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Weaving is the Fabric of Life for Sister Sarajane Seaver, OP

March 8, 2018, Adrian, Michigan – As an Adrian Dominican Sister, Sister Sarajane Seaver, OP, was involved in typical ministry, teaching as an elementary and junior high school teacher in Michigan and California. But she later found her identity as an artist and a weaver – creating prayer shawls and other items that have brought beauty and joy to other people’s lives.

The youngest of four children of Glenn and Helen (Springer) Seaver, Sarajane was born in Adrian but later moved to Ypsilanti, Michigan. There, she was taught by the Adrian Dominican Sisters for 12 years at St. John the Baptist School and was personally inspired by them.

Woven into Sister Sarajane’s life were health issues that could have been obstacles but only made her stronger. “I was sick a lot as a first grader, and Sister Victoria used to stay after school to help me catch up,” she recalled. “I always said I wanted to be like Sister Victoria when I grew up.”

Sister Sarajane also struggled with polio as a child. When she and her siblings went to get the first of three polio vaccines, Sister Sarajane she couldn’t receive it because she had a cold. After finally receiving the innoculation, she and two other children contracted the disease. 

“I left the hospital in braces and cuff crutches,” Sister Sarajane said. “I decided I was not going to live my life like that.” Inspired by a picture of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, she daily practiced walking on crutches without the braces. At her eighth-grade graduation, she turned her crutches over to her brother and walked without them.

But medical issues were not all that was woven into Sister Sarajane’s life – so was art. “Even as a kid I used to embroider,” she said. She started with store-bought squares that featured nursery rhymes and embellished them. By the time she had embroidered about 100 squares, she decided to make a quilt with her mother’s help.

She returned to art after serving as pastoral associate at St. Joseph Parish in Winslow, Arizona. While serving from 1984 to 1987 as Director of Creative Activities at Weber Center, Sister Sarajane discovered three looms in the Motherhouse laundry room and began to work with them. That led her to pursue a Bachelor of Fine Arts in weaving and fiber design at the College for Creative Studies (CCS) in Detroit and, after her 1993 graduation, spent 10 years as a financial aid officer at CCS.

In those years and beyond, weaving became Sister Sarajane’s vocation. “Being a weaver is not something I do,” she said. “It’s something I am.” 

Along with her traditional weaving, Sarajane created a new way to weave prayer shawls, basing their design on the pattern of notes in hymns. “I always felt that weaving looked like written music, so I decided to see if I could weave music,” she explained. As a gift to one of the Congregation’s General Councils, she wove prayer shawls patterned on the music of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy

Whether prayer shawls or more traditional weavings, Sister Sarajane’s creations have brought joy to others. In January 2018, Sister Sarajane attended an artist’s reception for “Sisterhood,” an art exhibit based on her works and the jewelry of Sister Rita Schiltz, OP at the Adrian Center for the Arts. In viewing her work, Sister Sarajane said she hopes people “see the gifts of God and the beauty of God.”

Left: These are just a few of the sampling of Sister Sarajane’s creations that were on display during the Sisterhood art exhibit. Right: Sister Sarajane Seaver, OP (left) and Sister Nadine Sheehan, OP, examine one of Sister Sarajane’s hangings at the Sisterhood art exhibit at the Adrian Center for the Arts.


Sister Leonor Esnard Teaches and Mentors Montessori Teachers

February 5, 2018, Adrian, Michigan – For years, Sister Leonor Esnard, OP, has been sharing her love for the Montessori teaching method and for children by training with hundreds of educators in the Montessori teaching method. 

The educators are trained in the Montessori Early Childhood Certification Program offered by the Adrian Dominican Montessori Teacher Education Institute (ADMTEI). Sister Leonor has directed the program since 2009.

Developed by Dr. Maria Montessori (1870-1952), the Montessori Method encourages young children to study independently and to foster intellectual curiosity and love of learning for its own sake – not for external awards. 

ADMTEI was founded by Sister Anthonita Porta, OP, whom Sister Leonor met while ministering at St. Vincent Ferrer in Cincinnati. Sister Anthonita was completing her studies in Montessori at Xavier University and Sister Leonor often visited her classroom. “I fell in love with Montessori because it was nothing like traditional teaching,” Sister Leonor said. “Xavier had a demonstration class and that’s where Anthonita was in the practicum. She was my mentor.”

The Adrian Dominican Sisters’ General Council in 1971 asked Sister Anthonita to return to the Motherhouse at Adrian and open a Montessori school for children ages 2 ½ to 6 at St. Joseph Academy. Sister Leonor joined Sister Anthonita to work at the St. Joseph Academy and later at ADMTEI. Sister Leonor received her own Montessori credentials through Rosary College, now Dominican University in River Forest, Illinois.

In her current ministry, Sister Leonor administers the ADMTEI program and is among the program’s nine instructors. Classes are held during weekends and are focused on topics such as the philosophy of Montessori, child development, math curriculum, language curriculum, music curriculum, and classroom management. 

The program includes the academic coursework and a practicum phase, which students can take concurrently or in different years. Sister Leonor supervises the adult students’ practicum, observes them in their classrooms, and offers feedback. Many of the students already teach in a Montessori school and attend the ADMTEI program to get their credentials. 

In addition to her direct ministry with ADMTEI, Sister Leonor travels around the country, giving workshops and talks on the Montessori method, early child development, Montessori education and brain research, development of self-discipline, community building and leadership, and similar topics, often at Montessori schools. In addition, she teaches in summer programs other Montessori teacher education institutes in New England and New York. “I like to be busy and involved,” she said. “I get so much energy out of it.” 

