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April 18, 2018, Adrian, Michigan – Sister Rosemary (“Laurence Edward”) Ferguson, OP, who led the Adrian Dominican Sisters during the pivotal post-Vatican II years when ministerial religious life in the United States was transformed, died April 17, 2018, at the age of 92.
During her 10 years in office, from 1968 to 1978, Sister Rosemary and her General Council implemented the far-reaching acts of the “General Chapter of Renewal,” a legislative gathering of the Congregation convened by decree of the Second Vatican Council for the purpose of reviewing and renewing religious life. Elected by her Sisters at that 1968 Chapter, Sister Laurence Edward, 42, became the fifth Mother General of the Adrian Dominican Sisters, then numbering 2,400 members.
“Rosemary Ferguson is among the valiant religious leaders of the 20th century whose creative and faithful response to Vatican II renewed every aspect of our life and helped bring US Catholic Sisters into the wide array of ministries we see today, serving God’s people and planet,” said Patricia Siemen, OP, Prioress of the Congregation. “She led us through an incredibly exciting, painful, liberating, and tumultuous time with great love, enduring faith, inspiration, and a joyful spirit. Her great love and influence is imprinted in the hearts of every Sister.”
Sister Jeanne Burns, OP, who served on the General Council during both of Sister Rosemary’s terms in office, described her as “a charismatic leader,” who “did everything with grace and direction and good humor.” Sister Rosemary “gave sessions every Sunday morning where she would talk about the renewal and what was expected, and everybody loved those sessions, and they came in the hundreds,” Sister Jeanne said. “She was prepared for leadership in the new vision of the Church.”
While Prioress of the Adrian Dominican Sisters, Sister Rosemary played a significant national leadership role in US religious life, serving as a member of the National Board and Executive Committee of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), an association of leaders of US congregations then representing 160,000 Catholic Sisters. She chaired the Michigan and Indiana regional LCWR group (LCWR Region VII) and served on the LCWR liaison committees with the National Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Conference of Major Superiors of Men. In addition, Sister Rosemary served as Chair of the Dominican Leadership Conference, a national association comprised of leaders of US congregations of Dominicans, during this time.
“Rosemary navigated through the unknown and enabled others to navigate the unknown waters of that time,” said Sister Jeanne O’Laughlin, OP, who served on the General Council during Sister Rosemary’s second term. “What could have been devastating years ended up being the herald of change and of the new beginnings and the new possibilities that the world, the church, and women could have in their service as religious.”
Sister Carol Johannes, OP, who served as Novice Mistress during Sister Rosemary’s term and succeeded her as Prioress in 1978, said, “She was unhesitating in her trust in God and her trust in the community and her trust in the need to renew. I really think that nobody else in the whole Congregation was called upon as Rosemary was to let go of old forms of religious life and to let a new form of religious life emerge.”
Within a year or two after taking office, Mother Laurence Edward dropped the honorific “Mother” in favor of the more collegial, “Sister,” and reverted to her baptismal name, adopting the early Dominican title of “Prioress” in lieu of “Mother General.”
“Sister Rosemary was perfectly fitted to this call with her energy, vitality, youth and a trust in the Sisters that was extraordinary,” Sister Carol added. “Because of her own faith and courage, she was willing to allow the Holy Spirit to refashion the Congregation according to the norms of Vatican II.”
At the 1974 General Chapter, when Sister Rosemary was elected to serve a second term, the Congregation adopted an “option for the poor,” emphasizing the pursuit of social justice as an essential element of the Congregation’s Gospel commitment.
Numerous initiatives grew from that commitment, including the creation of the Congregation’s Portfolio Advisory Board, which for more than 40 years has played a national role in socially responsible investing. The Congregation’s work to promote peace, justice and the integrity of creation also evolved from that commitment and has found expression not only in other Congregational and collaborative efforts, but also in the individual ministerial commitments of hundreds of individual Sisters over the years.
“Rosemary was certainly the leader in that area and really wanted the Congregation to respond to the call of Vatican II to go where the needs were and help people to become self-sufficient, …inviting us to different areas [of ministry] where we had never been before,” said former Prioress Sister Attracta Kelly, OP, who presently directs the Congregation’s Immigration Assistance Office. “She was an outstanding woman – clearly a model for all of us on how to live the Dominican charism with joy.”
Born on a farm in Spaulding, Nebraska, on March 29, 1926, Sister Rosemary was the youngest of the 10 children of William and Mary Marcella (Sullivan) Ferguson. She lost her mother when she was 2 years old. Her father died when she was 12, two years after they had lost the family farm during the Depression and moved to Omaha. Sister Rosemary and her older sisters then moved to Chicago, where she met the Adrian Dominican Sisters while attending the Congregation’s Aquinas High School.
