June 28, 2019, Detroit – Members of Dominican High School’s Class of 1979 learned well a value that their Adrian Dominican teachers sought to instill in them: generosity to people who are in need.
They showed that generosity recently during an informal gathering with Sister Theresa Mayrand, OP, when they paid tribute to her and other Adrian Dominican teachers. They presented a check for about $12,000 for Gianna House, a residence for pregnant teens and for teen mothers and their newborns – and a supportive center for all pregnant women. Sister Theresa is co-director.
The Adrian Dominican Sisters founded Dominican High School, an all-girls school in Detroit, in 1940. The school was closed in 2005.
“In our junior year, the Adrian Dominicans taught us the importance of serving those in need by encouraging us to create a mission project to raise money for an organization that improved the lives of others,” Lisa Gigliotti, Vice President of the Class of 1979, explained in an email. Lisa organized the efforts of her class to forgo a formal 40-year reunion and instead to “signify this milestone by giving back to the beautiful women who served us then and continue to serve others. We wanted to honor our 40th reunion by engaging in a second mission project, this time to support Gianna House and our most enthusiastic biology teacher, Sister Theresa Mayrand’s commitment to provide a safe residence and resources for pregnant women.”
They chose to donate to Gianna House “in honor of the enthusiasm and love that Sister Theresa taught us, alongside other amazing women, such as Sister Joan Weitz, Sister Peggy White, Sister Peggy Manners and Sister Karen Leitz,” Lisa explained.
Lisa said members of the class reached out to 50 to 60 of their classmates to raise the funds. “My thought was that if other alum or persons touched by the Adrian Dominicans might see a mention of a mission-oriented reunion, they might be inclined to make a reunion or tribute to the Adrian Dominicans or their causes.”
Grace Niedbala McKeel, President of the Class of 1979, said that her class’s 40th anniversary gave her the opportunity to reflect on the teachers and classmates who had influenced her life. “Sister Suzanne Schreiber always inspired me with her art and photography and hunger for social justice,” she wrote in an email. “Any hearing of Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus brings Sister Mary Alice Naour to mind. When I think of Sister Peggy Manners I also picture Sister Karen Lietz right alongside her – what a team!”
Another classmate, Laurie Bliss, wrote about the influence of her Adrian Dominican teachers. “Sister Joan Weitz was someone who gave me the right balance of discipline, structure, and acceptance so that I felt safe and could focus on education and fun. Sister Joan helped give me the foundation to take on life’s ups and downs, to keep smiling, to try to make a positive difference in all I do. … Sister Joan showed me what grace and humility look like.”
Sister Theresa, for her part, said she enjoyed the two-hour visit at Gianna House and a pizza dinner with seven members of the Class of 1979. “I hadn’t seen them in 40 years,” she said. “It was nice.”
Sister Theresa, a science teacher at Dominican High School, said the students especially enjoyed her course on the physiology of women, which had been developed by a colleague and augmented by Sister Theresa. The popular course, which included guest speakers such as midwives, helped the students to understand women’s health and sexuality.
“I was so proud to hear how much they appreciated Dominican High School,” Sister Theresa said. “The way they talked about us teaching them to be their own women and learning to think for themselves made me very proud of Dominican High School.”
Feature photo: Gathered in front of Gianna House are, from left, Mary (Chisholm) Jordan, Cindy (Seguin) Yamamoto, Sister Theresa Mayrand, OP, Lisa Gigliotti, and Moira Sheehan. The women with Sister Theresa are all members of the Dominican High School Class of 1979.
April 9, 2019, Eastpointe, Michigan – Sister Theresa Mayrand, OP, received the Ruby Award from Soroptimist International-Grosse Pointe during a banquet March 13 at the Assumption Greek Orthodox Church in St. Clair Shores, Michigan. The award – which “acknowledges a woman who has made a significant difference improving the lives of women and girls” – includes a check for $500 for the organization in which the recipient works.
Sister Theresa received the award for her years of ministry at Gianna House in Detroit, which offers services and support to teenage and young pregnant women and mothers. The Associate Director of Gianna House, Sister Theresa has developed and now operates the outreach program.
