of people – Adrian Dominican Sisters, Associates, family members, colleagues, and Co-workers – gathered at the Motherhouse April 22 and 23 for two days of formal and informal celebrations to honor the memory of former Prioress Rosemary Ferguson, OP.
During an informal gathering after Mass on April 22, Sisters, Co-workers, and friends had the opportunity to share stories about their experiences with Sister Rosemary. Speakers recalled special moments, ways that Sister Rosemary influenced them, and how she taught them about the dignity of one’s final days of life.
The formal rituals began on the evening of April 22 with a Vigil Service. Sister Patricia Dulka, OP, Sister Rosemary’s Chapter Prioress, presided over the service and presented the eulogy, recalling Sister Rosemary’s death and the many ways that she influenced others.
“It is amazing to me that that woman came from a tiny little town to become the exquisite leader that she was,” Sister Patricia said. That quote, she added, was from Sister Rosemary herself, describing the leadership of her foremother, Mother Camilla Madden. But, Sister Pat noted, that the quote could also apply to Sister Rosemary, a native of the small town of Spaulding, Nebraska.
Sister Carol Johannes, OP, Prioress of the Congregation from 1978 to 1986, noted the remarkable trust that Sister Rosemary had placed in her by naming her as her successor as novice mistress. “There’s no greater gift that one person can give to another than really trusting her, and that is my experience of Sister Rosemary,” she said. “As leader, mentor, supporter, and friend, she was second to none.”
Noting that Sister Rosemary had no manual or rule book to follow in leading the large and diverse Congregation – 2,400 members at the time – Sister Carol pointed out that Sister Rosemary could easily have become overburdened with her task. That never happened, she said. “Because she lived in such deep faith and trust in God, in all of us, and in an exciting and hopeful future, which she embraced enthusiastically, Rosemary’s heart was almost always light.”
Kathy Almaney, a former Adrian Dominican Sister who was a novice under Sister Rosemary in 1966, described her as her “teacher, conscience, role model, and friend, but always my North Star, the person who set the direction for my life.” She noted that as the Congregation changed and the novices changed in struggling to implement Vatican II and the Chapter of Renewal, Sister Rosemary also changed. “She had the vision to see a new way of religious life and she knew she had to change to achieve that,” Kathy recalled. “Her leadership had to be lighter. She didn’t have to be so outwardly strict. Her natural loving and joyful personality could emerge, and she could still be a good leader.”
The Vigil Service concluded with a reflection written by Sister Rosemary herself. “Beginning with all these days, to you my dearest family, my Adrian Dominican Sisters and Associates and friends all, my love has seeded itself in my heart for always,” she wrote. “All we shared then, newly, has grown wider, deeper, even more caring and … onward to heaven’s time … No fear have I, only the deepest and most loving gratitude for these precious years.”
Both the Vigil Service and the Funeral Liturgy on April 23 reflected Sister Rosemary’s faith, love for all the people in her life, and appreciation for poetry and her Celtic heritage. The Vigil Service began with a prelude, Clair de Lune, performed by Sister Magdalena Ezoe, OP, at Sister Rosemary’s request. Sister Mary Alice Naour, gave a solo performance of The Deer’s Cry based on the Breastplate of St. Patrick. Bill Ebbitt accompanied the chapel choir and David Rains, organist and choir director, on the trumpet and bagpipes. Cantors were Sister Patricia Walter, OP, and Sister Mary Jones, OP.
Father James Hug, SJ, presider at the Funeral Liturgy, expressed Sister Rosemary’s gratitude to the assembly for their presence at the funeral, and her warm welcome to St. Catherine Chapel.
Using an opening reflective hymn, “Breathe on me, Breath of God” as the refrain of her reflection, Sister Patricia Siemen, OP, Prioress, presented the various ways that Sister Rosemary breathed God’s breath and life into the people and the world around her. When she entered the Congregation, “that began Rosemary’s breathing the breath of God on us. Her breath and wisdom mingled with God’s as she taught, formed, cajoled, and loved us into the community of renewal requested by the Church.”
As she led the Congregation in a time of change, Sister Patricia added, Sister Rosemary drew strength from Sisters in leadership in other religious communities, including as Sisters Mary Luke Tobin, SL; Mary Daniel Turner, SNDdeN; Theresa Kane, RSM; Helen Garvey, BVM; and Margaret Brennan, IHM. She was “also deeply steeped in the history of our own Dominican community, and she developed a love and reverence for our foremothers, Camilla, Augustine, and Gerald. They were her mentors for pioneering new landscapes in the 1970s.”
While Sister Rosemary initially took on the honorific Mother Laurence Edward, Sister Patricia noted, she eventually reclaimed the traditional Dominican term of Prioress of the Congregation and the title Sister Rosemary “to adopt a more collegial, mutual, and sisterly way of relationship” with the Sisters in the Congregation.
