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When you discover that Patricia (Patty) Gillis co-founded Voices for Earth Justice (VEJ), you won’t be the least bit surprised that she most resonates with the General Chapter Enactment that calls upon Sisters and Associates to “sacrifice to mitigate significantly our impact on climate change and ecological degradation.”
Patty and Janet Stankowski, OP, co-founded VEJ in 2002. This interfaith group has consistently worked in the areas of education and advocacy, focusing mostly on climate change and environmental health. Since 2011, VEJ staff members have worked to establish Hope House, an environmental justice center in the northwest Detroit neighborhood of Brightmoor. The group also works in coalition with many other gardening and environmental justice groups in Detroit.
“In my work as a faith-based environmentalist, I try to make the connections between all forms of life, sharing ecosystems that have evolved together in God’s grand design called evolution,” Patty writes. “Hopefully, the greater awareness of the gift and interconnectedness of Life will lead to more reverence for all forms of Life.”
Patty began her association with the Adrian Dominican Sisters some 45 years ago, when she started working with the Sisters in various ministries. She began attending meetings of a mission group, Wedge, in the late 1980s and celebrated her commitment as an Associate in 1993.
After Wedge dissolved, Patty affiliated with the Leaven Mission Group of the Great Lakes Dominican Chapter. Through this affiliation, Patty said, she “shares in the life of a community of women who respond with integrity to the signs of the times.” Patty also attends Chapter and Jubilee gatherings and regularly joins a contemplative prayer group with two Sisters. An accomplished instructor, she has designed and is willing to present educational programs.
For Patty, Associate Life was a way of formalizing the relationships that she had with many of the Sisters. She is grateful for the mentoring and support she received from the Sisters in her role as a lay pastoral minister. As an Associate, she hopes to give something back to the Adrian Dominican Sisters.
She recognizes the challenges of the Adrian Dominican vision to “seek truth, make peace, reverence life.” She noted, “Given the current political climate, it is very difficult to accomplish all three at once, because seeking truth through dialogue is often not peaceful or reverent. I pray to the Holy Spirit for opportunities to speak when it will make a difference. Peace is not the absence of conflict, but a sense that God is working in all things, so that keeps me going.”
Living on two acres of wooded land in Southfield, Michigan, just outside the west side of Detroit, Patty is a member of St. Charles Borromeo Parish. The parish is staffed by the Capuchins, who started Earthworks, one of the largest urban gardens in Detroit.
Patty’s educational credentials are impressive. She holds an undergraduate degree in sociology from Madonna University, Livonia, Michigan; a master’s degree in religious studies from University of Detroit-Mercy; and a master’s in social work (MSW) with a concentration in community organizing and administration from Wayne State University, Detroit.
For more than 25 years, she was a lay pastoral minister in Detroit. She also taught sociology part-time for 20 years and is currently teaching at Schoolcraft College. In addition, she is the board chairperson at St. Paul of the Cross Passionist Retreat and Conference Center in Detroit.
One notable highlight was her sabbatical year internship at Michaela Farm with the Oldenburg, Indiana, Franciscans where she studied organic agriculture and eco-spirituality.
“Throughout my life, I have been blessed with good friends, a supportive network of six siblings and their spouses, meaningful work, wonderful mentors and supportive faith communities,” Patty wrote. “The biggest joy in my life right now is my daughter’s marriage in 2014 to a good man, and the birth of their child, my grandson, in 2015!”
Those of you in the far reaches on the eastern side of our country may not have had the opportunity to meet Suzanne Slankard, Associate. Suzanne lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She greatly cherishes the friendships and spiritual connections she has made with her mission group, Women of the Word.
Suzanne began her association with the Adrian Dominican Sisters in 1973 when she met Sisters Kay Muzzy, OP, and Ann Rozalia Szabo, OP, and was impressed by their joy. Suzanne was officially welcomed as an Associate in 1976. This was a positive transformation that healed a painful experience with other nuns while she was in high school.
Suzanne’s Dominican spirit has flowered over the past 40 years through her association with Adrian Sisters and Associates as well as with the Dominican Ecclesial Institute (DEI), sponsored by the Central Province of the Dominican Fathers. The DEI offers engaging and inspiring speakers each month, as well as spiritual guidance and direction.
Suzanne’s primary ministry is the care of her husband, Jean, who suffered a severe stroke last December and has required her constant loving and attentive care. Although Suzanne gets some support from an aide who comes in overnight, she is focused on making Jean’s days as comfortable and pleasant as possible. Her sensitivity to his needs has become a living example of the Adrian Dominican vision to “reverence life.”
Although her ministry keeps her quite busy, Suzanne finds time to enjoy swimming and reading, as well as occasional afternoons out. Her goal is to finish reading the diary of St. Maria Faustina Kowalski, Divine Mercy in my Soul. She also plans to study Laudato Si, Pope Francis’ encyclical on Care for Earth, with her mission group. She remembers all Adrian Dominican Sisters and Associates in prayer and hopes that a gathering and retreat for all of the Associates in the Dominican West Chapter will be held soon.