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Sister Mary Rita McSweeney Awarded Posthumously for Ministry with Seniors

October 26, 2018, Chicago – More than a year after her death on September 7, 2017, Sister Mary Rita McSweeney, OP, received the St. Louise de Marillac Award for her 25 years of dedicated ministry to the senior citizens through Marillac St. Vincent ServicesThe award and Sister Mary Rita’s former ministry site are named for St. Louise de Marillac, co-founder with St. Vincent de Paul of the Daughters of Charity in France. 

Among those attending the October 12, 2018, Beacon of Hope Luncheon were Adrian Dominican Sisters Norine Burns, OP, Nancy Murray, OP, Cyrilla Zarek, OP, and Jane Zimmerman, OP. Also attending in Sister Mary Rita’s honor were her nephew Michael McSweeney of Louisville, Kentucky; nieces, Diana McSweeney of Scottsdale, Arizona, and Mary McSweeney of Canton, Michigan; and five seniors with whom Sister Mary Rita had ministered.

Marillac St. Vincent Services is the result of a 2002 merger between two independent organizations run for more than 100 years by the Daughters of Charity: Marillac Social Center and St. Vincent de Paul Center. Marillac offers services to people in need in Chicago, from early childhood programs for newborns through 5-year-olds, to youth services, programs for pregnant teens, adult employment programs, to food pantries and other programs for senior citizens.

After teaching for 40 years, Sister Mary Rita retired from Catholic education and began 25 years of ministry with Marillac’s senior programs. Her ministry included visiting and calling homebound seniors and working with the Take Charge senior group, which grew to more than 80 participants. 

“The meetings were social and informational,” explained Maureen Hallagan, MSW, Chief Operating Officer of Marillac St. Vincent Services. “Sister cooked meals for each group meeting and sent everyone home with the leftovers.” Maureen described Sister Rita as a “mentor, teacher, and friend” to the Marillac community. “She taught us all that it is important to have faith in everyone you meet, that there is good in everyone. She demonstrated that a smile goes a long way in making people feel special and, most importantly, that you never know when a good deed might make a difference in someone’s life.”

The awards luncheon was “a nice tribute to [Sister Mary Rita] and a nice way to keep her memory alive and to let us know that her good works continue at Marillac,” said Sister Norine Burns, who lived with Sister Mary Rita for 25 years. “A lot of people came up to us and old us about what Mary Rita meant to them.”

Sister Norine especially remembers the joy that Sister Mary Rita found in her ministry at Marillac. “She would always say, ‘I have the best job in the world,’” she recalled. “She never minded going to work … and she loved working with the poor, and especially the seniors.”

Sister Norine also described her friend as prayerful. “She trusted in God,” she said. “I think that’s why she loved the seniors so much, because seniors are religious people – and especially the African American people. They saw that in her they recognized that quality and they loved her for it.”

A very balanced person, Sister Mary Rita “knew how to have a good time and when it was time to work,” Sister Norine recalled. “She was a wonderful friend and a wonderful person to live with. She brought a lot of life and laughter into our time together.”

Read a profile of Sister Mary Rita McSweeney and watch a video of the luncheon.

 

Feature photo (top): Robert Christopher, Director of Development of Marillac St. Vincent Services, presents the St. Louise D’Marillac Award to family members of Sister Mary Rita McSweeney, OP, from left, nieces Mary McSweeney and Diana McSweeney and nephew Michael McSweeney.


Clockwise, from left: Volunteer Mary Sue McDonald, left, with Sister Norine Burns, OP. Sister Cyrilla Zarek, OP, left, and Diana McSweeney, niece of Sister Mary Rita. Irene Knox, left, one of Sister Mary Rita’s seniors, with Sister Jane Zimmerman, OP. Photos by Sister Jane Zimmerman


Native Americans Exploited through Doctrine of Discovery, Boarding Schools

October 19, 2018, Adrian, Michigan – Systemic exploitation of the indigenous peoples in the United States began in the late 15th century and continues to this day.

That was the disheartening message brought by Sister Susan Gardner, OP, Director of the Native American Apostolate for the Diocese of Gaylord, Michigan, during a presentation on Indigenous Peoples Day, October 8, at the Adrian Dominican Sisters Motherhouse.

The Congregation’s celebration of Indigenous Peoples Day included a morning Liturgy that recognized the cultures of Native Americans, efforts to bring justice to the indigenous peoples in the Americas, and the ministries of nearly 50 Adrian Dominican Sisters with various tribes of indigenous peoples in the United States and Canada. The Adrian Dominican Sisters join 55 cities and five states in celebrating Indigenous Peoples Day rather than Columbus Day on the second Monday of October, in recognition of the exploitation that many of the European settlers inflicted on the native peoples.

In her presentation, Sister Susan focused on two practices that have exploited Native American people through the centuries: the Doctrine of Discovery and boarding schools for Native American children.

