June 14, 2019, San Rafael, California – Adrian Dominican Sister Mary Soher, OP, finishing her third year as Director of Campus Ministry at Dominican University of California, received a pleasant surprise at the close of the 2018-2019 academic year: she received two awards in recognition of her service and dedication to the school.
Sister Mary was awarded the Club Advisor of the Year for her service as staff advisor to the Siena Leadership Team, the student leaders of campus ministry. In addition, the Penguin Pantry – a food pantry available every Tuesday to Dominican University students – received the Outstanding Student Program/Event of the Year for 2018-2019. Both were announced during the Penguin Leadership Awards ceremony on May 2.
As staff advisor for the Siena Leadership Team, Sister Mary “provides support at meetings and events, but allows students to take the lead,” said Jessica Frazier, Director of Student Services, in her tribute to Sister Mary. “She is inclusive, celebrates diversity, and encourages students to find creative ways to fill gaps she notices on campus.”
Sister Mary and the Campus Ministry Department initiated the Penguin Pantry on September 11, 2018, to help Dominican University students who were struggling financially. Many of the students are on financial aid or are first-generation students, Sister Mary explained in an interview.
Every Tuesday, students have the opportunity to select free produce, proteins, starches, juices, and snacks such as chips or cookies provided by the SF-Marin Food Bank. The food bank delivers items between noon and 1 p.m., Sister Mary explained. “I have student volunteers who set it up like a farmer’s market. … We provide recipes that students can make in a microwave and we try to give examples of what they can do to combine different food items in their meals.”
The Penguin Pantry was recognized not only for providing food for students but for creating community among student volunteers and those who benefit from the pantry.
Sister Mary said she was “totally surprised and shocked,” about receiving the awards. “I really enjoy working with the students and helping them learn how to become leaders.”
Sister Mary sees the award for the Penguin Pantry as “an award to the whole campus, because it’s a huge collaborative effort.”
During the President’s Reception for the Senior Class on May 16, Sister Mary received the John F. Kennedy Senior Appreciation Award, named for a former Vice President of Student Life at Dominican University – not for the U.S. President.
“Her spirit is contagious, her passion for students is immeasurable, and her energy is limitless,” said Rachel Stowell, Senior Class Senator for the Associated Students of Dominican University, the student government. “She challenges us to go beyond our levels of comfort and to push our boundaries in the belief that we will become the people we are meant to be. She models a life of service.”
The award recipient is chosen by members of the Senior Class, Sister Mary said, noting that the Class of 2019 had been welcoming to her when she first came to Dominican University.
Sister Mary said the Campus Ministry programs have been formed around the four Dominican Pillars of community, prayer, ministry, and study. Campus Ministry, which serves a very ecumenical and interfaith population, “reaches out to anyone who’s seeking to be a believer or to those who want to deepen their relationship with God,” she said. “We offer opportunity for service and outreach and continue to add that educational component in all that we do, helping to empower the students as life-long learners.”
Sister Mary especially treasures the Full Moon Hikes, in which she leads students to the beach for a time of reflection and back to campus under the full moon. She also appreciates the alternative spring break trips to the U.S.-Mexico border. “We’re really starting to get connected with people who are experiencing the border day-in and day-out and offering our students the opportunity to view life through the eyes of others so they have a better sense of what’s really happening,” she said.
The Dominican Sisters of San Rafael – who founded and sponsor Dominican University of California – have been a “wonderful support for campus ministry,” Sister Mary said. The Sisters are involved with the students through activities such as the Busy Student Retreats and special Christmas ornament decoration sessions. “I’m extremely grateful for that,” she said. “It’s quite a collaborative effort.”
Feature photo: Sister Mary Soher, OP, right, receives the 2019 John F. Kennedy Award from Mary Marcy, President of Dominican University of California. The award is named for Dominican University’s former Vice President of Student Life. Photo by David Albee, Courtesy of Dominican University of California
June 7, 2018, Caldwell, New Jersey – About 40 students from 13 Dominican colleges and universities “caught the fire” of the Dominican charism May 22-27, 2018, as they attended the annual Dominican Colleges Preaching Conference at Caldwell University, sponsored by the Dominican Sisters of Caldwell.
“The theme of Dominican Young Adults (DYA) USA is ‘catch the fire,’” noted Sister Mary Soher, OP, Director of Campus Ministry for Dominican University of California. Sister Mary, an Adrian Dominican Sister, brought two students from Dominican University to the conference, and led the opening presentation, “Dominican Spirit in Song.”
Also attending the event were Adrian Dominican Sisters Mary Jones, OP, Director of Mission Education and Heritage Development at Siena Heights University, Adrian, who brought two students with her; Nancy Murray, OP, who portrays St. Catherine of Siena in a one-woman show; and Sara Fairbanks, OP, Director of Vocations for the Adrian Dominican Congregation.
The conference introduced students to Dominican saints as well as to the Dominican family throughout the world: Friars; cloistered nuns; Sisters who serve in active ministries; Associates, lay women and men who are committed to a particular Congregation of Dominican Sisters; the Dominican Laity, who are connected to the Friars; Dominican Volunteers; and Dominican Young Adults, which has chapters at several Dominican colleges and universities throughout the United States, as well as among young adults who are past college.
In addition, the students learned about and experienced the different ways that Dominicans preach – not only from the pulpit, but also through service in response to the signs of the times and through the arts. The conference concluded with Mass, during which the various college groups proclaimed their action plans for when they return to their school in the Fall, as well as their personal action plans.
Sisters Sara Fairbanks, Mary Jones and Mary Soher took time to reflect on the 2018 conference and its impact on the students from Dominican colleges and universities – each looks toward her involvement in late June in the Dominican High Schools Preaching Conference at Siena Heights University in Adrian.
“I really enjoy working with other Dominicans in the Dominican family to hand on our preaching charism to our college students,” Sister Sara said. “I take delight in teaching college students the art of liturgical preaching. It does my heart good to hear our young people sharing their spirited and insightful reflections on the Word from their own particular experience of the world.”
Sister Mary Jones said the group was the most diverse that she’s encountered at the conference. “Not only women and men but different cultures,” she said, but first-time participation by some of the universities. She was also impressed by the students’ excitement at meeting various members of the Dominican family – including a cloistered Dominican nun who had graduated from Caldwell University. “The students were asking great questions: What’s a normal day for you as a Sister? How is it that you don’t wear a habit?”
“One of the highlights always is the sending-forth Mass, when you hear everybody’s commitment, including our own, and know that these students are very much on fire with our charism and are looking forward to implementing their plans,” Sister Mary Jones said. “”Their energy is always so amazing.”
Sister Mary Soher agreed. “The students really got into it. They were inspired to learn more about other schools and how they live out the Dominican ideals or pillars…. They came back with ideas of ways to better deepen their relationship with God.” Students also inspired one another to greater involvement in the Dominican family, she added. “Some students are already part of Dominican Young Adults USA and three or four schools are now interested in starting their own DYA chapter.”
Feature photo: Attending the 2018 Dominican Colleges Preaching Conference were: front, from left, Siena Heights students Rochelle Chezick and Alex Wilkinson and back row, from left, Adrian Dominican Sisters Nancy Murray, OP, Mary Jones, OP, Mary Soher, OP, and Sara Fairbanks, OP.