August 8, 2019, Adrian, Michigan – “Embracing the Future; Encuentro con El Futuro; Pagyakap sa Hinaharap.”
These words – chanted by more than 600 Adrian Dominican Sisters, Associates, Co-workers, and other Partners in Mission – rang out in joyful chant throughout a four-day gathering at the Adrian Dominican Sisters Motherhouse July 31-August 3, 2019. The words in English, Spanish and Tagalog, sung to a tune composed by Sister Gloria Korhonen, OP, captured the tone and the theme of the all-Congregation assembly.
Sister Patricia Siemen, OP, Prioress, called for Embracing the Future 18 months earlier “as an opportunity for remembering, transforming, gathering, embracing and deepening our Adrian Dominican story, Mission, and Vision.”
The opening ritual called forth remembrance of three other gatherings of the Adrian Dominican Congregation. The ritual included the lighting of the Fire of Divine Love for Embracing the Future, as well as the lighting of candles representing each of the three previous gatherings. Readings during the ritual included opening remarks by the Prioress convening each gathering: Sister Rosemary Ferguson, OP, Re-Membering, 1977; Sister Nadine Foley, OP, Transformations, 1989; and Sister Janet Capone, OP, Gathering 2002.
“It has been 17 transformative years since 2002 when we last all gathered in one place at the same time,” Sister Patricia noted in her opening address. She welcomed the Sisters and Associates who joined the Congregation since that last gathering, including members of two Dominican congregations that merged with the Adrian Dominican Sisters: the Edmonds Dominican Congregation of Edmonds, Washington, in 2003, and the Dominican Congregation of Our Lady of Remedies, based in Pampanga, the Philippines, in 2011.
Sister Patricia noted the challenges ahead as the Congregation faces a new way of life in the future. ”The call and response of religious life is always a Spirit-filled narrative,” she said, “so let us not be surprised, then, if Holy Wisdom leads us into new ways of responding as a community to the needs of the people of God.”
In spite of the uncertainty and the shifts in our world, Sister Patricia urged the Sisters and Associates to trust in God’s promise – and in the prayer of the Sisters who had gone before them in death. “We call on the holy women who have risked and journeyed before us,” she said. “We stand on their shoulders – all 1,621 strong. They are our guides, our strength, our inspiration as we journey into the third decade of the 21st Century.”
In the opening address of the first full day, Sister Teresa Maya, CCVI, Past President of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) spoke on “Encuentro con el Futuro – Our Charism as a Prism to Behold the Horizon.”
A native of Mexico and a member of the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word, Sister Teresa addressed the fears that many Sisters face as their numbers decrease. Congregations of religious Sisters have been watching the future for 50 years “and we’ve been doing it with the typical statistical obsession of the United States,” she said. They have developed their own “narrative of diminishment.”
Sister Teresa urged Sisters to have faith that they will be enough to accomplish God’s mission for them, and to avoid the pitfalls of complacency, denial, and panic in facing the future of religious life. Communities such as the Benedictines have learned that they do not need to be in large numbers to make a difference. “They’re not obsessed with numbers,” Sister Teresa said. “We don’t need to be 3,000 to be what God needs. We need to be who we are today. We are enough.”
Sister Teresa focused much of her talk on charism – or spiritualty – as the real guide for religious life now and in the future. The Dominicans, the Order of Preachers, follow the spirituality of St. Dominic, who preached the truth and God’s love to win the people of his time back to the Catholic Church. The Dominican charism also includes the four pillars of community, prayer, study, and ministry or preaching.
Sister Teresa noted the special need for the Dominican charism today as so many people need to hear of God’s love for them. “Conversation is vital,” she said. “You need to be you now more than ever before because you know with your Dominican preaching that you are called to a conversation that is an encounter with the future.”
Sister Teresa told Sisters and Associates to stay true to their inner compass – the Gospel and the charism. “Have we truly allowed the charism to permeate us? If we have, we won’t worry about the future.”
Sister Zenaida Nacpil, OP, former Chapter Prioress of the Sisters in the Our Lady of Remedies Mission Chapter in the Philippines, turned the assembly’s attention to Asia Pacific in her afternoon talk, “Four Faces of Asia Pacific – Embracing Prophetic Preaching with our Suffering Multitude.”
