November 27, 2018, Atlanta, Georgia – Like many lay people and women religious of today, Sister Mary Margaret Priniski is balancing her time between two ministries. While maintaining her work as Project Coordinator for the Catholic Committee of the South, Sister Mary has also taken on the role of Interim Director for the Aquinas Center at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University.
Sister Mary, who has ministered the past 38 years as a volunteer with the Catholic Community of the South, a network of clergy and laity founded in 1939 to minister in “solidarity with those on the margins.” She has been on staff since 2016 as project coordinator for Gathering for Mission, which “engages church leadership with the voice and vision of Pope Francis through a process of dialogue.”
While being involved in such far-reaching projects, Sister Mary is also learning a new ministry at the Aquinas Center. “I’ve been on the Board off and on since 2010,” she explained, and is now its interim director. With the resignation of the previous director in July 2018, Sister Mary was asked to fill in as interim director until the Board decided which direction to take the center.
The Aquinas Center serves as the “Catholic presence” within Emory’s School of Theology. While Emory is Methodist based, Sister Mary explained, the university also has Baptist and Anglican Studies Programs – and now a Catholic Studies Program.
Much of what the Aquinas Center does on the Emory Campus is to “arrange for speakers of renown” to come to campus and speak to the students – and often to the local parishes, Sister Mary said. Upcoming talks in December 2018 and January 2019 focus on issues such as end-of-life decisions, the immigration and refugee crisis in Africa, and an aesthetic of the common good. The Aquinas Center also has launched a fundraising campaign for the St. Catherine of Siena Lecture Series to “bring to the fore the voices of women theologians.”
Sister Mary recently worked with an ad hoc committee to plan a week of celebration at the time of the canonization of Archbishop Oscar Romero.
Sister Mary’s role is to contact speakers and arrange for them to addresses audiences at Emory or nearby areas. Alice Cameron, program coordinator, “does all of the behind-the-scenes work,” such as making sure that rooms are reserved for the talks and making arrangements for where the speakers will stay during their visit, Sister Mary explained.
“We’ve been given an endowment to do some work to bring together Greek Orthodox and Catholic communities,” Sister Mary said. She has helped to form a committee from both communities to plan the program.
In addition, Sister Mary is helping to plan for Aquinas Day, a celebration of the great Dominican theologian and scholar. Aquinas Day features a prayer service with a homily by a guest speaker – this year, Dr. Nichole Flores, Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Virginia.
Sister Mary also works closely with two tenured professors at Emory’s Catholic Studies Program. “The Catholic Studies Program is new this year,” she said. “The Candler School of Theology has 11 Catholics in the theology program, out of more than 400 students. Emory hopes that having a Catholic Studies Program will attract more Catholic students.”
While working in all those areas can be demanding, “it’s been a lot of fun,” Sister Mary said. “You really need to plan ahead to get speakers – almost a couple of years ahead of time. But you can’t stop what you’re doing today. You have to keep a lot of things in the air at the same time, and I’ve learned that I can do that.”
She also learned a valuable lesson years ago from the executive director of Interfaith Worker Justice, who responded to suggestions with a willingness to try new things. “Some people’s first response is, ‘That’ll never work,’” Sister Mary said. “I’ve learned, ‘Sure, we can try it out.’ I’d rather make a mistake than not do anything.”
Sister Mary said one of her biggest challenges is juggling her ministry at the Catholic Community of the South and at Aquinas Center. “Part of the challenge is to keep the two different hats going on at the same time,” she said. “I don’t want to let either one of them slide through the cracks.”
So far, her ministries appear to be coalescing well. Sister Mary feels that her work on the Catholic Community of the South – and all of her previous ministries with nonprofit organizations – has helped prepare her for her ministry at the Aquinas Center. “I work with bishops and the clergy” at Catholic Community of the South,” she said. “It’s helpful to have that background. A lot in my life has prepared me for this – you build on what you’ve learned from all your other ministries.”
Sister Mary cherishes the varied relationships she’s formed at Aquinas Center, the Candler School of Theology, Emory University, and the Catholic Committee of the South. “It’s all about relationships,” she said. “[Good relationships] make everything else so much easier.”
October 11, 2018, Adrian, Michigan – In her 35 years of ministry with the people of Forsyth County, Georgia, Sister Kathryn Cliatt, OP, was involved in helping to build resilient communities long before the term became popular – and before it was a focus one of the Adrian Dominican Sisters’ 2016 General Chapter Enactments.
Sister Kathryn and her work in Forsyth County were recounted in a recent issue of Parish Neighbors of Cumming Catholic Magazine.
