January 26, 2018, Detroit – Sister Mary Hemmen, OP, founder of two literacy centers based in Detroit, recently received a Distinguished Service Award from the city for her contributions to the community.
After being a traditional classroom teacher, Sister Mary turned to adult education when she founded Siena Literacy Center in Detroit in 1995. Building upon that success, she was also instrumental in founding All Saints Literacy Center, which opened in 2015 in a predominantly Hispanic section of Detroit.
“Sister Mary has been a champion for adult education for many years and has inspired numerous volunteers, tutors, and staff,” said Roger Frank, Director of All Saints. “All Saints Literacy Center is forever in debt to her for her work at the Center, and we continue to grow our program as one that has high standards that she set.”
Roger worked with members of the Board of Directors to obtain the Distinguished Service Award for Sister Mary. He contacted Raquel Castañeda-López, Council woman for All Saints’ district.
In his letter to the council, Roger wrote that Sister Mary “is a person who has given so much of her time and talent assisting Detroiters and has never sought any recognition. Sister Mary has worked tirelessly for the adults in Detroit who have struggles with literacy. Her work continues through the many volunteer tutors at Siena Literacy Center and All Saints Literacy Center.”
Although the Detroit City Council announced the award in November 2017, Sister Mary only recently received the certificate, just days before she died on January 25, 2018.
“I never stopped teaching,” she said in an interview after receiving the award. “Very often I worked with the learners.” She also served as mentor to the staff and on the Board of Directors.
Siena and All Saints are among the seven literacy centers sponsored by the Adrian Dominican Sisters. The centers offer free tutoring and other services to people who seek to improve their skills in the English language – either native English speakers or people in the English as a Second Language program.
Sister Mary noted that she “loved every minute” of her work in the two literacy centers, adding that the need for these services is increasing.
Donna Nesbitt, Executive Director of Siena Literacy Center said Sister Mary was a “champion of those in need of literacy skills necessary to improve their lives and the lives of their families.. She was tireless and tenacious in her efforts to secure funding, materials and supplies necessary to do this most important work.”
Mary Francis, former member of the Siena Literacy Center Advisory Board and Board of Directors, spoke of her delight in working with Sister Mary. “Sister Mary was no fuss, no drama, kind, and compassionate, a dedicated, professional educator who did her absolute best to ensure everyone felt welcome and respected… Many people's lives were changed as a result of Siena Literacy Center. Sister Mary believed in the power of education to reduce poverty and she believed in the city of Detroit. Thank God for her efforts.”
From left, Roger Frank, Director of All Saints Literacy Center; Sister Mary Hemmen, OP; and Chris Verklan, administrative assistant at All Saints Literacy Center in Detroit.
October 31, 2017, Adrian, Michigan – The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Branch #3162 of Lenawee County, presented its 2017 Humanitarian Award to the Adrian Dominican Sisters October 22 during its 24th Annual Freedom Fund Banquet.
The theme for the evening was “NAACP: Steadfast and Immovable.”
Sister Elise D. García, OP, and Sister Patricia Harvat, OP, accepted the award on behalf of the Congregation. Both are members of the Congregation’s General Council.
Sister Patricia spoke to the assembly of the work of Sisters and Associates in addressing their own white privilege and internalized racism. She noted the work of St. Dominic to bring about unity and community by preaching the truth and by living in right relationship with self, others, and God. “It is in that spirit of communion that we, your Adrian Dominican Sisters, humbly and gratefully accept this award,” Sister Patricia said.
The award was presented before a crowd of about 175 people, including a table of Adrian Dominican Sisters. The event included a keynote address by State Representative Sherry Gay-Dagnogo (D-Dist. 8) and a presentation by children.
“Every year at our banquet, we honor organizations or people who deserve recognition,” Jeanette Henagan, President of the Lenawee County NAACP, explained in an interview. “This year a member of our executive committee spoke about the Adrian Dominican Sisters and mentioned the different activities, causes, and issues that they address.”
Jeanette cited activities such as intervening on behalf of Dreamers – adults who came to the United States as children and who are seeking protection from deportation and a pathway to citizenship through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which was recently rescinded by President Trump. She also noted that the Congregation has donated a building to Share the Warmth – a volunteer-organized shelter for local people who are homeless – and that individual Sisters are involved in a variety of peace and justice issues.
Jeanette noted that the Adrian Dominican Sisters is a longtime supporter of the Lenawee County branch of the NAACP, most recently by granting the NAACP use of the Weber Retreat & Conference Center for its local government candidates forum.
She encouraged Adrian Dominican Sisters and Associates to continue their support for NAACP of Lenawee County and to “express their feelings and their stance regarding issues like immigration and racism.”
NAACP of Lenawee County is active in promoting voting rights, educating citizens, addressing complaints regarding discrimination, and organizing forums and meetings between law enforcement officers and the public.
Feature photo: Children offer a special presentation during the 24th Annual Freedom Fund Banquet of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Lenawee County Branch.