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By Sharon Bock, Associate
The elegant and flowing washes of jade and cerulean, the hints of lavender and the arches of color curving and entwining through the logo of our General Chapter 2016 documents are some of the gifts to the Congregation from Melinda Ziegler, Associate. As a member of the Congregation’s Communications Department, mentored to Associate Life by the late Sister Barbara Chenicek, OP, Melinda’s creativity was imprinted with the joy of the Adrian Dominicans.
Melinda was welcomed as an Associate in April 2016, but she first met the Adrian Dominicans when she was in high school, trying to choose a college where she would pursue graphic arts. Though she ended up going to the University of Michigan, Melinda has worked closely with the Adrian Dominican Sisters on the Motherhouse campus over the past seven years. It is through the richness of these relationships and her experience as a protégé of Sister Barbara Chenicek, that she realized she did not want to lose touch with the women who taught her so much about “graciousness and service to others.”
Melinda was born in Detroit, the second child of three. “My father was a playground equipment manufacturer; my mother, a wonderful mother and partner to my father. She died when I was 8 years old. My father married again, and my step-mother raised me in the Catholic faith. I was drawn to the arts because of the memories of my mother and the giftedness in the arts of my father in business.”
Melinda worked in Germany for an advertising agency for a year and a half; then married and moved to Vietnam for another year and a half. When she returned to the U.S. from Vietnam, she freelanced. During these years, she “had four children within five years, and recognized that they were my best ‘designs.’ ”
When the children were 6, 7, 9, and 11 years old, “their father left us to fend for ourselves.” She became a high school religious education coordinator, which led to other pastoral work: a Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) team member and ultimately, a parish pastoral minister. She completed 36 hours in religious education studies at Siena Heights University.
Sadly, about the time Melinda completed her studies, the priest at her parish did not renew her contract. To support herself, she “returned to the arts – utilizing my photography skills to produce and sell my photography through art shows. It was at that time that I found an ad for a graphic designer for the Adrian Dominican Sisters. And the rest, as they say, is history.”
Even while working full time, Melinda dedicated her energies to RCIA. She employs her Dominican preaching charism to help people find God and understand what it means to be a Catholic. “So many people are searching, and I have discovered that they enjoy talking about where they are in their faith,” she writes.
When asked how she “seeks truth, makes peace and reverences life,” Melinda replies, “I have realized only recently that I am a seeker of truth – and the revelation has been life-changing for me. I will retire to learn how to become quieter, with time to contemplate the passion so deeply set into my heart.” Melinda plans to buy a dog and to train with the dog “so that we both become ‘service animals.’ ” She also plans to return to art, especially drawing and painting, “producing art only for the love of what surrounds me – instead of production art with deadlines.”
Melinda retired on January 31. While she will miss the rich relationships she experienced as a member of the Communications team, she plans to stay closely associated with her Horizons Mission Group, which she describes as “chock full of artists.” She is looking forward to attending the Great Lakes Dominican Chapter Assembly in 2017 as a retiree, when she’ll have a little more time to be involved.
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!”