Sister Leonor said that the majority of ADMTEI students are women, many of whom have chosen to be Montessori teachers after working in other fields. “My hope is that we will continue to empower the women, which is what we do, to help them believe in themselves and to be competent, and to be able then to be the best that they can be for the children,” she explained.

“This journey is transformative,” Sister Leonor said. At the end of the year, in May, the students have a chance to articulate their experience. “Everyone says something similar about the positive changes that have occurred [within themselves] and the building of community for each particular class. They love the spiritual atmosphere, and that is one of the elements that attracts students to come here from different races, ethnic backgrounds, and religions.” 

Sister Leonor said many of the ADMTEI students “are intuitively Montessorians. … They have this harmony with the philosophy whether they know it or not.” The core tenet of the Montessori philosophy is “respect for the children, the teachers, the environment, the animals and plants,” Sister Leonor explained. “There’s a reverence we bring.” Montessori schools provide furniture that fits the size of the children, who are encouraged to work independently, with another student, or in groups. “We afford the children freedom, but freedom with responsibility – no license.” 

Children who spend their early years in Montessori do well in traditional classroom settings because of their grounding in intellectual curiosity and freedom and their self-confidence. “The students who go to Montessori are not necessarily smarter but they have a certain curiosity, creativity, and love of learning,” Sister Leonor explained. “They become independent problem-solvers.”

Sister Leonor speaks well of the Montessori teachers who inspire these children. “It takes a great deal of energy and time and effort to be a Montessori teacher,” she said. “There has to be a deep sense of commitment in order to be the kind of teacher that is going to inspire children, that is going to help them learn.”

ADMTEI is taking applications for its 2018-2019 academic year, which will begin on Friday, August 24, 2018. Information can be found on the website, https://admtei.org/.


Sister Durstyne Farnan Animates Franciscan Sisters for Justice Advocacy

January 23, 2018, Milwaukee, Wisconsin – In the past year, School Sisters of St. Francis and Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi (Lake Franciscans) have been fired up for justice and peace advocacy in such areas as human trafficking, immigration reform, and peace. Encouraging them in their advocacy, is Adrian Dominican Sister Durstyne Farnan, OP.

In June 2016, Sister Durstyne moved to Milwaukee as the justice coordinator for the School Sisters. Since then, she has taken on service one day per week as consultant and animator for the justice work of the Lake Franciscans. Sister Durstyne convenes the quarterly justice committees for both communities, works with the sub-committees, helps the Sisters to establish annual goals and objectives, and helps to organize the various justice and peace actions and presentations of the two Franciscan communities. 

Some of the peace and justice activities coordinated by Sister Durstyne in the past year-and-a-half have included:

  • A phone call campaign among the Lake Franciscans in which the Sisters continue to call their representatives in support of a just and humane immigration reform.
  • Donations of homemade and store-bought snacks by Sisters of both communities for young DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) recipients for their journey to a demonstration in Washington, D.C. 
  • A trip by two busloads of Sisters to Janesville, Wisconsin, for the arrival of NETWORK’s Nuns on the Bus.
  • Sunday morning presentations – between Mass and lunch – on issues such as human trafficking.
Sister Simone Campbell, director of NETWORK, meets the School Sisters of St. Francis during a Nuns on the Bus event in Janesville, Wisconsin. Sister Simone is in the middle row, third from the right. Standing behind her, looking over her shoulder, is Sister Durstyne Farnan, OP.

Sister Durstyne said she enjoys working with the Sisters, and is thrilled by their responses to justice and peace work. “Getting people to make a difference is really so empowering for them,” she said. “For most of them, this is the first time they’ve ever done anything like this.” The Sisters, who are now retired, hadn’t participated in advocacy work, often because of the hectic schedule of their full-time ministries.

Sister Durstyne sees her role as facilitating the Sisters’ desire to remain active and engaged in justice and peace work – supplying them with the information and resources they need. “Once they get the directions, they can go forward,” she said. “My role is to facilitate and animate people. I help get a lot of background [information] for them, but they make the decisions.”

Both congregations have made a difference in Milwaukee for well over a century, Sister Durstyne noted. 

Part of her ministry has involved learning about the issues that Milwaukee faces. Although Milwaukee faces the same issues as the people of Adrian, Michigan, “in Milwaukee, the issues are compounded by size,” she explained. Along with racism, poverty, and immigration reform, the people of Milwaukee face the need for transportation for people who strive to get out of poverty by finding high-paying jobs – which are often an hour’s drive away from Milwaukee; the high re-incarceration rate of former prisoners; and human trafficking, which is prevalent in Milwaukee. 

School Sisters of St. Francis participate in Circle the City with Love.

A clinical social worker by training, Sister Durstyne advocated for adults with severe mental illness and then served for six years in Ghana and Kenya, Africa. When she returned to the United States in 1996, the General Council was seeking a new justice and peace coordinator for the Adrian Dominican Congregation. “It was a position I had to grow into because I didn’t have a lot of experience with multiple issues,” Sister Durstyne said. In this new ministry, she said, she has gained a global perspective and has become involved with Dominican Friars and Sisters worldwide through her work as a North American Justice Promoter for the Dominicans. 

Although she is frequently challenged by the difficulty that constituents sometimes face in contacting their legislators, Sister Durstyne enjoys working with the Sisters in the Franciscan communities as they advocate for justice. “My role is to help facilitate their desire to stay involved,” she said. “It makes me happy when I see them getting involved.”


 

 

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