Sister Patricia also noted Sister Rosemary’s final lesson to those she knew and loved: how to die “gracefully, unafraid, and with dignity.” She concluded: “Our hearts are filled with love, Rosemary, for you and because of you. We know you are already beckoning us to journey more deeply into the heart and breath of God and to do what is ours to do to further communion and harmony in the world. Be with us until we become like you, transformed into the utter breath of God.”
The formal celebration of Sister Rosemary’s life concluded as Sisters, family members and friends took her to her resting place in the Congregation cemetery, a “circle of friendship” for Adrian Dominican Sisters who join the Communion of Saints.
Read more about Sister Rosemary’s life and contributions here.
April 18, 2018, Adrian, Michigan – Sister Rosemary (“Laurence Edward”) Ferguson, OP, who led the Adrian Dominican Sisters during the pivotal post-Vatican II years when ministerial religious life in the United States was transformed, died April 17, 2018, at the age of 92.
During her 10 years in office, from 1968 to 1978, Sister Rosemary and her General Council implemented the far-reaching acts of the “General Chapter of Renewal,” a legislative gathering of the Congregation convened by decree of the Second Vatican Council for the purpose of reviewing and renewing religious life. Elected by her Sisters at that 1968 Chapter, Sister Laurence Edward, 42, became the fifth Mother General of the Adrian Dominican Sisters, then numbering 2,400 members.
“Rosemary Ferguson is among the valiant religious leaders of the 20th century whose creative and faithful response to Vatican II renewed every aspect of our life and helped bring US Catholic Sisters into the wide array of ministries we see today, serving God’s people and planet,” said Patricia Siemen, OP, Prioress of the Congregation. “She led us through an incredibly exciting, painful, liberating, and tumultuous time with great love, enduring faith, inspiration, and a joyful spirit. Her great love and influence is imprinted in the hearts of every Sister.”
Sister Jeanne Burns, OP, who served on the General Council during both of Sister Rosemary’s terms in office, described her as “a charismatic leader,” who “did everything with grace and direction and good humor.” Sister Rosemary “gave sessions every Sunday morning where she would talk about the renewal and what was expected, and everybody loved those sessions, and they came in the hundreds,” Sister Jeanne said. “She was prepared for leadership in the new vision of the Church.”
While Prioress of the Adrian Dominican Sisters, Sister Rosemary played a significant national leadership role in US religious life, serving as a member of the National Board and Executive Committee of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), an association of leaders of US congregations then representing 160,000 Catholic Sisters. She chaired the Michigan and Indiana regional LCWR group (LCWR Region VII) and served on the LCWR liaison committees with the National Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Conference of Major Superiors of Men. In addition, Sister Rosemary served as Chair of the Dominican Leadership Conference, a national association comprised of leaders of US congregations of Dominicans, during this time.
“Rosemary navigated through the unknown and enabled others to navigate the unknown waters of that time,” said Sister Jeanne O’Laughlin, OP, who served on the General Council during Sister Rosemary’s second term. “What could have been devastating years ended up being the herald of change and of the new beginnings and the new possibilities that the world, the church, and women could have in their service as religious.”
Sister Carol Johannes, OP, who served as Novice Mistress during Sister Rosemary’s term and succeeded her as Prioress in 1978, said, “She was unhesitating in her trust in God and her trust in the community and her trust in the need to renew. I really think that nobody else in the whole Congregation was called upon as Rosemary was to let go of old forms of religious life and to let a new form of religious life emerge.”
Within a year or two after taking office, Mother Laurence Edward dropped the honorific “Mother” in favor of the more collegial, “Sister,” and reverted to her baptismal name, adopting the early Dominican title of “Prioress” in lieu of “Mother General.”
“Sister Rosemary was perfectly fitted to this call with her energy, vitality, youth and a trust in the Sisters that was extraordinary,” Sister Carol added. “Because of her own faith and courage, she was willing to allow the Holy Spirit to refashion the Congregation according to the norms of Vatican II.”
At the 1974 General Chapter, when Sister Rosemary was elected to serve a second term, the Congregation adopted an “option for the poor,” emphasizing the pursuit of social justice as an essential element of the Congregation’s Gospel commitment.
Numerous initiatives grew from that commitment, including the creation of the Congregation’s Portfolio Advisory Board, which for more than 40 years has played a national role in socially responsible investing. The Congregation’s work to promote peace, justice and the integrity of creation also evolved from that commitment and has found expression not only in other Congregational and collaborative efforts, but also in the individual ministerial commitments of hundreds of individual Sisters over the years.
“Rosemary was certainly the leader in that area and really wanted the Congregation to respond to the call of Vatican II to go where the needs were and help people to become self-sufficient, …inviting us to different areas [of ministry] where we had never been before,” said former Prioress Sister Attracta Kelly, OP, who presently directs the Congregation’s Immigration Assistance Office. “She was an outstanding woman – clearly a model for all of us on how to live the Dominican charism with joy.”