Recently, Gianna House received the license to also function as a residence for up to 15 people – young teenagers or teen mothers ages 13 to 17 with their infants – and is expecting the first resident to move in soon.
Sister Theresa was nominated for the award by Carol Hofer, an Adrian Dominican Associate and member of Soroptimist International-Grosse Pointe.
“The whole spirit of the Soroptimists involves women helping women,” Sister Theresa said. After receiving her award, she gave a presentation on the work of Gianna House, which was established at the convent of St. Veronica Parish in Detroit in 2013.
Before the residential program was opened, Gianna House offered classes and support to young pregnant women and mothers. To date, Sister Theresa said, Gianna House has had 891 client visits, serving 118 women from throughout the Detroit area. “The majority of women we served were in their 20s and 30s, and some 35 and up,” she said. “Some were grandmothers taking care of their grandchildren.”
Gianna House offers core classes – considered the most important for the development of the mothers – such as prenatal and infant care, labor and birthing, parenting, personal growth, and spiritual journey. The women can also take a variety of enrichment classes, from sewing, scrapbooking, and crocheting to yoga and jewelry making. As the women attend classes, they earn “baby bucks” which are redeemed for items offered in the Gianna House store: diapers, wipes, baby and mom toiletries, and other items donated by the public.
Sister Theresa believes that these classes benefit the women – but also the world. “One thing I feel good about is that these women are learning to be better moms, and that should make an impact down the road.”
Attending the classes also gives the women a sense of community. “Mainly what the women like is being with other women,” Sister Theresa said. “Sometimes it’s good for them to have somebody to listen to them. We greet them with a hug when they come. They feel warmly welcomed.” For many women, time at Gianna House with other pregnant women or mothers is “me time,” Sister Theresa said.
Gianna House also garners much support and collaboration from the local community, especially in Macomb County, Sister Theresa said. During the first year, the county’s public health nurses gave presentations on topics such as sleep, car seat safety, breast feeding, and lead poisoning. Members of the behavioral office at the Michigan State University Extension Office offered a series of classes on stress management, anger management, and nutrition.
Sister Theresa said Gianna House has also received support from Knights of Columbus Councils and local parishes, who often host fundraisers. “Usually it’s the parish women’s group that will throw a shower for us and ask what we need,” she said. One member of a local parish women’s group was very active, often bringing a casserole to baby showers and volunteering at Gianna House. After she died of cancer, the women’s group in her parish organized a spaghetti dinner to raise funds for Gianna House in her memory.
Gianna House has also receives support from the Adrian Dominican Sisters and Associates in the Detroit area, many of whom bring baby toiletries to the Fall Assembly of the Congregation’s Great Lakes Dominican Mission Chapter, based in Detroit. Sister Carol Weber, OP, Co-founder and Co-director of St. Luke N.E.W. Life Center in Flint, Michigan, donated sewing machines and fabric from her organization’s commercial sewing venture. One Sister volunteers as a receptionist every Monday, while others come to Gianna House to help with mailings.
Sister Theresa has learned much from her ministry at Gianna House. “I’ve learned about the struggles that many women on the margins go through – the huge number of women who have no support from the father,” she said. “They’re doing this on their own, many without a car, many unable to work because they can’t afford daycare.”
She described the women as valiant as they go through hardships such as psychological or physical abuse. “Some have no connection with their families [of origin],” she said. “Some are living with their mom or their grandmother, and some are living with the father of the child, sometimes in an abusive relationship.”
Still, Sister Theresa derives a sense of satisfaction from her ministry at Gianna House. “What gives me a lot of joy is to know that we are helping women in ways that they need or appreciate – whether it’s a sense of community, whether it’s knowledge, or whether we’re giving them time for themselves,” she said.
Feature photo: Sister Theresa Mayrand, OP, speaks about the service of Gianna House after receiving the Ruby Award from Soroptimist International-Grosse Pointe. Photo Courtesy of Renee Rodriguez Photography