“When Columbus sailed west, he had the express understanding that he was to take possession of any lands he discovered that were not under the dominion of Christian leaders,” Sister Susan said in summarizing the intent of the Doctrine of Discovery. “Any land that was not inhabited by Christians was available to be discovered, claimed, exposed, and exploited. If the pagan inhabitants of the land would switch to Christianity, they might be saved, but if not, then they were enslaved or killed.”

The Doctrine of Discovery encompasses papal bulls, legal documents, and U.S. Supreme Court rulings that gave European Christians the right to take possession of the lands that had been inhabited for centuries by indigenous peoples. At the time that Columbus arrived in the Americas, Sister Susan said, an estimated 10 million to 100 million people inhabited that land. “They had been living their traditional lives,” she said. “They had been taking care of their land since time immemorial, but since they were non-Christian, the land was deemed null and void,” open to being possessed by European settlers.

The Doctrine of Discovery spells out the basic beliefs of the Christian European nations of Spain, Portugal, England, France, and Holland. “Europeans thought that God had directed them to bring civilized ways, education, and religion to the indigenous people, and to exercise paternalism and guardianship over them,” Sister Susan explained.

Although the Doctrine of Discovery was created more than 500 years ago, its effects are still felt today. The 1823 Supreme Court case, Johnson v. McIntosh, used the Doctrine of Discovery as precedent. “Justice John Marshall used the Doctrine of Discovery to say that the United States, as the successor to Great Britain, had an inherent authority over all the lands within our claimed boundaries,” Sister Susan said. “This decision allowed the government to ignore and invalidate any Native claims to property. To this day, courts continue to cite this legal precedent.”

As recently as 2005, the Doctrine of Discovery influenced a Supreme Court decision. In City of Sherill v Oneida Indian Nation of New York, the Supreme Court ruled that the Oneida Nation did not regain its sovereignty over land that was restored to it. Through this court case, “that legacy of domination is reflected in the undermined sovereignty and assertion of powers over the Native Americans,” Sister Susan said. “We see this lived out in cases involving water rights, oil and mineral extraction on Native lands, and the impact of budget cuts on Native communities.”

Native Americans, along with their culture and language, have also been hurt by boarding schools – called residential schools in Canada – which were run by Protestants and Catholics. “The whole aim of the boarding school was to take the Indian out of the Indian.”

Native American children were taken from their families for nine months each year to live at the boarding schools. Use of their native language and contact with brothers and sisters at the same school were forbidden. Because of this forced separation, the boarding schools “destroyed family life,” Sister Susan said. “For nine months [the children] lived with no parents, so when they grew up they had no parenting skills.”

Sister Susan told harrowing stories she had heard while ministering at a healing program in Canada. For example, one woman recalled that, as a young girl, a Catholic Sister placed a bar of soap in her mouth and kept it there for several moments. She was also locked for most of the day in a janitor’s closet – both times because she had waved to one of her siblings at the school. She also recalled evenings when the girls in the school were lined up and the priest tapped selected girls on the back of the head. Those girls were taken to the priest’s room to be abused. 

Sister Susan also spoke of the boarding schools’ practice of letting non-Native people choose any of the students to adopt – and that child was given to the couple. “The school would build a little casket the size of the child, fill it with rocks, seal it real well, and put a note on it,” warning the parents not to open the casket because the child had died of a contagious disease. The child might not ever be reunited with his or her family. 

While Native Americans still face injustice, Sister Susan also pointed to ways in which the government and individual U.S. citizens are working to right some of the many injustices. Native Americans were given U.S. citizenship in 1942 and the right to vote in 1948, she said. The Indian Religious Freedom Act, passed in 1978, was repealed in 1990 and then again put in force in 1994. 

Most recently, in 2008, Congress passed a bill designating the day after Thanksgiving as National Native American Day – though many see it as Black Friday, a day for Christmas shopping. “It’s a small step in the willingness to balance the misleading narrative of discovery and to recognize the true Native American history of thriving economies and a sophisticated system of government, which existed long before our ancestors came to this land,” Sister Susan said. 

Sister Susan encouraged her listeners to take whatever steps they could to bring about justice and renewed respect for the Native Americans. “With God’s grace, we move forward with compassion and resolve in our hearts and take actions to stand in solidarity with our indigenous sisters and brothers and neighbors.” 

She recommended that descendants of European immigrants “learn about the culture of the native people in the area in which you live and work and advocate for public policies and social conditions that respect the sovereignty and self-determination of Native Americans.”

 

Feature photo: Sisters and guests at Sister Susan Gardner’s presentation on Indigenous Peoples Day listen as Sister Esther Kennedy, OP, poses a question.


Effects of the Doctrine of Discovery Today and the Boarding School Era

Presentation by Susan Gardner, OP, Director of the Native American Apostolate for the Diocese of Gaylord, Michigan

October 8, 2018 - 1:30 p.m., Rose Room

 


 

 

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