June 13, 2019, Adrian, Michigan – The Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena, in Iraq, have returned to their community on the Nineveh Plain after years of internal displacement in Northern Iraq – and are now ministering to people there. But, as they rebuild their lives they depend on prayers from the Dominican family.
That was the message that Sister Clara Nas, OP, Prioress of the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena, brought to Sisters in the Adrian Dominican Congregation during a recent presentation in Adrian.
Sister Clara was in Adrian during her first trip to the United States to visit Sister Raghad Saeed, OP, in Adrian for the summer during a break from her doctoral studies in nano- technology at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. Sister Raghad translated Sister Clara’s talk.
The Sisters – and thousands of other Christians and religious minorities – were forced out of their homes on the Nineveh Plain in 2014 when ISIS arrived. While living in northern Iraq, the Sisters ministered in the refugee community by establishing schools and clinics, and providing spiritual support and presence.
Sister Clara said she met with the General Council of her community many times to plan their return home, after it was liberated from ISIS. “It was difficult to make the decision because of the unstable condition in Nineveh,” she said. Ultimately, they decided to return to Qaraqosh and other cities in the area, where most of the Christians were returning.
“Through all things, we are women of faith and hope, so the Sisters continue to accompany our Christian people in this area, to serve the people spiritually and morally, to live close to them and live with them in solidarity,” Sister Clara said.
They found their homes, convents, and churches destroyed or severely damaged and are rebuilding their lives. “We needed to work, fix, and repair what ISIS destroyed and burned,” Sister Clara said. The rebuilding is taking place with the help of Christian humanitarian organizations and the Dominican family in the United States and Europe.
Because their convent was destroyed, the Sisters moved into a small house in the Kurdistan area and other small convents in the areas where they minister. Among other ministries, the Sisters opened a kindergarten in Erbil and a primary school in Ankara. They continue to minister in Baghdad – both in a hospital and in a school with an enrollment of 560 Christian and Muslim students.
To answer a question about what U.S. citizens should do in light of a possible war with Iran, Sister Clara asked that they write to government officials, encouraging them not to bomb Iran. Iraq would be in the middle of such a war. “We need a simple thing – to live in peace,” Sister Clara said. “Just leave us to live in peace and that is all that we need. We can help each other and we can build again, but we need a safe area – not a war zone.”
Sister Clara also asked the U.S. Dominican family and the people of the United States to pray for them. “Please continue to pray for us because we need that, and we are so grateful for your help, for your support, for your solidarity with us.”
As a tangible sign of their gratitude, Sister Clara presented the Adrian Dominican Sisters with an altar cloth, hand-sewn and embroidered by the Dominican Sisters from Iraq. The altar cloth was placed on the altar in St. Catherine Chapel for the Feast of Pentecost on Sunday, June 9, 2019.
Watch the entire video of Sister Clara’s presentation below.
May 16, 2019, Montgomery, Alabama – Eight representatives of the Adrian Dominican Congregation, along with a contingent from First Presbyterian Church in Tecumseh, Michigan, took a 15-hour bus ride to Montgomery, Alabama, to immerse themselves in the racist violence of the late 19th century to the civil rights efforts of the mid-20th century.
<< View a presentation about the trip at the bottom of this article. >>
The eight people representing the Adrian Dominican Sisters were Sisters Attracta Kelly, OP, Virginia (Ginny) King, OP, Carleen Maly, OP, Patricia McDonald, OP, Kathleen Nolan, OP, and Suzanne (Sue) Schreiber, OP; Associate Deb Carter; and Co-Worker Robyn Wellman, a nursing assistant. The First Presbyterian Church of Tecumseh had invited members of the Congregation to join them in the bus trip to Selma and Montgomery, Alabama.
“It really was like a religious experience every place we went,” said Sister Kathleen, Director of the Adrian Dominican Sisters Office of Peace, Justice and Integrity of Creation.