Sister Zenaida began by introducing participants to her continent: the largest and most populous. Asia is plagued by globalization, which is transforming the values of many from harmony to consumerism and an emphasis on relationship to consumerism and from traditions to technology, she said. Asia has become a “big supplier of cheap labor to Western countries,” and many have fallen prey to human trafficking in labor or as mail order brides. In addition, Sister Zenaida said, poor people in Asia became “victims of development” as corporations from the United States and other Western areas plunder the continent’s natural resources.
The mission of Sisters in the Philippines, she added, is to read the “signs of the times” and to respond to the needs of the people. “We are awakened by the deafening cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor,” she said. The Sisters also journey with the indigenous peoples of the Philippines and work with lay partners and people of other faith traditions. “Now today it is imperative for us to study other religions because we do not have a monopoly on truth,” she said.
A panel of younger Dominican Sisters gave their response, each from her own experience. Sister Liberty Mendoza, OP, who ministers at the Dominican School of Apalit in Pampanga, the Philippines, spoke of her school’s efforts to train teachers in the Dominican charism so they can share it when they move to other schools.
Sister Katherine Frazier, OP, Director of Mission Integration at Regina Dominican High School in Wilmette, Illinois, spoke of the language of the students and of the need to meet the students where they are.
Reflecting on her native Kenya, Sister Emmy Chelagat Choge, OP, used the rainbow as a symbol of the diversity of the tribes of Kenya.
Through a translator Sister Basilia De la Cruz, OP, principal of Espíritu Santo Fe y Alegría School in the Dominican Republic, spoke of the educational efforts in her country and of her own confidence in the future of religious life.
The day concluded with a procession to the Congregation’s cemetery, where Sisters and Associates prayed in gratitude for the Sisters lying in rest there and asked for their guidance and prayers. After the service, Sister Patricia invited participants to wander through the cemetery and visit the graves of the Sisters they knew and loved.
Sisters and Associates process to the Adrian Dominican Cemetery to honor and remember and honor 1,621 deceased Adrian Dominican Sisters.
Friday was a turning point. After a full day of heavy input, participants began with small group communal sharing. They reflected on and discussed two questions: What is required of us (personally and communally) to welcome and co-create an unknown future? What strengthens and nourishes you to live well in our changing reality?
Each group submitted one or two words that captured the essence of their reflection. In large group sharing – and through the artistic efforts of graphic designer Dana Wright-Wasson – they discovered the common themes that emerged, including trust, curiosity, openness, and presence.
The afternoon brought another change as Partners in Mission – Co-workers from the Motherhouse Campus and the Congregation’s sponsored institutions – joined the gathering. “Thank you for your generous self-offering in setting aside this time to be with us,” Sister Patricia told the partners. “You bring vast experience of collaborating with others in your professional lives.”
The emphasis during the afternoon was on collaborative partnership. The theme was drawn out during a discussion between Sister Patricia and Associate Dee Joyner, who ministers for the Congregation as Director of the Office of Resilient Communities.
After noting her involvement over the years with the Adrian Dominican Sisters, Dee reflected on her view of partnership. “If I’m going to establish a partnership I need to feel valued – that you really want to know what I think, that you’re willing to listen for understanding,” she said. “We have to act on the belief that our respective skills enhance the relationship and that the combination of our skills is needed to accomplish [our] goal.”
During the evening, Partners in Mission gathered with invited Sisters and Associates for a special dinner at Siena Heights University’s Dominican Hall to further discuss partnership both with the Congregation and one another. All participants were invited to a dessert social and tours of the new Performing Arts Center at Siena Heights University, which is beginning its centennial celebration.
Left: Associate Dee Joyner, right, speaks as part of a panel of presenters. From left, the panel includes Sister Patricia Siemen, OP, Prioress; Dr. M. Shawn Copeland, theologian; Teresa Maya, CCVI, Past-President of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious; and Sister Zenaida Nacpil, OP, past Chapter Prioress of Our Lady of Remedies Mission Chapter based in the Philippines. Right: Partners in Mission and other invited guests enjoy a reception before dinner, held at Siena Heights University’s Dominican Hall.
In the opening talk of August 3, theologian Dr. M. Shawn Copeland gave a “graduate-level presentation,” titled, “Embracing the Future: Authenticity in a Time of Impasse.” She summarized the worldwide challenges facing Christians and others of good will: poverty, injustice, disease, misogyny, racism and bigotry, and the sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church. “As global community, as nation, as society, as church, as members and associates, as persons in relationship with the Adrian Dominicans – we are undergoing a time of questioning and uncertainty,” she said.