“I’ve always been called to serve the poor,” Sister Kathryn said in a recent interview at the Motherhouse in Adrian. “My mother did. She took care of everybody in the neighborhood. If they were sick, she sent me over to their house with a meal and a note saying to call her if they needed a ride to the doctor.”
After entering the Adrian Dominican Congregation and teaching in elementary schools in Chicago and Florida, Sister Kathryn felt a conformation of her call to serve the poor while ministering as a guidance counselor at Tampa Catholic High School. “We were a Catholic public school,” she explained. “We took anybody regardless of ability to pay.” Because the students wore uniforms, the students from poor families could not be distinguished from classmates from other families.
Sister Kathryn was assigned to minister at Tampa Catholic, but after the 1968 Chapter of Renewal, when the Congregation changed to an open placement system, Sister Kathryn felt the call to serve the poor, she said.
Sister Kathryn – with Sisters Joanne Peters, OP, June Racicot, OP, and Jean Cassidy, OP – did research and discernment during the summer of 1974. In that research they found that the Southeast was the “poorest and least served by the Church” in the United States, they began their ministry in North Georgia with the Appalachian people who were poor. Sister Kathryn served in Forsyth County, Georgia – in northern Georgia, the southern-most county of Appalachia – from 1975 to 2010, when she felt the call to minister at an orphanage in Kenya with three other Adrian Dominican Sisters.
The Sisters’ ministries in Forsyth County grew from the ground up, and were based on the needs that they heard from the people. Originally at a center called The Place, on the bottom floor of a church, they received money, clothing, and food from the people in the area and distributed them to the people in need.
“We started out with the four of us and then engaged volunteer lay people,” Sister Kathryn explained. “We were soon able to pay them salaries.” Staff members on duty at the time of a request for assistance had discretion to give the person who came for help what they needed. “We expected everybody who ministered there to be guided by the Spirit,” she said. “Everyone on duty could make the decision if this person should get what they were asking for or if there was a better way to assist them.”
From the very beginning, staff members were also expected to be in tune with the people who came to them, to be able to read their needs beneath their requests. “If they asked for food, what’s the story behind that? Was her husband out of work? We saw patterns. From that, we developed the nine non-profits.”
She gave the example of Good Shepherd Place, an apartment building for low-income seniors and people with disabilities. “Elders were being given eviction notices after living in a little shack for years and years,” Sister Kathryn said. When the property values rose, the owners wanted to evict them so they could sell the property. “So we formed a non-profit corporation and built a senior apartment complex,” she said.
But the Sisters did not give the people material help for free. “They had to pay for what they got through service,” Sister Kathryn explained. “We paid people minimum wage credit for their work – sweeping the floor, mowing the lawn, raking leaves. With that credit, they could buy food or get a bill paid. They would take pride in how good the lawn looked or how shiny the windows were. Our desire was to give them self-esteem along with other necessities.”
In helping to meet the needs of the people, Sister Kathryn also realized the existence of poverty laws. She began to consult Georgia Legal Services about specific family situations and was invited to meet with the legal services staff members to discuss the laws. Through Georgia Legal Services, “I took paralegal training so I could prepare the cases,” she said. The office “could take many more cases than before because I did the footwork.”
As a paralegal, she advocated for the county residents who applied for food stamps, social security benefits, and other benefits. Ultimately, she turned the hearts of government employees who worked in social service agencies. Often, the government employees were overworked, but some had also carried the attitude that some poor people were “deserving” of benefits and others were “undeserving.” The government employees began working with Sister Kathryn on individual cases, granting the families food stamps and sending them in Sister Kathryn’s direction to receive clothes or other necessities.
“You have to have an open heart,” Sister Kathryn said. “What helped me was I really believed then and do now that people are doing the best they can. Sometimes we can help them to see that there’s a better way.” She added that her experience in Forsyth County “has taught me to stand in another’s shoes – to really feel their experience.”
She has also learned from the people of Forsyth County. “Many, many people who are economically poor have a deep faith in God,” Sister Kathryn said. “This faith is sometimes very differently expressed than my Catholic faith, but it is deep and non-shaking. I learned a lot from their manifestation of faith.”
Sister Kathryn has also learned to have faith in the people she served. “We were building resilient communities before we knew what they were,” she said. “Every community has problems. The solutions lie within the community. Our gift to them was to gather people together and facilitate community efforts.”
Sister Kathryn noted the importance of nonprofits as “one of the poverty worker’s greatest tools, for they cause the community to take ownership of the project from the beginning and for the long haul.”
