November 15, 2018, Toronto, Ontario – Amidst 12,000 delegates from diverse world religions and spiritual beliefs, six women representing the Adrian Dominican Sisters took in the message of inclusion and peace of the Seventh Parliament of the World’s Religions, November 1-7, 2018, at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.
Sister Susan Van Baalen, OP, Associate Joan Ebbitt, and Pastoral Minister Cathy Rafferty were chosen by lot to attend the Parliament as a gift from the Adrian Domincian Congregation. Also attending were Adrian Dominican Sisters Esther Kennedy, OP, Patricia McDonald, OP, and Kathleen Nolan, OP.
Sister Esther saw the Parliament as an opportunity for participants to “deepen our understanding of global issues, transcend old barriers, and create loving pathways to inclusive peace, justice and love.”
Sister Patricia said the experience “was the chance of a lifetime.” Now marking its 125th anniversary, the Parliament of the World’s Religions has only been convened seven times since the first was held in Chicago in 1893. The theme, “The Promise of Inclusion and the Power of Love: Pursuing Global Understanding, Reconciliation, and Change,” articulated the purpose of the Parliament. Delegates represented about 200 faith traditions and spiritual beliefs from 80 countries.
The event began with an opening ceremony. Each of the other days focused on a particular theme in various plenary sessions and assemblies: Indigenous Peoples; women’s dignity; understanding and climate action; justice, peace, and reconciliation; and the next generation. The closing ceremony was November 7.
Sister Kathleen noted the strenuous schedule of the Parliament, and the multiple options for different events – for all groups of people, from children to scholars and activists – at each moment, even during plenary sessions. Typically, she said, she would eat breakfast, attend the plenary session – from 9:00 a.m. until noon – and then attend three or four breakout sessions before meeting others in the group for dinner. The dinner was followed by another plenary session, lasting sometimes until 11:00 p.m.
“You would have to send 50 people to get everything covered,” Cathy noted.
For the delegation from the Adrian Dominican Congregation, the Parliament was an eye-opener. Sister Patricia took the opportunity to attend programs and listen to a variety of speakers and people she met along the way. She encountered Wiccans and female Buddhist monks, listened to a presentation by a man who had physically transitioned from being a female, and spoke to two college women.
“The biggest surprise was the mass of diversity we have among us on so many levels – language, food, clothing, religion – and at the same time we’re trying to become one,” Sister Patricia said.
Joan was struck by the many presentations she attended and the encounters she had with others: a documentary on the experiences of three people who suffered through the U.S. immigration process; a panel of high school juniors and seniors who advocated for effective sexual education; and an elderly woman from Afghanistan who spoke of the constant violence and distrust in her country and the need for women to speak out. Joan said the woman’s message was that “when women are included, we’ll probably have peace. Women are wise and they must speak – and these women will change the world.”
Sister Susan said she loved the richness of diversity – both religious and cultural, along with the opportunity to “engage in rituals and serious dialogue with our indigenous North American brothers and sisters, and to participate with Hindus and Buddhists in their rituals. The inclusion of the fine arts reinforced the place of music, drama, poetry, and dance in the appropriate expression of religious beliefs.”
She added that she was struck by the inclusiveness of the more than 7,000 people there. “It was clear that those present were committed to making a better world through cooperation on issues as vast as climate control and world peace,” Sister Susan said.
The participants were also impressed by the qualities of the individual people they encountered. Joan takes hope in people like Vandana Shiva, an activist from India who has worked hard to heal Earth and was active as a member of the consciousness leaders during the 2009 Paris Climate Accord Summit, and in the many women recently elected to the U.S. Congress. “I think there’s great hope in that women are coming forth – they’re not standing down, Joan said.
People who stayed the course through dark and dreary moments impressed Sister Esther. She gave the example of Izzeldin Abuelaish, a Palestinian physician whose daughters were killed when an Israeli tank attacked their home in Gaza. He founded The Daughters for Life Foundation, a Canadian-based charity to educate Middle Eastern girls.
