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June 13, 2017, Adrian, Michigan – While many of their peers were focusing on summer jobs and taking a break from classes, 14 students from Barry University and Siena Heights University were immersed in an environmental experience that could help shape stewardship at their respective universities. 

The students were participating in the first-ever environmental stewardship leadership program, sponsored by Barry and Siena Heights and hosted at the Motherhouse campus of the Adrian Dominican Sisters, which founded and sponsors the two universities. The aim of the program was to teach the students about sustainable ecosystems and to encourage them to apply what they learned by taking the lessons to their college campuses in the fall.

The collaborative program involved the students in hands-on work, such as building berms and swales to control water flow, planting mushrooms, and designing and planting guilds – communities of diverse plants that benefit one another. 

The students also heard presentations on permaculture, climatology, and Earth Jurisprudence – the movement to reframe the justice system to protect the rights of nature and human beings. Rounding out the two-week experience were visits to sites that taught the students about ecological sustainability, including the zero-waste campus of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and the Michigan Urban Farming Initiative in Detroit. 

The environmental stewardship program was a collaborative effort among Barry University, Siena Heights University, and the Adrian Dominican Sisters. Elaine Johnson, Permaculture Specialist for Adrian Dominican Sisters, organized the experience, along with Holly Sammons, Dominican Volunteer. Also participating were faculty advisors Associate Gerry Starratt and Ruth Tallman from Barry University, and Matthew Draud and Heather Moody from Siena Heights University. Among those who gave presentations and administrative support were Sisters Corinne Sanders, OP; Patricia Siemen, OP, Prioress; Carol Coston, OP, Director of the Permaculture Office; and Sharon Weber, OP, Vice President of Academic Affairs at Siena Heights.

During a closing presentation to the Adrian Dominican Sisters at the Motherhouse and in private interviews, the students spoke about what the two-week experience meant to them and how they hope to apply those lessons.

Rahbar Kahn, a Siena Heights student from Bangladesh, said the program was a “great opportunity,” making him more aware of sustainability practices in farming. “I hope to take this experience back to my country and make an impact,” he said, adding that he recommends that other students participate in the program the next time it’s offered. 

“I’ve always been an advocate for saving our planet, so the more I can learn the more I can help save the world,” said Kassandra Guerrero, a criminology major from Barry. “This program has allowed me to learn things I wouldn’t have even imagined were real.”

Liza Avila, a social work major from Barry, said she learned the importance of teamwork and cooperation as well as the need for sustainability. She hopes that what she learned in the program and in her social work studies will help her to make a difference. “Hopefully I’ll be able to work mostly on the policy side,” she said. “I feel that’s one of the big ways I can make an impact."

Gerard Brown, a communications major from Siena Heights, said the experience taught him a great deal about sustainability, zero-waste systems, and the need to protect our watersheds. “I have a better understanding of the environment and the effects we have on the environment,” he said. He hopes in the future to live in a fuel efficient, Earth-smart home and to educate those around him. “We need to care because it’s going to be our future,” he said.

Feature photo (top): Barry University and Siena Heights University students study the permaculture site at the Adrian Dominican Sisters’ Motherhouse.

Students pause in their work at the Motherhouse permaculture site during their two-week experience.

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May 5, 2017, Washington, D.C. – A number of Adrian Dominican Sisters, Associates, and friends braved the heat and crowds of Washington, D.C., to express their commitment and concern for Earth and her inhabitants. The group – along with students from Siena Heights University in Adrian – were participating in the People’s Climate March on April 29.

The crowd was estimated in the tens of thousands, and some say up to 200,000 people took part in the march, which was organized into eight blocs of activists. The march coincided with the 100th Day in office of President Donald Trump – and of the Feast of St. Catherine of Siena, great Dominican mystic and reformer.

Sister Janet Stankowski, OP, and Patty Gillis, an Adrian Dominican Associate, were among the staff members and supporters of Voices for Earth Justice (VEJ), an interfaith network of people who care for Earth. Their group marched as part of the Defenders of Faith bloc.

“I wore my Dominican scarf in honor of the Feast of St. Catherine of Siena,” Patty said. “I felt her energy in all the caring people taking their concerns to the seat of power, much like Catherine did in the Middle Ages.” 

Patty said she was uplifted to be among the indigenous peoples who took part in the march, and among people of so many faith traditions. “They reminded us all that Care for Creation is a moral and spiritual issue.” She was also pleased to see the influence of Pope Francis on many participants through his picture and quotes from his encyclical, Laudate Si, on banners carried through the streets of Washington, D.C.

“The People’s Climate March was very impressive, with many, many activists,” Sister Janet said. “We stood in respect as the indigenous communities and Protectors of Justice prepared to lead the March. They were followed by the immigrants, water keepers, and Creators of Sanctuary.” In all, Sister Janet said, her participation in the Climate March was “a meditative, powerful, and hopeful experience.”

Members of the group from Adrian – marching with the Defenders of Truth group – also found the Climate March to be a hopeful experience, in spite of the urgency of the climate change issue and challenges such as the 90-degree heat, crowds, and the difficulty of traveling to the march site.

“It’s so hopeful, because you are out there with all these people and you think, ‘Wow, these are all people who care about the same things I do, and there are so many of us,’ ” explained Sister Kathleen Nolan, OP. She is the Director of the Adrian Dominican Congregation’s Office of Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation. “How can [the March] not make an impact?”

Sister Kathy – along with Sister Maurine Barzantni, OP, and Holly Sammons, Dominican Volunteer – were impressed by the kindness of the people they encountered, whether at their hotel or among other participants, in spite of the discomfort and inconveniences. 

“Everyone is so peaceful and kind,” Holly said. She noted that the atmosphere of peace among the participants made parents feel secure enough to bring their young children to the march. “It’s kind of cool to see people being introduced to this [activism] at so young an age, and parents feeling it’s safe enough to bring their kids, too.”

They were also impressed by the commitment of so many people, not only at the People’s Climate March, but the weekend before, at the science march and at a May Day demonstration in Chicago. “Week after week, the crowds continue to come out,” Sister Kathy said. “The energy hasn’t lagged.”

Sister Maurine saw the interconnectedness of issues represented by many of the marchers, from Black Life Matters activists to indigenous peoples who carried signs such as “Don’t Break Treaties.” But the various agendas “all fit under the same category – respect for our world and respect for the inhabitants of our world,” Sister Maurine said.

In general, the participants from Adrian came away from the People’s Climate March with a renewed commitment to caring for Earth – and a greater sense of a culture of respect. Sister Maurine said the message she would like to bring to others after her experience of the march is that “people desire to respect the Earth and everything in the Earth and on the Earth.”

Feature photo (above): Staff and supporters of Voices for Earth Justice (VEJ) took part in the Climate March: back row, from left, Karen Clarke; Patty Gillis, Associate and Director of VEJ; Sister Janet Stankowski, OP; Marian Gillis; and Laura Gillis. Seated in front is Nate Butler, Laura’s husband.

Sisters Kathleen Nolan, OP, third from left, and Maurine Barzantni, OP, front row, right, with a group of Co-workers, friends, and Siena Heights University students, take part in the People’s Climate March on April 29.



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