October 29, 2019, Adrian, Michigan – In 26 years of mission work in three countries, Sister Maurine Barzantni has experienced a variety of cultures, languages, and life situations. But in all of those situations, she found people who struggled for a better life for their children and who showed incredible generosity and hospitality to visitors.
Sister Maurine’s service in the missions began in 1990 in the Dominican Republic, where she and the late Sister Renee Richie, OP, worked for 10 years with the people of Sección San José de Arroyo Hondo. The Sisters worked with the people of this small barrio, or village, listening to their needs and helping them to fulfill those needs.
During that time, the people were able to establish a health clinic, pharmacy, and school. Espiritu Santo School, part of Fe y Alegría, a Jesuit system of schools, grew from a few children learning under a tree to a school of 1,500 students from kindergarten through high school. Espiritu Santo recently celebrated its 25th anniversary.
“I think of my experience in the Dominican Republic as a community organizing venture, and out of that community organizing came health services and then the school,” Sister Maurine said. “We never dreamt of starting a school. It came out of the development of the community.”
After leaving the Dominican Republic in 2010, Sisters Maurine and Renee – along with Sisters Kathryn Cliatt, OP, and Christa Marsik, OP – began their ministry at St. Clare Girls’ Centre in Meru, Kenya. The orphanage takes in girls who have been orphaned and those who seek safety from dangers such as being sold as child brides.
“The community made a commitment of four Sisters for three years to be grandmothers to 250 orphaned girls,” Sister Maurine said. Each of the Sisters also offered her own focus. Sister Maurine offered the girls the opportunity to do painting and drawing. “It started out being just an invitation, but the teachers asked that it be part of the curriculum,” she said.
From 2013 to 2016, Sisters Maurine and Renee were invited to serve in Northern British Columbia, Canada, to offer their presence to indigenous people, members of the Carrier Nation, on four reservations. They served as pastoral assistants to Father Fran Salmon, OMI, Pastor of Our Lady of the Snows Parish in Fort St. James.
“The Carrier Nation not only survived, but had a vibrant community because they worked together,” Sister Maurine recalled. “They didn’t lose their traditional values and traditional way of life. They taught their children how to fish, hunt, trap, and prepare food for the winter season. They preserved their Carrier language and all that kept them united as a community.”
Sister Maurine said she has seen a similar spirit wherever she has ministered. “People who struggle for survival have incredible skills for living together, building solidarity in a community, because they need each other to survive,” she said. “People who struggle for survival also have a deep trust in the presence of the Divine.”
Sister Maurine also recalled the “generous hospitality” that she found in every place where she ministered. She gave the example of the Dominican Republic, where the small community was often visited by high school, college, and medical groups. “The people who had nothing, living in small, small houses without any conveniences, would welcome the visitors with big smiles and would say to us, ‘How is it that they would want to visit us?’ They felt that the presence of visitors was a gift to them.”
She acknowledged the challenges inherent in missionary work – differences in language and “accustoming oneself to a whole different environment.” Still, Sister Maurine said she loved every place she served. “Just the welcoming by the people and the appreciation and willingness of the people to really work for and struggle for a better life for their children” brought her joy, she said.
Her involvement in missionary work always came through an invitation, Sister Maurine said. “Invitation is the strongest vehicle for a calling,” she said. “We call it a vocation in the religious community, but a vocation is a calling. From my earliest years, I was always drawn to the poorest communities,” even in the U.S. cities, she said.
Sister Maurine has advice for anyone who is interested in serving in the missions. “Just say ‘yes’ and be very patient with yourself. Be present. Don’t try to do anything. The people will tell you what they need and sometimes you can help them achieve those goals – and sometimes you can’t. Even if you can’t, your presence is still valuable.”
Feature photo (top): From left, Sisters Kathryn Cliatt, OP, Maurine Barzantni, OP, the late Renee Richie, OP, and Christa Marsik, OP, at their home in Meru, Kenya, circa 2010.