The April 26-28, 2019, tour included visits to the Selma Interpretive Center, the welcome center for the National Historic Trail: Selma to Montgomery, following the 54-mile route of the three civil rights marches that took place in 1965; the Edmund Pettus Bridge across the Alabama River in Selma, the site of the March 7 Bloody Sunday in which civil rights demonstrators were attacked by police; and the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, the first church at which Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. served.
The group also visited the Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration and the National Memorial for Justice and Peace, which features about 800 monuments on which are engraved the names of the 4,400 people who were lynched in various counties in the South. Both the Museum and the Memorial were opened in April 2018 by Equal Justice Initiative, founded by attorney Bryan Stevenson, who focuses on “fighting poverty and challenging racial discrimination in the criminal justice system.”
Many of the participants were particularly moved by the display of coffin-sized monuments of the people who were lynched in each county. “The steel monuments for each county hung at eye level at first but progressively became higher and higher off the walking platform,” Sister Suzanne explained. “I felt the power of that design in space as we gradually walked under the steel panels that were lifted up, dramatizing the hangings.”
Sister Kathleen said it was difficult to fathom. “You’re looking at thousands of people who lost their lives, whole families.” She added that the National Museum for Justice and Peace also has duplicates of each memorial so that the counties involved can take their monument home and memorialize the people who were killed there.
Sister Ginny was shocked by the lynching of entire families. “I had no idea they grouped families and children,” she said. She was also saddened by the reasons given for the lynchings: as harmless as walking too closely behind a white woman.
Deb was surprised by photos she saw in the Legacy Museum of white people celebrating at lynchings, and the famous photo of Hazel Bryan Massey, then about 15 years old, screaming in anger as Elizabeth Eckford, a black student, walked into the Little Rock School after the Court had ordered it to be integrated.
Sister Attracta was also moved by the Legacy Museum and its history of racism in the United States – and the continuation of racism even today. “There’s a whole section on discrimination against people of color,” she said. But people of color “are still stopped and pulled over while driving with no reason other than their color. Young men are convicted of crimes and put in jail – and it goes on and on.”
The Civil Rights efforts, especially the Selma to Montgomery Marches and the Edmund Pettus Bridge were also highlights for many participants. “Walking across the bridge brought back the experience of Bloody Sunday – just being in that environment,” Sister Ginny recalled.
Sister Carleen was moved by an encounter at a park across the bridge with Charles, an African American veteran of the Korean War who had been on the front line during one of the marches and been struck on the head by police. “Charles showed a huge scar on his head,” she recalled. “He was surprised at how much hatred there was.” Sister Carleen also recalled Charles’ sense of urgency about speaking to younger people, making sure that they are aware of the bigotry in our nation’s history.
Overall, the participants were overwhelmed by the intense experience, and all the more determined to work for a world in which hatred no longer exists.
Sister Kathleen, who participated in the trip to Alabama after working with people seeking asylum in El Paso, Texas, drew connections between the bigotry and racial discrimination experienced in the South and continued instances of injustice and hatred.
“I couldn’t get [the experience in El Paso] out of my head,” she said. “A group of people is being terrorized and victimized because of the color of their skin, because of where they’re from, because they’re different. ... You’re confronted with the sin of racism.”
Sister Sue was inspired by the clear language used at the National Memorial for Peace and Justice. “The words give us ways to think and talk about the horrors of that time, the late 19th and early 20th centuries.” For example, the National Memorial spoke of the discrimination as “reinforcement of racial dominance over political and economic resources.”
This clear language “helps us feel the stories of terror, name the injustices, and work toward awareness,” Sister Sue said. “I want to be part of that process, and visiting the Memorial helps me to internalize our history and see how it has affected our current social climate.”
Feature photo (top): Sister Patricia McDonald, OP, explores an exhibit at the interpretive center of the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Photo by Sister Suzanne Schreiber, OP
Representatives of the Adrian Dominican Sisters and their hosts, members of the First Presbyterian Church of Tecumseh, pose in the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, the first church at which Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. served.