Likewise, Sister Esther recalled Sakena Yacoobi, a woman from Afghanistan, who is Executive Director of the Afghan Institute of Learning for women and girls. She continues her commitment to educating girls, in spite of seeing some of the girls murdered and schools bombed. “I saw example after example of people living lives of compassion and love,” Sister Esther said.
“Everyone who spoke came from such a deep whole-heartedness,” Sister Esther added. “Whether they were working for the United Nations or nonprofits, there was such a whole-heartedness about following through what you say is important to you and believing that who you are and what you do and how you are in this world truly makes a difference.”
Cathy was impressed by her realization that the “vast issues and problems” of the world have a profound impact on individual lives. She gave the example of boarding schools of the past, in both the United States and Canada, in which Native American children were forced to conform to standard U.S. languages and culture and lost their own.
“We have a lot of head knowledge, but we haven’t brought it to our hearts,” Sister Kathleen said. In the case of climate change and its impact on the environment and the future of Earth, “we know the urgency, but we don’t have the will [to take action to protect Earth]. We haven’t brought it down to the heart as much as we need to, to have conversion.”
The Adrian Dominican participants came away from the Parliament with messages that they would like to bring to the rest of the world.
Sister Patricia has a greater sense of the need to listen and to “establish ongoing trust and respect for others. … I would like to bring people to a sense of respectful tolerance and appreciation for the other.”
Joan said the message she brings to others is the need to “pay attention to the suffering people and the suffering world. … My greatest learning was to recognize even more how much the Earth and the people are suffering and how we seem to have slipped backward.”
Sister Esther expressed the idea of going to the deeper message of our spiritual traditions. “If we do, we will be able to build a human community,” she said. “On the surface we’re different, but not in the depths. If we could go to that place, we might survive as a species and help our planet to thrive and flourish.”
Waiting at the Windsor Station for the train to Toronto are, from left, Sister Kathleen Nolan, OP; Associate Joan Ebbitt; and Sisters Esther Kennedy, OP, Patricia McDonald, OP, and Susan Van Baalen, OP. Photos by Cathy Rafferty
August 9, 2017, Adrian, Michigan – Six women were formally welcomed as Adrian Dominican Associates on the evening of August 5 during Partners V, the fifth annual gathering of Associates.
Associates are women and men – at least 18 years of age – who share in the vision and mission of the Adrian Dominican Sisters through a non-vowed commitment.
Mary Lach, Director of Associate Life, presided over the Ritual of Acceptance, in St. Catherine Chapel at the Adrian Dominican Motherhouse. Deb Carter, Associate and member of the Associate Life Board, served as Ritual Leader, introducing each mentor, who in turn introduced the Associate she had worked with.
Laurie Susie, of Arizona, was born in Iowa and served in fundraising and development for non-profit organizations. She met the Adrian Dominican Sisters while serving at St. Rose Dominican Hospitals in Henderson, Nevada. In introducing her, Sister Carol Fleming, OP, her mentor, described her as compassionate, contemplative, and collaborative. “It’s been a joy to share her zeal,” she said.
Laurie said she decided to become an Associate “after years of discernment and prayer, relying on the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the encouragement and support of Sister Carol Fleming. I believe it is the right time to make a commitment to further the mission of the Adrian Dominican Sisters.” Laurie said she feels called to the “healing mission of Jesus” and to work with people who are sick, underserved, and disenfranchised. “I hope to receive the gift of giving back to those who are less fortunate.”
Rev. Cathy Johnson, a Presbyterian minister, is a pastoral chaplain at the Dominican Life Center, the residence of the retired Adrian Dominican Sisters. Cathy has ministered in three parishes in Michigan and two in Iowa, serving as a bereavement counselor, minister of visitation, and assistant pastor.
“We are really blessed that she is sharing her pastoral ministry with us,” said Sister Joan Delaplane, OP, speaking on behalf of Cathy’s mentor, Sister Carol Coston, OP.
Cathy lives in Adrian, Michigan, close to her parents and to the Adrian Dominican Motherhouse. Her family includes two adult daughters, Ruthann and Rachel.
“Two years ago I began my ministry as a chaplain with the Sisters, and within two months … I knew that I had met kindred spirits,” Cathy said. “In these times in which we live, I believe there is great value in journeying with others who share similar values.”
