April 23, 2018, Adrian, Michigan – Hundreds of people – Adrian Dominican Sisters, Associates, family members, colleagues, and Co-workers – gathered at the Motherhouse April 22 and 23 for two days of formal and informal celebrations to honor the memory of former Prioress Rosemary Ferguson, OP.
During an informal gathering after Mass on April 22, Sisters, Co-workers, and friends had the opportunity to share stories about their experiences with Sister Rosemary. Speakers recalled special moments, ways that Sister Rosemary influenced them, and how she taught them about the dignity of one’s final days of life.
The formal rituals began on the evening of April 22 with a Vigil Service. Sister Patricia Dulka, OP, Sister Rosemary’s Chapter Prioress, presided over the service and presented the eulogy, recalling Sister Rosemary’s death and the many ways that she influenced others.
“It is amazing to me that that woman came from a tiny little town to become the exquisite leader that she was,” Sister Patricia said. That quote, she added, was from Sister Rosemary herself, describing the leadership of her foremother, Mother Camilla Madden. But, Sister Pat noted, that the quote could also apply to Sister Rosemary, a native of the small town of Spaulding, Nebraska.
Sister Carol Johannes, OP, Prioress of the Congregation from 1978 to 1986, noted the remarkable trust that Sister Rosemary had placed in her by naming her as her successor as novice mistress. “There’s no greater gift that one person can give to another than really trusting her, and that is my experience of Sister Rosemary,” she said. “As leader, mentor, supporter, and friend, she was second to none.”
Noting that Sister Rosemary had no manual or rule book to follow in leading the large and diverse Congregation – 2,400 members at the time – Sister Carol pointed out that Sister Rosemary could easily have become overburdened with her task. That never happened, she said. “Because she lived in such deep faith and trust in God, in all of us, and in an exciting and hopeful future, which she embraced enthusiastically, Rosemary’s heart was almost always light.”
Kathy Almaney, a former Adrian Dominican Sister who was a novice under Sister Rosemary in 1966, described her as her “teacher, conscience, role model, and friend, but always my North Star, the person who set the direction for my life.” She noted that as the Congregation changed and the novices changed in struggling to implement Vatican II and the Chapter of Renewal, Sister Rosemary also changed. “She had the vision to see a new way of religious life and she knew she had to change to achieve that,” Kathy recalled. “Her leadership had to be lighter. She didn’t have to be so outwardly strict. Her natural loving and joyful personality could emerge, and she could still be a good leader.”
The Vigil Service concluded with a reflection written by Sister Rosemary herself. “Beginning with all these days, to you my dearest family, my Adrian Dominican Sisters and Associates and friends all, my love has seeded itself in my heart for always,” she wrote. “All we shared then, newly, has grown wider, deeper, even more caring and … onward to heaven’s time … No fear have I, only the deepest and most loving gratitude for these precious years.”
Both the Vigil Service and the Funeral Liturgy on April 23 reflected Sister Rosemary’s faith, love for all the people in her life, and appreciation for poetry and her Celtic heritage. The Vigil Service began with a prelude, Clair de Lune, performed by Sister Magdalena Ezoe, OP, at Sister Rosemary’s request. Sister Mary Alice Naour, gave a solo performance of The Deer’s Cry based on the Breastplate of St. Patrick. Bill Ebbitt accompanied the chapel choir and David Rains, organist and choir director, on the trumpet and bagpipes. Cantors were Sister Patricia Walter, OP, and Sister Mary Jones, OP.
Father James Hug, SJ, presider at the Funeral Liturgy, expressed Sister Rosemary’s gratitude to the assembly for their presence at the funeral, and her warm welcome to St. Catherine Chapel.
Using an opening reflective hymn, “Breathe on me, Breath of God” as the refrain of her reflection, Sister Patricia Siemen, OP, Prioress, presented the various ways that Sister Rosemary breathed God’s breath and life into the people and the world around her. When she entered the Congregation, “that began Rosemary’s breathing the breath of God on us. Her breath and wisdom mingled with God’s as she taught, formed, cajoled, and loved us into the community of renewal requested by the Church.”
As she led the Congregation in a time of change, Sister Patricia added, Sister Rosemary drew strength from Sisters in leadership in other religious communities, including as Sisters Mary Luke Tobin, SL; Mary Daniel Turner, SNDdeN; Theresa Kane, RSM; Helen Garvey, BVM; and Margaret Brennan, IHM. She was “also deeply steeped in the history of our own Dominican community, and she developed a love and reverence for our foremothers, Camilla, Augustine, and Gerald. They were her mentors for pioneering new landscapes in the 1970s.”
While Sister Rosemary initially took on the honorific Mother Laurence Edward, Sister Patricia noted, she eventually reclaimed the traditional Dominican term of Prioress of the Congregation and the title Sister Rosemary “to adopt a more collegial, mutual, and sisterly way of relationship” with the Sisters in the Congregation.
Sister Patricia also noted Sister Rosemary’s final lesson to those she knew and loved: how to die “gracefully, unafraid, and with dignity.” She concluded: “Our hearts are filled with love, Rosemary, for you and because of you. We know you are already beckoning us to journey more deeply into the heart and breath of God and to do what is ours to do to further communion and harmony in the world. Be with us until we become like you, transformed into the utter breath of God.”
The formal celebration of Sister Rosemary’s life concluded as Sisters, family members and friends took her to her resting place in the Congregation cemetery, a “circle of friendship” for Adrian Dominican Sisters who join the Communion of Saints.
Read more about Sister Rosemary’s life and contributions here.
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.