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.