May 16, 2019, Montgomery, Alabama – Eight representatives of the Adrian Dominican Congregation, along with a contingent from First Presbyterian Church in Tecumseh, Michigan, took a 15-hour bus ride to Montgomery, Alabama, to immerse themselves in the racist violence of the late 19th century to the civil rights efforts of the mid-20th century.
<< View a presentation about the trip at the bottom of this article. >>
The eight people representing the Adrian Dominican Sisters were Sisters Attracta Kelly, OP, Virginia (Ginny) King, OP, Carleen Maly, OP, Patricia McDonald, OP, Kathleen Nolan, OP, and Suzanne (Sue) Schreiber, OP; Associate Deb Carter; and Co-Worker Robyn Wellman, a nursing assistant. The First Presbyterian Church of Tecumseh had invited members of the Congregation to join them in the bus trip to Selma and Montgomery, Alabama.
“It really was like a religious experience every place we went,” said Sister Kathleen, Director of the Adrian Dominican Sisters Office of Peace, Justice and Integrity of Creation.
The April 26-28, 2019, tour included visits to the Selma Interpretive Center, the welcome center for the National Historic Trail: Selma to Montgomery, following the 54-mile route of the three civil rights marches that took place in 1965; the Edmund Pettus Bridge across the Alabama River in Selma, the site of the March 7 Bloody Sunday in which civil rights demonstrators were attacked by police; and the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, the first church at which Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. served.
The group also visited the Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration and the National Memorial for Justice and Peace, which features about 800 monuments on which are engraved the names of the 4,400 people who were lynched in various counties in the South. Both the Museum and the Memorial were opened in April 2018 by Equal Justice Initiative, founded by attorney Bryan Stevenson, who focuses on “fighting poverty and challenging racial discrimination in the criminal justice system.”
Many of the participants were particularly moved by the display of coffin-sized monuments of the people who were lynched in each county. “The steel monuments for each county hung at eye level at first but progressively became higher and higher off the walking platform,” Sister Suzanne explained. “I felt the power of that design in space as we gradually walked under the steel panels that were lifted up, dramatizing the hangings.”
Sister Kathleen said it was difficult to fathom. “You’re looking at thousands of people who lost their lives, whole families.” She added that the National Museum for Justice and Peace also has duplicates of each memorial so that the counties involved can take their monument home and memorialize the people who were killed there.
Sister Ginny was shocked by the lynching of entire families. “I had no idea they grouped families and children,” she said. She was also saddened by the reasons given for the lynchings: as harmless as walking too closely behind a white woman.
Deb was surprised by photos she saw in the Legacy Museum of white people celebrating at lynchings, and the famous photo of Hazel Bryan Massey, then about 15 years old, screaming in anger as Elizabeth Eckford, a black student, walked into the Little Rock School after the Court had ordered it to be integrated.
Sister Attracta was also moved by the Legacy Museum and its history of racism in the United States – and the continuation of racism even today. “There’s a whole section on discrimination against people of color,” she said. But people of color “are still stopped and pulled over while driving with no reason other than their color. Young men are convicted of crimes and put in jail – and it goes on and on.”
The Civil Rights efforts, especially the Selma to Montgomery Marches and the Edmund Pettus Bridge were also highlights for many participants. “Walking across the bridge brought back the experience of Bloody Sunday – just being in that environment,” Sister Ginny recalled.
Sister Carleen was moved by an encounter at a park across the bridge with Charles, an African American veteran of the Korean War who had been on the front line during one of the marches and been struck on the head by police. “Charles showed a huge scar on his head,” she recalled. “He was surprised at how much hatred there was.” Sister Carleen also recalled Charles’ sense of urgency about speaking to younger people, making sure that they are aware of the bigotry in our nation’s history.
Overall, the participants were overwhelmed by the intense experience, and all the more determined to work for a world in which hatred no longer exists.
Sister Kathleen, who participated in the trip to Alabama after working with people seeking asylum in El Paso, Texas, drew connections between the bigotry and racial discrimination experienced in the South and continued instances of injustice and hatred.
“I couldn’t get [the experience in El Paso] out of my head,” she said. “A group of people is being terrorized and victimized because of the color of their skin, because of where they’re from, because they’re different. ... You’re confronted with the sin of racism.”
Sister Sue was inspired by the clear language used at the National Memorial for Peace and Justice. “The words give us ways to think and talk about the horrors of that time, the late 19th and early 20th centuries.” For example, the National Memorial spoke of the discrimination as “reinforcement of racial dominance over political and economic resources.”
This clear language “helps us feel the stories of terror, name the injustices, and work toward awareness,” Sister Sue said. “I want to be part of that process, and visiting the Memorial helps me to internalize our history and see how it has affected our current social climate.”
Feature photo (top): Sister Patricia McDonald, OP, explores an exhibit at the interpretive center of the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Photo by Sister Suzanne Schreiber, OP
Representatives of the Adrian Dominican Sisters and their hosts, members of the First Presbyterian Church of Tecumseh, pose in the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, the first church at which Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. served.
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