May 21, 2019, St. Louis, Missouri – For about a year, Sister Lorraine Réaume, OP, has been engaged in a ministry that has far-reaching consequences for Dominican Sisters based in the United States. She serves as Co-Director of the Collaborative Dominican Novitiate (CDN), along with Dominican Sister of Peace Cathy Arnold, OP, in helping the formation of Dominican novices.
Since August, Sisters Lorraine and Cathy have lived in the novitiate in St. Louis with two novices: Sister Rolande Kahindo Pendeza, of the Maryknoll Sisters of St. Dominic, and Sister Phuong Vu, of the Dominican Sisters of Peace.
When women first enter the Adrian Dominican Congregation, they are considered candidates or postulants and introduced to the life of the community. When they are approved to become novices, they enter into a two-year preparation for full participation in the life of the community.
“I feel called to be part of this [discernment process],” Sister Lorraine said. “I feel that God is saying, ‘There’s something at work here that is leading to the future that we might not yet fully see.’”
As directors, Sisters Lorraine and Cathy conduct a structured program to help the novices in their discernment process through their canonical novitiate year, centered on personal and spiritual growth in preparation for vowed commitment. The novices and directors live together in the Collaborative Dominican Novitiate building.
The schedule includes a half day of ministry, courses on preaching and the vowed life at Aquinas Institute of Theology; classes at the novitiate on the Dominican life, community living, and communication skills; the weekly intercommunity novitiate, in which novices from nine congregations in the St. Louis area gather weekly for presentations on spirituality, psychology, and a number of issues and the opportunity to get to know one another; and a day of reflection every Friday.
In addition, the novices participate in community meetings, including monthly facilitated meetings, and participate in monthly panel discussions on one of the four pillars of Dominican life – prayer, study, community, and ministry – or one of the vows.
During the spring semester, the novices also participate in a Dominican life Seminar on Tuesdays and Thursdays, receiving various inputs on religious life and Dominican life in particular, Sister Lorraine said.
The novices also experience community living with each other and the two directors. “All four of us take turns leading prayer, preaching on Sunday evening, and cooking,” Sister Lorraine said. “We divide up the cleaning of the house – all of that is shared in community.”
In addition, Sisters Lorraine and Cathy each serve as director for one of the two novices, walking with their respective novice and helping her in her discernment of the vowed Dominican life. The two directors also work together to prepare the input sessions for the novices.
The directors also participate in peer supervision. “Cathy and I have different groups with five other novice directors, and we share our experiences.”
The two directors have been formation directors for their respective congregations, and both attended the CDN as novices. “The biggest difference is I was in a group of 12 novices,” Sister Lorraine said. “Now there are two. Because we’re smaller, the presence of the directors is really more critical to form vibrant community. We end up doing more socializing and fun activities together.”
The diversity of cultures and backgrounds has also made community life a rich experience this year, Sister Lorraine said. Sister Rolande is from the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sister Phuong from Vietnam. “I continue to learn the richness of different ways of doing things and perceiving things, especially related to culture, but also personality,” Sister Lorraine said.
Sister Lorraine has also been enriched by her ministry with the novices. “When you walk with people, it always helps you to deepen your own vocation,” she said. “I’ve grown deeper in my appreciation of the vows and community life.”
Through her work with the CDN Board, Sister Lorraine said, she has come to feel “more a part of the larger Dominican family. This is an effort of the Dominican family, so I feel that perspective is even more present in my mind as I look to the future of our life.”
Sister Lorraine noted that fewer novices have been attending the CDN in later years, but that her role is still important. “In prayer I always get the message, ‘This is what I’m asking of you and it’s important.’ It’s about something bigger than the novitiate year. I get a sense that it’s about our future – it’s about our Dominican future.”
Sister Lorraine had some advice for others who might consider a ministry such as hers. “Ask yourself if you find joy in walking with people as they discern, because that’s the primary purpose – walking with women who are discerning this call. And make sure you feel a passion for our life, for our charism and for our vowed life, so you can transmit that passion.”