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Sister Kathryn Cliatt, OP, Recalls 35 Years of Ministry in Appalachia

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.

Sister Charlotte Anne Swift Ministers as Assistant to Bishop Kicanas

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.

Sister Magdalena Ezoe, OP, Uses Music as Ministry to Sisters

May 10, 2018, Adrian, Michigan – Sunday afternoons and classical concerts seem to go together so well – and thanks to Sister Magdalena Ezoe, OP, the Sisters at the Adrian Dominican Motherhouse enjoy this beautiful and uplifting combination once every month.

Since 2011, Sister Magdalena has offered a concert in St. Catherine Chapel at 1:30 p.m. on the first Sunday of the month – with the exception of April 2018, when she “let Easter and April Fool’s Day take precedence” and rescheduled her concert for Sunday, April 8.

The idea for the First Sunday concert series grew out of Sister Magdalena’s more than 30 years as Professor of Music at Siena Heights University in Adrian. “At Siena I offered the First Sunday series from 1985 to 1995,” she recalled. Her concerts involved samples of classical works, which she used to teach a lesson about music. “One student asked why I never played the entire piece,” she recalled. “He inspired me to do a complete concert.”

She began the monthly program at the Motherhouse with a series called “Do you Hear What I Hear,” offered from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. on Fridays. “I started teaching the Sisters on campus,” she said. “Music is a structure,” which tells the musician the tempo, how loudly or softly to play, as well as the notes to be played, Sister Magdalena explained. In that series, she taught musical concepts such as two-part music, in which one theme, A, is contrasted with another theme, B. “When A is repeated, you call it three-part form,” she explained. “Very satisfying because when A is repeated, people recognize that they have heard it before.”  

Sister Magdalena hopes her current concert series will help the Sisters to appreciate and enjoy classical music. “American culture doesn’t know classical music,” she said. People need to hear a particular musical piece often before they can even judge whether they like it, she explained. “You can’t tell until you’ve heard it several times. The reason people like Beethoven’s work is that people hear it so often.” 

Her concert ministry involves more than showing up at the chapel at 1:30 p.m. on the first Sundays of the month. Sister Magdalena selects the music and theme for each concert and devotes hours to practicing for it.

Sister Magdalena grew up in her native Japan during World War II, enduring the bombs and other hardships of life during war. As a child, she was surrounded by music in a musical family; one uncle ran a music conservatory, and Sister Magdalena herself was a pianist for the Yoyogi American School in Japan. 

Sister Magdalena also inherited from her family a love for travel. Her grandfather, Ezoe Renzo, used his English skills in 1876 to serve as the interpreter for a Japanese porcelain company taking part in the Philadelphia Expo. He returned to the United States to study commerce in New York, and in 1908 sent his son, Sister Magdalena’s father, to a military school in Manlius, New York, near Syracuse.

Sister Magdalena in turn traveled to Miami, Florida, at the age of 20, to study at Barry College, now University, sponsored by the Adrian Dominican Sisters. “A year later, I took the next step in my adventure and entered the Adrian Dominican Congregation,” she said. 

As an Adrian Dominican Sister, she taught music for 11 years at Dominican High School in Detroit and for a short time at St. Dominic College in St. Charles, Illinois. Her next stop was Siena Heights, where she taught for 37 years.

Through the years, Sister Magdalena has also composed Mass parts, responsorial psalms, and hymns, as well as chamber music and music for the organ and the piano.

Sister Magdalena’s talents as a musician and a composer have not gone unnoticed. In 2012, the Dominican Institute for the Arts bestowed on her the Fra Angelico Award for her gifts as a musician and composer. The highest honor that the DIA can bestow on a member, the award is named for the great Dominican artist.

Sister Magdalena’s hope for her current ministry is that the Sisters will continue to enjoy and appreciate the music that she offers them on the First Sundays of each month.



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