In May 1943, Rosemary entered the Adrian Dominican Congregation and was received into the novitiate in January 1944, taking the religious name Sister Laurence Edward. She taught elementary school for 10 years at the Congregation’s schools in West Palm Beach, Florida, and was principal of St. Kilian School in Chicago from 1955 to 1961. Returning to the Motherhouse in 1961, she was appointed Assistant Mistress of Postulants and, in 1965, became Mistress of Novices until her election as Mother General.
“I was blessed to have Rosemary as my novice director during the period of the renewal of religious life following Vatican II,” said Sister Donna Markham, OP, former Prioress and current President and CEO of Catholic Charities USA. “It seemed that as soon as a [Vatican II] document became available, Rosemary was intent upon our studying it.” During early morning novitiate classes, Sister Donna said Sister Rosemary conveyed unbounded energy and excitement. “An amazing mentor and intrepid leader, she solidified our communal unity during a time that could have proven quite divisive.”
After leaving office as Prioress, Sister Rosemary turned to pastoral ministry and served as a chaplain. Adding to her bachelor’s degree in English from Barry College (University) in Miami, Florida, and her master’s degree in English from Loyola University in Chicago, Sister Rosemary earned a doctorate in ministry from Aquinas Institute of Theology, Dubuque, Iowa, in 1979. She was certified as a chaplain, an associate supervisor, and advanced supervisor through the National Association of Catholic Chaplains.
From 1979 to 1982, Sister Rosemary was the Director of the Center for Pastoral Ministry in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Missouri, fostering the faith formation and theological studies of adult Catholics. She served as a chaplain at St. Luke Hospital, 1982 to 1985, and at St. Mary Medical Center, 1985 to 1986, both in Duluth, Minnesota.
Her final years in active ministry were spent developing and implementing a Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) program at St. Mary Medical Center, from 1986 to 1999. The program not only trained chaplains in CPE but also was innovative in providing CPE training to the medical staff at St. Mary’s.
Sister Rosemary “challenged her students and all who were in the Chaplaincy Department to use their gifts and grow beyond the status quo,” recalled Benedictine Sister Sue Fortier, OSB, a colleague at St. Mary’s and a long-time friend. The CPE program “had a ripple effect that went beyond St. Mary’s. Because of Rosemary, families, communities, churches of all denominations and even businesses in Duluth and beyond were challenged and invited to participate in a pastoral arena that called for change and renewal.”
Sister Rosemary retired to the Dominican Life Center in Adrian in 1999, serving on the boards of the Congregation-sponsored St. Rose Dominican Hospitals in Henderson, Nevada, and of the newly established Hospice of Lenawee, in Adrian, Michigan. To the end, she remained passionate about social justice concerns and wholly engaged in the life of her beloved Congregation.
In the 2000s, she wrote:
“When our voices are strong, and clear and out there, we are at our truest as a Dominican Congregation in the Church…. Tomorrow may lead us to new depths, other heights –
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
(God’s Grandeur by Gerard Manley Hopkins)”
A Vigil Service will be held at 7:00 p.m. April 22, 2018, in St. Catherine Chapel on the campus of the Adrian Dominican Sisters, 1257 E. Siena Heights Drive, Adrian, Michigan. The Funeral Mass will be held at 10:30 a.m. April 23, 2018, also in St. Catherine Chapel, followed by the Rite of Committal (burial) in the Congregation Cemetery.
Click here to view Sister Rosemary's obituary
Left: Sister Rosemary Ferguson, right, reads from the history of the Dominican Congregation of Our Lady of Remedies, which merged with the Adrian Dominican Congregation in 2011, at a ritual for the dedication of a marker for deceased Sisters from the Chapter of Our Lady of Remedies in September 2017. Also shown, from left, are Sisters Zenaida Nacpil, Chapter Prioress of the Remedies Chapter; Sister Patricia Siemen, Prioress of the Congregation; and Sister Kathleen Schanz. Right: Former Prioresses gathered for a group shot during the 2016 General Chapter, during which Sister Patricia Siemen was elected Prioress. The former Prioresses are, from left, Sisters Rosemary Ferguson, Carol Johannes, Nadine Foley, Patricia Walter, Janet Capone, Donna Markham, and Attracta Kelly.
March 19, 2018, Adrian, Michigan – Trust, awareness of the interconnection of people and all of creation, collaboration, equality, listening, and patience are among the keys to forming and maintaining resilient communities.
Those were some common threads of five national thought leaders who gave presentations March 12 to a full house in the Weber Center Auditorium. Adrian Dominican Sisters, Associates, and community members from the Adrian area gathered to explore this topic of increasing interest in the world today.