Joan Ebbitt was born and raised in Adrian, met the Sisters at school and was in the Congregation as a vowed member for 10 years.
A social worker, Joan specializes in addiction treatment and has given talks and workshops to religious leaders. She began an addiction treatment center as a joint venture with Parkside Medical Services at Baylor Medical in Dallas, Texas, where she Marilyn, who has been Joan’s partner for 28 years. They were married in 2015.
In 2005, Joan started Companions in the Crossthreads, a group for former Sisters who wished to renew their connection to the Adrian Dominican Sisters. Joan also is a spiritual director who often offers spiritual direction and workshops at the Weber Retreat and Conference Center.
Joan especially thanked the late Sister Ruth Steiner, OP, and Sisters Rosemary Ferguson, OP, and Esther Kennedy “and all who encouraged and challenged me to become my authentic self, and who always claimed me as sister, even after I left vowed life.”
Sherry Goff, a native of Adrian, attended Siena Heights College and completed her degree in sociology at Fayetteville State University in Fayetteville, North Carolina. While in North Carolina, she worked at the Mental Health Association, which provides services to adults who suffer with severe and persistent mental illness.
After spending a year in Costa Rica as missionaries, Sherry and her husband, Stan, returned to Adrian, Michigan. Sherry has worked with Goodwill as the assistant to the Executive Director and in Human Resources. Sherry and Stan have three children and seven grandchildren.
Truly McSorley, Associate and Sherry’s mentor, said Sherry is a “lifelong learner. She absorbed every bit of Dominican life and history that she could read.” Sherry, for her part, spoke of her own feeling of connection with the Congregation. “I want to live the mission of the Adrian Dominican Sisters, to be with others who freely give and receive Jesus’ love. I’d like to help co-create justice and peace in our world.”
Barbara Lawrence, born in Mount Clemens, Michigan, studied at Siena Heights University and served as the university’s first Director of Human Resources. Since 2015, she has been a part-time receptionist at Weber Center, and is a catechist at her parish.
Blessed with two children, two grandchildren, and one grandchild on the way, Barbara also cares for foster children.
Barbara expressed gratitude to her mentor, Sister Norma Dell, OP, to Sister Marge Mehigan, OP, whom she worked with at Siena Heights University and who “taught me to take the Dominican Mission Statement off the wall and make it live for our Co-workers. She said she is also grateful to Sister Pam Millenbach, OP, a social worker at Catholic Charities who worked with Barbara when she was fostering six girls. “I wouldn’t have made it without Pam’s wisdom and support and without her kind invitation to bring children here for Liturgy so that they could be blessed by you Dominicans.”
Mary Sweet Rooney entered the Adrian Dominican Congregation in 1954 with Sister Esther Kennedy, OP, who served as her mentor. While studying at Notre Dame University in the 1970s, she met and fell in love with Patrick Rooney, a Dominican priest. They married after Mary was released from her vows and Patrick was laicized.
“I never stopped being a Dominican,” Mary said. “It was important to both of us to nurture and challenge one another in living the Dominican charism.”
Living in South Bend, she served as Director of Ministries to Children and Families at a parish, was an adjunct faculty member at the University of Indiana and University of Notre Dame, and was a Chaplain and then Director of Pastoral and Social Service at Memorial Hospital of South Bend. Now retired, Mary volunteers with the Sisters of the Holy Cross.
After her husband’s death, Mary said, she “realized that it’s not quite possible to be a Dominican alone, so I chose to become an Associate – which for me is coming home.”
After the six new Associates were introduced and declared their willingness to be “named and known as an Adrian Dominican Associate,” Mary Lach introduced Cheryl Boyce, who had studied with the five new Associates from Michigan. Cheryl became an Associate in May 2017.
Feature photo (above): Mary Rooney receives the Associate logo from her mentor, Sister Esther Kennedy, OP.
Top: The new Associates and their mentors sign the Agreement of Association. Bottom: The newest Adrian Dominican Associates are, from left, Cheryl Boyce, who joined in May, Barbara Lawrence, Laurie Susie, Rev. Cathy Johnson, Joan Ebbitt, Mary Rooney, and Sherry Goff.