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.
November 17, 2016, Standing Rock, North Dakota – Eight Dominican Sisters – including Adrian Dominican Sisters Kathleen Nolan, OP; Maurine Barzantni, OP; and Marilyn Winter, OP – stood in solidarity November 11 and 12 with activists opposed to the building of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) on sacred land.
Rounding out the Dominican contingent during the weekend were Sinsinawa Dominican Sisters Kathy Long, OP, Evie Storto, OP, Julie Schwann, OP, and Peggy Ryan, OP, a well as Sister Ceile Lavan, OP, a Blauvelt Dominican.
Also participating in the two days of prayer and action were Native Americans from near and far; indigenous people from Canada and New Zealand; and environmental activists from around the world. Some 250 bands and nations were represented, Sister Maurine recalled.
In an interview at the Motherhouse after the weekend, the three Adrian Dominican Sisters recalled the highlights of their experience at Standing Rock. They participated in prayer and celebrations at of one of five camps that had been set up near Standing Rock. The camps have grown since they were first established in April to protest the construction of the pipeline on Native land. “Now there are five camps and thousands of people involved,” Sister Kathy said.
As a group, members of the Dominican contingent participated in a celebration of Native American veterans and in a training session for non-violent action on November 11. The next day, they took part in a women’s ceremony of the pipe and stood along the road in support of a caravan of people who were prepared to be involved in a nonviolent civil disobedience action that could result in arrest.
In between the formal events, the Dominican Sisters observed the action around them and took part in conversations and in the almost round-the-clock prayer in the camp. “The eight of us began and ended each day with a prayer, and we shared and reflected at night on what had happened – how we were affected during the day,” Sister Kathy said.
“One of the solid theses of the group is that you can only bring about change in community,” Sister Maurine said. “Change will come about if we work in community – and they certainly showed that in every aspect of their being together.”
“It was an experienced of the hope of the world,” Sister Kathy said. “When people come together and unite to make something better, there’s power in that. To me it was very clear that this was a modeling of what we aspire to be – a unified people coming together for the common good, and acting out of that.”
Sister Marilyn was especially impressed by the gratitude exhibited by the native people of Standing Rock. “They started the protective action, and they were really happy that people supported that,” she said.
The Sisters were impressed by the high principles put forth by the organizers in their ongoing, non-violent resistance to the building of the pipeline. The sign outside the meeting dome delineated such principles as respect for the local people, respect for the camp as a place of prayer and ceremony, prohibition on weapons or property damage, and the need for orientation before direct action.
Other Sisters and Associates participated in nonviolent protests against the pipeline, especially on November 15, the national day of action against the DAPL. Sister Mary Carr, OP, reported that the Chicago rally drew about 500 marchers who traversed Washington and State streets, chanting, “Water is Life.”
“It was about a 30-minute walk to the Army Corps of Engineers,” where members of the rally presented 5,000 letters, asking that the permits for the pipeline be revoked,” Sister Mary reported. In addition, she said, participants in the rally carried a 30-foot long puppet representing the oil pipeline and listened to speakers from the American Institute of Chicago.
Sister Susan Gardner, OP, participated in a rally in Traverse City, Michigan, in which participants lined both sides of a parkway commonly used by people driving to and from work.
“It was great, as we all gathered with our signs and welcomed each other with smiles,” Sister Susan wrote. “It was wonderful to see the young mothers bring their children, especially girls, and have them stand there with their signs, too.” She said that the rally participants received signs of support from both Native and non-Native passersby.
Feature photo: Members of the Dominican contingent at Standing Rock are, from left: Sisters Kathy Long, OP, Evie Storto, OP, Peggy Ryan, OP, Julie Schwab, OP, Ceile Lavan, OP, Maurine Barzantni, OP, Marilyn Winter, OP, and Kathleen Nolan, OP.