Sister Kathryn said the people of Forsyth County took on the responsibilities of staffing the nonprofit organizations and serving on their boards. “The community more than lived up to its obligations,” she said.
She gave the example of a clinic that the Sisters helped to start. “Every time I’d visit the clinic, it was filled with people,” Sister Kathryn said. What began simply “now has a pharmacy, a lab, obstetrics, pediatrics, as well as general medicine, and at least 10 doctors and nurse practitioners. We had nothing to do with that. The people who sat on the board did. We were there simply to bring people together.”
Through their work in Forsyth, Georgia, “we gained trust that the Spirit would guide us and that we would be safe, that whatever needed to be done, we could figure out how to do it,” Sister Kathryn said.
September 7, 2018, Tucson, Arizona – Sister Charlotte Anne Swift, OP, has been ministering for years in a position that “was never anything I would have thought of doing, nothing that was anywhere near my radar.” She is serving as administrative assistant to Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas, until recently Bishop of the Diocese of Tucson and currently Bishop Emeritus.
During Bishop Kicanas’ years as Bishop of Tucson, Sister Charlotte kept his calendar, in particular scheduling confirmations across the 43,000-square mile diocese; scheduled his travel and booked his flights; worked with his email; kept up his correspondence; and served as the bishop’s liaison to the Diocesan Pastoral Council. “It’s been a very busy 16 years,” Sister Charlotte said, noting that this past April, 2018, marked 16 years that she has worked for Bishop Kicanas. In total, in her 60 years of religious life, she has served in Tucson for 43 years in three ministries, as of August 2018.
Now that he’s Bishop Emeritus – he doesn’t use the word “retired,” she said – Bishop Kicanas still conducts missions and retreats, travels for Catholic Relief Services (CRS), chairs the Board of Directors of the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA), and serves on committees for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
“He’s requested many, many times for different talks and convocations,” Sister Charlotte said. “He’s in demand even now. The only thing he gave up was the administration of the diocese, which is huge.”
Sister Charlotte speaks highly of Bishop Kicanas and of her ministry as his administrative assistant. Bishop Kicanas is “a wonderful pastoral leader,” she said. “He is very pastoral and the people love him. He is so considerate and kind to us in the process of getting the work done.”
While her work isn’t stressful, Sister Charlotte said, it can at times be intense because of deadlines or travel. But her ministry calls on her to be mindful of how she treats people. “When you’re the one who answers the phone, no matter how you feel that day, you have to be the welcoming voice in that bishop’s office,” she said. “It doesn’t matter how you feel. Sometimes you have to be really patient. I feel I’ve been able to help people who might have been upset. You represent [the bishop] at that moment.”
Sister Charlotte also focuses on being as pleasant as possible with people who come to Bishop Kicanas for appointments or bring a concern to him. “You try to be gracious regardless of what they’re coming in for,” she said. “They come in concerned about something, so you try to be patient and greet them in a pleasant, happy way. You try to be as supportive as you can in every situation.”
Confidentiality is also a key factor in her ministry. “You have to understand the confidentiality level of what you’re doing, and hopefully you bring your own prudence and judgment to that position,” she explained. “There’s a lot of confidentiality in correspondence and phone messages.”
While serving in a diocesan setting was new for Sister Charlotte when she first worked for Bishop Kicanas, administration is not. After teaching at Loretto Catholic School in Douglas, Arizona, in the Diocese of Tucson, for five years, she served in various ministries in California and Arizona before returning to Tucson in 1975 to minister as Principal of Santa Cruz School in until 1986. She then served for 15 years for Project YES (Youth Enrichment and Support), a youth center in an underserved area of Tucson.
“We started out with just after-school tutoring program to help keep the kids off the streets and safe from drugs,” Sister Charlotte explained. “Eventually we went into the teen program and the Parent to Parent program, which gives parents the tools they need to raise their children effectively, safe from gangs and drugs.” Sister Charlotte served first as staff member and then eventually became the Executive Director after the resignation of her predecessor.
Sister Charlotte’s long-time presence and service in Tucson were not lost on the Catholic Schools Office of the Diocese of Tucson, which in February presented her with the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Award for education and community service for the various ways that she served the community. The award is presented to those who have “demonstrated a history of dedicated service, support and leadership within the Diocese of Tucson Catholic Schools.”
In turn, Sister Charlotte is quick to point out the benefits of living and serving in Tucson. “Tucson is very good for body, mind, and spirit,” she said. “It’s a beautiful city, close to the desert community.” She said she has enjoyed her years of ministry in the Tucson area and is happy to continue serving Bishop Kicanas. “It is a privilege, a gift, and a challenge to be working in the diocese,” she said.