The five speakers were: Nick Tilsen, a citizen of the Oglala Lakota Nation and Executive Director of the Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation; Janie Barrera, founding President and CEO of LiftFund, the largest nonprofit micro- and small-business lender in the United States; Rev. Starsky Wilson, President and CEO of the Deaconess Foundation and head of the Ferguson Commission; Ahmina Maxey, U.S. and Canada Regional Coordinator with the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA); and Michael Rozyne, founder and “evangelist” of Red Tomato, a regional food hub based in Plainville, Massachusetts.
Resilient communities have been an important focus for the Adrian Dominican Sisters as a way to live out one of the four Enactments from its 2016 General Chapter: “We pledge our lives, money, and other resources to facilitate and participate in creating resilient communities with people who are relegated to the margins, valuing their faith, wisdom, and creativity.” The event was organized by the newly formed Resilient Communities Office, directed by Dee Joyner, an Adrian Dominican Associate.
In their individual talks and in a concluding panel discussion facilitated by Jim Hauden of Root, Inc., the five thought leaders provided key findings and advice for the Adrian Dominican Sisters and others seeking to build resilient communities.
Be inclusive, involving in discussions and decision-making everybody who will be affected by the decision. Rev. Starsky Wilson, in his talk on “Resilience through a Racial Equity Lens,” spoke of diversity in decision-making, “bringing people with a unique perspective to the decision-making table.” In this sense of inclusion, he said, all participants share power and focus on an outcome that benefits everyone.
In her talk on “Environmental Justice and the New Economy,” Ahmina Maxey noted what happens when people who are affected are left out of the decision-making process. She cited a study that showed that toxic waste is more likely to be placed near communities of people of color or people in poverty.
Be collaborative. “The future is impossible to predict,” said Michael Rozyne. “Our own experience is not enough,” he added. Those who organize resilient communities need to learn from and work with other people and organizations that have expertise to share. He gave the example of his own work with the United Farm Workers and Costco. He brought the two groups together, focusing on improving the working conditions of the farm workers with increased pay from Costco.
Janie Barrera noted that she works closely with the economic development departments and chambers of commerce in cities to get the word out about their products. “We don’t have a big marketing department,” she said, so LiftFund relies on these local organizations to spread the word about its services. She added that LiftFund also forms “solid partnerships” with the people who receive their loans, using the money that their clients pay back to offer loans to others in turn.
Engage in an open dialogue. “Listen before you speak – but speak indeed,” Rev. Wilson advised. He gave an example from his experience as head of the Ferguson Commission, which studied the issues involved in the shooting by police of Michael Brown, Jr., in Ferguson, Missouri. In the middle of a community meeting, he said, the people were angry with the Commission. “We had to get away from the table and listen,” he said.
Michael Rozyne spoke of the need to find common ground in dialogues, particularly in deeper, core values. “We just need to see the difference between core values and surface values,” focusing on those deeper, core values, he said.
Engage in “one-planet thinking.” Nick Tilsen noted that everything is connected – people, all of creation, and the planet. “In every development decision we make, we make sure [it’s] good for the people and planet and gives prosperity for all people.” Because everything is interconnected, he said, all that is affected by a decision needs to be taken into account.
Build a relationship of trust. “Partnerships move at the speed of trust,” Nick said. “We’re partners for change, and if we’re going to knock down walls, we have to knock down the walls between us, too.” Michael noted that trust was the “common thread” in all of the day’s discussions on resilient communities, whether the communities involved waste management in Boston or “on the ground social work.”
Educate those who need it. To build resilient communities, people who are less advantaged may need to be educated and nurtured to play their full role. Ahmina recalled working with Destiny Watford and a group of high school students in the Baltimore, Maryland, area as they fought against an incinerator that was to be built in their neighborhood. “They reached out to us and we gave them some training,” she said. The students did research, discovered that the incinerator would emit mercury and lead, and appealed to their school board. Because of their efforts, the incinerator was never built.
Be patient. During the panel discussion, the presenters urged patience to the Sisters and others who are seeking to organize a resilient community. Many noted the mistakes they had made in trying to move too quickly. Janie Barrera urged the Sisters to “take this on in phases. It’s a big task to take on and you want to go full steam ahead.”
In her closing remarks, Sister Patricia Siemen, OP, Prioress of the Congregation, thanked the presenters and those who organized the symposium. “We came together with the hope that we would learn more insights and elements and hear about what it means to participate with others in building a resilient community,” she said. “Each of you has shared such an incredible journey and story. We are so grateful to you, our new brothers and sisters.”
The Congregation’s Resilient Communities Committee – and the resilient community committees for local areas of Sisters and Associates – will glean the information and ideas to use in their work.
Left: Sister Patricia Siemen, OP, Prioress, facilitated an afternoon break-out session with speaker Michael Rozyne. Right: Participants, packed in the Weber Center Auditorium, discuss the presentation by Nick Tilsen.