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July 24, 2020, Adrian, Michigan – If all goes well, a depiction of the Visitation of Mary and Elizabeth by Sister Alma Marie Messing, OP, could find its way to the walls of Santa Sabina, the home in Rome of a community of about 30 Dominican Friars – many of whom serve in the Dominican Curia.
Sister Alma was inspired during a January 2020 gathering in which Adrian Dominican Sisters envisioned the future. During the period of contemplation, the Sisters had the choice of reflecting on a number of images of the Visitation, when Mary and her relative Elizabeth – expecting Jesus and John the Baptist respectively – shared the joy of giving life and of being part of God’s plan.
Sister Alma was intrigued by the image of the two women holding their hands up together in joy and connection. “They put their hands up in the air like a high-five with both arms, which I think is a very American gesture,” Sister Alma recalled. She based her creation of The Visitation on that image, veiling the faces of the two women.
Sister Alma created the Visitation using quilling, an ancient art form that began in the 15th century. “The information I have is that because paper was so tedious to make, the monks didn’t waste a scrap,” Sister Alma explained. “They used their pens to roll the paper. That’s why it’s called quilling.” Quilling has been resurrected as an art form and several companies sell special papers to use for the craft.
“I made a couple [of the Visitation images] and then I tore them apart,” Sister Alma said. “I thought they were awful.” When the Sisters in the Dominican Life Center began sheltering in place because of COVID-19, Sister Alma created a third image, about 9-by- inches. “I took it to the Sisters and showed them, and they raved about it,” she said.
Sister Alma said that Caldwell Dominican Sister Patricia Daly, OP, was impressed by the piece of art and believed that it should be taken to Santa Sabina by a Sister who planned to go to Rome in November. Hopes are that, by then, U.S. citizens will again be allowed to travel to Europe.
Sister Alma said she has been creating a number of items with quilling, including wreaths, poinsettias, candles, and candy canes for use as Christmas ornaments and has sold them in the annual Christmas bazaar at the Motherhouse. “I don’t need quiet,” she said. “I just need a table and I can watch TV while I do it.”
Sister Alma’s talent in art balances her formal ministry as a science teacher at the high school and college levels. In 1978, she began 25 years of ministry at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, primarily working in the Education Department, responsible for the museum’s Elder Hostel program. Drawing on her special interest in the space program developed while at Barry University in Miami, Sister Alma gave presentations for several years at the Space Exploration Educators Conference (SEEC).
May 28, 2020, Adrian, Michigan – Sister Mary Margaret “Sis” Beh, OP – formerly known as Sister Ann Pauline – celebrated her 100th birthday today as she desired: simply, in the company of her Sister friends who live in her community at the Dominican Life Center in Adrian, and with the opportunity to speak with distant family members.
Yet, the spirit of celebration extended within and beyond the Adrian Dominican Sisters Motherhouse Campus as she received more than 100 birthday cards from near and far. In the same way, the impact of more than 70 years of Sis’s religious life has been felt by people East and West: from her years of teaching art in the Eastern part of the United States to her years as a hospital chaplain at Dominican Hospital in Santa Cruz, California.
“I have enjoyed my religious life very much,” Sis said in an interview. “It’s been a very special calling that I’ve been grateful for. I wouldn’t change it for anything. Had I chosen another way of living I wouldn’t have had the wonderful opportunities that I had in my life.”
Born in Birmingham, Michigan, on May 27, 1920, she was baptized Mary Margaret Beh after her mother, Margaret Mary. Her two older brothers, Joseph and Robert, found that name too cumbersome and simply called her Sister. In time her name was shortened to “Sis.” She was followed years later by her sister Pauline, for whom she chose her religious name, Sister Ann Pauline.
Sis was educated by Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (IHM Sisters) in elementary school and by Adrian Dominican Sisters at St. Mary High School in Royal Oak, Michigan. After beginning her studies at Siena Heights College (now University) in Adrian, she entered the Adrian Dominican Congregation in January 1939. She holds a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and a Master’s in Fine Arts, both from Siena Heights.
After teaching at the elementary level for seven years, Sis was sent to teach art at Dominican High School in Detroit for 10 years; Regina Dominican High School in Wilmette, Illinois, for a couple of years; Hoban Dominican High School in Cleveland, Ohio, for nine years; and back at Dominican High School for four years. All three schools were sponsored and staffed by the Adrian Dominican Sisters.
Sis found great joy in her ministry as an art teacher. “It’s very exciting to watch young people become creative and find a creative spirit of their own,” she said. “I enjoyed my teaching, watching people become creative and excited about what they were capable of doing.”
After years of teaching, Sis Beh and Sister Jeanne Burns, OP, decided to become hospital chaplains and undertook the year-long Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) program to train for this ministry. After earning her CPE certification in Houston, Texas, Sis worked at County Hospital in Houston for a year and began 20 years of ministry as a chaplain at Dominican Hospital in Santa Cruz: 10 years in a paid position and 10 years as a volunteer.
Sis recalled a conversation with a patient, in which they spoke of God’s love for him. “I realized at that moment that I was loved by God and I never felt like that before or after,” she said. She said serving as chaplain gave her the opportunity to minister one-on-one and to form relationships.
She retired in 2000 at the age of 80, but continued to live in Santa Cruz and to minister as a volunteer. She returned to the Adrian Dominican Motherhouse in 2010 and remained as active as possible ever since.
She has words of advice to anybody who feels he or she might be called to religious life. “Follow your dream,” she said. “If it leads to a religious vocation, honor it, because it is a beautiful life.”
Learn more about Sis’s life in a December 2015 A Sister’s Story interview and in the 2018 video, Ripples of Faith: A Sister's Story.
Sister friends gather in a solarium on their floor in the Dominican Life Center to celebrate the 100th birthday of Sister Mary Margaret “Sis” Beh, OP. Photo by Angie Lieto