Born on a farm in Spaulding, Nebraska, on March 29, 1926, Sister Rosemary was the youngest of the 10 children of William and Mary Marcella (Sullivan) Ferguson. She lost her mother when she was 2 years old. Her father died when she was 12, two years after they had lost the family farm during the Depression and moved to Omaha. Sister Rosemary and her older sisters then moved to Chicago, where she met the Adrian Dominican Sisters while attending the Congregation’s Aquinas High School.
In May 1943, Rosemary entered the Adrian Dominican Congregation and was received into the novitiate in January 1944, taking the religious name Sister Laurence Edward. She taught elementary school for 10 years at the Congregation’s schools in West Palm Beach, Florida, and was principal of St. Kilian School in Chicago from 1955 to 1961. Returning to the Motherhouse in 1961, she was appointed Assistant Mistress of Postulants and, in 1965, became Mistress of Novices until her election as Mother General.
“I was blessed to have Rosemary as my novice director during the period of the renewal of religious life following Vatican II,” said Sister Donna Markham, OP, former Prioress and current President and CEO of Catholic Charities USA. “It seemed that as soon as a [Vatican II] document became available, Rosemary was intent upon our studying it.” During early morning novitiate classes, Sister Donna said Sister Rosemary conveyed unbounded energy and excitement. “An amazing mentor and intrepid leader, she solidified our communal unity during a time that could have proven quite divisive.”
After leaving office as Prioress, Sister Rosemary turned to pastoral ministry and served as a chaplain. Adding to her bachelor’s degree in English from Barry College (University) in Miami, Florida, and her master’s degree in English from Loyola University in Chicago, Sister Rosemary earned a doctorate in ministry from Aquinas Institute of Theology, Dubuque, Iowa, in 1979. She was certified as a chaplain, an associate supervisor, and advanced supervisor through the National Association of Catholic Chaplains.
From 1979 to 1982, Sister Rosemary was the Director of the Center for Pastoral Ministry in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Missouri, fostering the faith formation and theological studies of adult Catholics. She served as a chaplain at St. Luke Hospital, 1982 to 1985, and at St. Mary Medical Center, 1985 to 1986, both in Duluth, Minnesota.
Her final years in active ministry were spent developing and implementing a Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) program at St. Mary Medical Center, from 1986 to 1999. The program not only trained chaplains in CPE but also was innovative in providing CPE training to the medical staff at St. Mary’s.
Sister Rosemary “challenged her students and all who were in the Chaplaincy Department to use their gifts and grow beyond the status quo,” recalled Benedictine Sister Sue Fortier, OSB, a colleague at St. Mary’s and a long-time friend. The CPE program “had a ripple effect that went beyond St. Mary’s. Because of Rosemary, families, communities, churches of all denominations and even businesses in Duluth and beyond were challenged and invited to participate in a pastoral arena that called for change and renewal.”
Sister Rosemary retired to the Dominican Life Center in Adrian in 1999, serving on the boards of the Congregation-sponsored St. Rose Dominican Hospitals in Henderson, Nevada, and of the newly established Hospice of Lenawee, in Adrian, Michigan. To the end, she remained passionate about social justice concerns and wholly engaged in the life of her beloved Congregation.
In the 2000s, she wrote:
“When our voices are strong, and clear and out there, we are at our truest as a Dominican Congregation in the Church…. Tomorrow may lead us to new depths, other heights –
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
(God’s Grandeur by Gerard Manley Hopkins)”
A Vigil Service will be held at 7:00 p.m. April 22, 2018, in St. Catherine Chapel on the campus of the Adrian Dominican Sisters, 1257 E. Siena Heights Drive, Adrian, Michigan. The Funeral Mass will be held at 10:30 a.m. April 23, 2018, also in St. Catherine Chapel, followed by the Rite of Committal (burial) in the Congregation Cemetery.
Click here to view Sister Rosemary's obituary
Left: Sister Rosemary Ferguson, right, reads from the history of the Dominican Congregation of Our Lady of Remedies, which merged with the Adrian Dominican Congregation in 2011, at a ritual for the dedication of a marker for deceased Sisters from the Chapter of Our Lady of Remedies in September 2017. Also shown, from left, are Sisters Zenaida Nacpil, Chapter Prioress of the Remedies Chapter; Sister Patricia Siemen, Prioress of the Congregation; and Sister Kathleen Schanz. Right: Former Prioresses gathered for a group shot during the 2016 General Chapter, during which Sister Patricia Siemen was elected Prioress. The former Prioresses are, from left, Sisters Rosemary Ferguson, Carol Johannes, Nadine Foley, Patricia Walter, Janet Capone, Donna Markham, and Attracta Kelly.