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May 11, 2016, Adrian, Michigan – Sister Mary Ellen Leciejewski, OP, Director of Ecology for Dignity Health, a system of health-care providers in the Western states, received an honorary doctorate from Siena Heights University May 7 during the first of the university’s three commencement exercises. 

Sister Mary Ellen received the degree Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa, “in gratitude for [her] ability to meld the values of care for Earth with care for those who suffer and for [her] work to expand those values in our world,” said Sister Sharon Weber, OP, Vice President for Academic Affairs, in making the presentation.

A high school French teacher for 20 years, Sister Mary Ellen earned a master’s degree in ecology from the University of Illinois in 1995 and became the Director of Ecology at Dignity Health, headquartered in San Francisco, California. Dominican Hospital in Santa Cruz, California, and St. Rose Dominican, based in Henderson and Las Vegas, Nevada, are both sponsored by the Adrian Dominican Sisters and both part of Dignity Health.

In her work at Dominican Hospital and Dignity Health, Sister Mary Ellen “has developed and led strategic, system-wide and facility specific plans to ensure business operations support sustainability while reducing operating costs through efficient use of resources,” Sister Sharon said.   

Sister Mary Ellen poses with her sister and brother-in-law, Kathy and Jim Ruppe, who came from Ohio to share the celebration with her.

Sister Mary Ellen has overseen special sustainability projects for the 39-hospital health care system. These projects included mercury elimination, energy retrofits, and joining the Climate Registry to measure the greenhouse gas emissions of Dignity Health hospitals. In addition, Sister Mary Ellen has helped the system to focus on safer chemicals and products, healthy food, leaner energy, and less waste. She has also been instrumental in the establishment of a 9,000 square foot organic garden on the property of Dominican Hospital. 

In addition, Sister Mary Ellen’s influence and connections and the size of Dignity Health have persuaded companies who want to do business with the health care system to “design products and processes that are less toxic, cause less waste, and area healthier for their patients, their families, and the communities they serve.”

Sister Mary Ellen said she accepted the honorary doctorate with a great sense of gratitude to Sister Peg Albert, OP, President of Siena Heights, and the entire Siena Heights community, as well as the Adrian Dominican Sisters and her family, friends, and colleagues. She expressed the feeling that “we’re all in this together” and that the miles between our institutions – health care and education – dissolve because our hearts and minds are connected.”

“This is a true honor because of what you, Siena Heights University, stand for: assisting people to become more competent, purposeful, and ethical through a teaching environment which respects the dignity of all,” Sister Mary Ellen said. “There’s so much that unites this university and our hospitals. One of the values we share is dignity. We see it as respecting the inherent value and worth of each and every person and helping them to lead healthy, meaningful lives.”

Sister Mary Ellen said she shares this recognition with Dignity Health and with the four member hospitals of Dignity Health [Dominican and the three campuses of St. Rose Dominican] sponsored by the Adrian Dominican Congregation.


Feature photo: Sister Mary Ellen Leciejewski, OP, right, turns to smile at Sister Peg Albert, OP, President of Siena Heights, during graduation ceremonies on May 7th. Photo Courtesy of Siena Heights University

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May 11, 2016, Chicago – Three Adrian Dominican Sisters received special attention during the annual conference of the National Association of Catholic Chaplains (NACC), held in Chicago last month. Sister Romona Nowak, OP, was one of seven chaplains to receive advanced certification as an Advance Certified Hospice Palliative Chaplain. Read her story, published earlier on What’s Happening.

Attending the NACC conference are, from left: Sisters Xiomara Méndez-Hernández, OP; Cyrilla Zarek, OP; Romona Nowak, OP; and Rosemary Abramovich, OP.

Sister Rosemary Abramovich, OP, marked 40 years as a member of the NACC and was formally recognized for her service as president from 1987 to 1989. Now on the Adrian Dominican Congregation’s General Council until July 2016, she has ministered as a Board-certified chaplain for 38 years. She ministered with the retired Adrian Dominican Sisters at the Dominican Life Center in Adrian from 1995 to 2010. Before taking office with the General Council in September 2013, she served as Director of Mission Services for ProMedica, a health-care system that encompasses Northwestern Ohio and Southeastern Michigan.

Sister Cyrilla Zarek, OP, was honored as an “NACC Grandmother” for her pioneering work as a chaplain and her long-time involvement in the organization as one of the first Sisters to join the organization in the 1970s and to become certified.

In a phone interview, Sister Cyrilla said she was surprised and embarrassed by the recognition. She brings a long history of involvement in pastoral ministry and the chaplaincy – as well as early and key involvement in the NACC.

While ministering at Infant Jesus of Prague School in Flossmoor, Illinois – as teacher and assistant principal – Sister Cyrilla took her first plunge into pastoral ministry. She worked on Saturdays as a nurse’s aide at Applewood Manor, a nearby nursing home. “I loved it,” she said. “I trained some of the students in my class to visit the residents.” 

It was through this experience that she came to realize that she felt drawn to ministry with the elderly and that she was first invited by Dominican Father George Dougherty to come to Houston to earn her Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) at Texas Medical Center. 

After completing the CPE program in 1973, Sister Cyrilla began ministry in the Department of Pastoral Care and Education at Mercy Hospital in Chicago and ultimately became an adjunct professor at Catholic Theological Union. 

“I got into the supervisory field through the back door,” Sister Cyrilla said. One CTU student asked for her supervision, and, by the end of the first year, she was supervising five students in their ministerial practicum. In addition, she was the supervisor for seminarians at Mundelein Seminary in the Archdiocese of Chicago and CPE supervisor for several students, including Adrian Dominican Sisters Rosemary Abramovich, Romona Nowak, and Thomas Leo Monahan.

Sister Cyrilla was also a pioneer at the NACC, both as one of the first women to join the organization and as the first woman to be hired full-time in the national office, originally located in Washington, DC. “I worked there for three years and had two bosses,” she said. When, in 1981, the NACC became a separate organization – no longer under the direct auspices of the U.S. Bishops – Sister Cyrilla helped the organization to move its headquarters to Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Sister Cyrilla also served on the NACC’s original Certification Commission, along with Father Dick Tessmer. “There were no [professionally written] standards when we started out,” she recalled. “We were writing standards and determining what was needed for certification.”  

In a reflection written for the NACC’s 40th anniversary in 2005, Sister Cyrilla expressed her gratitude for the opportunity to serve as the organization’s coordinator of education and on the Appeals Panel.

Feature photo: Sister Cyrilla Zarek, OP, at the National Association of Catholic Chaplains conference in Chicago. Photo by Jeanine Annunziato, Courtesy of NACC



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