Shawn, a former Adrian Dominican Sister, focused the first part of her talk on Authenticity as Human Praxis. Specifically, she spoke of how Adrian Dominican Sisters and Associates live authentically as Dominicans when they live out the pillars of prayer, study, community, and ministry or service.
In discussing the Adrian Dominican Sisters’ authenticity, Shawn pointed to two of the four Enactments that are guiding the Congregation through 2022. The Enactment on Sustainability has already seen “explicit actions on the Motherhouse campus,” including tracking waste, reducing plastics, and planting trees, while still other actions – such as the use of solar or wind power – are being explored for the future, Shawn said. “Theologically these plans reflect the desire and drive to incarnate authenticity as fruit of religious, intellectual, and moral conversion in service of God and love of neighbor,” she said.
However, Shawn found less explicit proof of actions toward the Enactment in which the Congregation pledges to “confront our racist attitudes and root out racist practices in our lives and systems.” She questioned whether the Congregation had made “specific sacrificial plans … to help white people confront, examine, and change attitudes of white racist supremacy” and challenged them to confront racist attitudes in sponsored institutions.
Shawn noted that becoming authentic is a life-long process. “Incarnating authenticity is never simple, never finished – not for you, not for me,” she said.
In the second section of her talk, Shawn focused on the sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church, made possible by a culture of clericalism, which “devalues and dismisses the common baptism [of] all Christians.” All too often, she said, the “drive for achievement displaces the drive for sanctity.”
Yet, Shawn encouraged the Sisters and Associates not to abandon the Church, nor to idolize it – but to work inside the Church and help to reform it. She quoted the directive by the new Master of the Dominican Order, Father Gerard Francisco Timoner III, OP: “We Dominicans must serve the Church. We must help to save and build [it].”
Finally, Shawn spoke of Basic Ecclesial Communities as one way to help Christians authentically live out their faith. Popular in Latin America, the Philippines, and other regions, Basic Ecclesial Communities are composed of a diverse group of Catholics who meet together regularly as a community to share their faith. She pointed to Mission Groups – small groups of Adrian Dominican Sisters and Associates who meet regularly for Congregation responsibilities but also as communities – as examples of Basic Ecclesial Communities.
The afternoon brought together all of the speakers for a panel discussion to share their thoughts on and learnings from the gathering as a whole.
The formal time of Embracing the Future came to an end that afternoon with a closing ritual in which the candles representing the three previous gatherings were extinguished one by one, until finally the Fire of Divine Love representing the current gathering was formally extinguished.
In her closing remarks, Sister Patricia spoke through a “heart filled to overflowing” with gratitude to all who had participated in the event and to others who made it possible: the many Co-workers at the Motherhouse who prepared for and served throughout the event; the speakers, presenters, and panelists; the Planning Committee, chaired by Sisters Marilín Llanes, OP, and Mariane Fahlman, OP; the Programming Committee, chaired by Sister Janet Schaeffler; Father Marcelo Solózano, OP, Presider at Liturgies; Sisters Esther Kennedy, OP, and Kathleen Schanz, OP, who planned and created the rituals and prayers; and the many Motherhouse Co-workers who prepared for and served during the event.
Sister Patricia compared the end of an event such as Embracing the Future to the waves of the ocean. “The ending of this Encuentro is only one wave coming to completion. The momentum and form of the next wave is already taking shape.”
As participants prepared to leave the mountaintop of the experience, Sister Patricia reminded them of the work still ahead. “Together, we will continue carrying forth Gospel responses to those most in need,” she said. “Together, we will continue to create ways to influence the world through our exercise of authentic discipleship, as followers of the reign of the Jewish Jesus.”
The Sisters of Our Lady of Remedies Mission Chapter will host a second experience of “Embracing the Future / Encuentro con el Futuro / Pagyakap sa Hinaharap” in the Philippines with 300 Partners in Mission October 5-6, 2019.
Feature photo (top): Sister Patricia Siemen, OP, Prioress, lights the Fire of Divine Love to open Embracing the Future / Encuentro con el Futuro / Pagyakap sa Hinaharap, a gathering of Sisters, Associates, and Partners in Mission.