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October 6, 2020, Detroit – For the past 40 years, a dedicated group of Adrian Dominican Sisters and lay people have offered a spiritual presence in the Detroit area and beyond by forming spiritual directors, offering directed retreats, and presenting an annual colloquium for spiritual directors and other programs for people of faith. This has been the ministry of the Dominican Center: Spirituality for Mission, originally known as the Dominican Center for Religious Development.
This year, the Dominican Center’s staff and Board mark the Center’s 40th anniversary but, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the formal celebration will be delayed at least until 2021. Still, the founders – Sisters Charlotte Hoefer, OP, and Carol Johannes, OP – took time to reflect on the Dominican Center, its evolution through the years, and its impact on the people of faith in the Detroit area and beyond.
The Dominican Center – which opened on September 1, 1980 – was founded on the model of the Center for Religious Development in Boston, Massachusetts, where Sisters Charlotte and Carol ministered and received training in spiritual direction.
In 1980, during Sister Carol’s first term as Prioress of the Adrian Dominican Congregation, Sister Charlotte was serving on the Congregation’s Mission Service Team. “I knew Carol wanted to do something about spiritual direction for the Congregation, so I consulted with the Center for Religious Development where we had trained,” Sister Charlotte explained.
On their advice and with Sister Carol’s direction, Sister Charlotte submitted a proposal for the center, received positive feedback from a questionnaire sent to spiritual directors, and established the Dominican Center for Religious Development with a small staff. After completing her second term as the Congregation’s Prioress and taking a sabbatical, Sister Carol joined the staff with Sister Charlotte.
Through the years, the Dominican Center has changed locations within the Detroit area. Originally housed in the convent of Dominican High School, the Center moved to St. Mel’s and then to St. Paul of the Cross Retreat and Conference Center. Currently, the office is at the Mercy Center in Farmington Hills, Michigan, but the staff will soon move their offices again.
While the Center is not a formal sponsored institution of the Adrian Dominican Congregation, a number of Adrian Dominican Sisters and other people of faith have been critical members of its staff. For many years after Sister Charlotte was Director and served as Bookkeeper and Instructor in the internship program, the Center was directed by the late Sister Joanne Podlucky, OP. She was succeeded by the late Sister Rosemarie Kieffer, OP, and then Sister Adrienne Schafer, OP.
Currently, Sister Karen Rossman, OP, is the Executive Director and Faith Offman is Director of the Spiritual Direction Internship Program. Father Victor Clore, of the Archdiocese of Detroit, has been affiliated with the Dominican Center for years.
Other staff members through the years have included Adrian Dominican Sisters Barbara Cervenka, OP, Kathleen McGrail, OP, Maribeth Howell, OP, Helen Sohn, OP, and the late Eleanor Stech, OP. The late Grand Rapids Dominican Sister Suzanne Eichhorn, OP, also served on staff, bringing the Center’s spiritual direction internship program to St. Francis Retreat Center in DeWitt, Michigan.
With all the changes in office space and personnel, the Dominican Center has maintained its mission: to assist all people of faith to develop the contemplative dimension of their lives.
“The Center has always been a very modest ministerial project,” Sister Carol said, noting that it has received some Ministry Trust grants from the Adrian Dominican Congregation. “The biggest contribution is that we ran an internship for spiritual directors based on the model that Charlotte and I had experienced.” The Dominican Center collaborated with the Cambridge Center for Religious Development for several decades, until the Cambridge Center became part of the School of Ministry of Boston College.
“I saw the need for the spiritual direction internship program,” Sister Charlotte said, explaining that originally the internship program was offered for one year and became very academic. The program was redesigned into a part-time, two-year format. The new program was experiential, with an academic component and a practical, hands-on component, Sister Charlotte explained. “We laid the foundation the first year, but [the interns] started out right away doing direction. The seasoning came the second year.”
Sister Carol recalled the many fluctuations in the Internship Program over the years. “There were years when we only had five to six people [in the program] and years when we had the maximum, 12,” she said. “Some were women religious and one or two priests, but there were also ministers and lay people from other faith traditions. It got to be very ecumenical.”
The Dominican Center continues the formation of spiritual directors after the internship program through the annual Spiritual Direction Colloquium. Sister Carol has fond memories of specific colloquia, such as one led by author and speaker Father Ron Rolheiser, who focused on spiritual direction derived from the life of St. John of the Cross. At times, Sister Carol said, as many as 85 or 90 people have attended the events. “People were so enthusiastic,” she recalled. “They were so excited about what they learned.”
Both Sisters Carol and Charlotte continue to feel committed not only to training and forming spiritual directors through the Dominican Center, but also to serving as spiritual directors themselves.
Sister Carol said a highlight of her years of involvement with the Dominican Center has been in directing participants in the summer retreats. “When one does a directed retreat, you have the opportunity to watch how God works in people’s lives,” Sister Carol said. “It was such a wonderful experience to walk with someone for a week or so and see how, when they gave themselves up to real, intense prayer, wonderful things happened to them.”
Sister Charlotte believes people are called to be spiritual directors. “It’s the trust that people invest in you … having people share how God is working in their lives. I felt so privileged to be called to that ministry.”
Sister Carol believes that people in today’s troubled times can benefit from spiritual direction. “A ministry like the Center can help people in spiritual direction and in retreat work to learn that they can have a wonderful, close relationship to God,” she said.
At the same time, she said, spiritual directors are still being called to walk with people. “You have to be a person who has a surplus of warmth, who is compassionate and a good listener,” as well as someone with a good theological background and some counseling skills.
The Dominican Center will start another two-year training program in the Fall of 2021. For more information, contact Sister Karen Rossman, OP, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
October 5, 2020, Venice, Florida – In a time of great need, staff members and supporters of Catholic Charities USA gathered at Epiphany Cathedral in Venice and virtually to celebrate 110 years of service to God’s people by Catholic Charities USA (CCUSA).
“This is a great time for us to take stock of what we’re doing as a ministry of the Church, especially in these difficult days with the pandemic and natural disasters,” said Adrian Dominican Sister Donna Markham, OP, PhD, President and CEO of CCUSA, in her opening talk for the September 25, 2020, event.
Headquartered in Alexandria, Virginia, CCUSA is a network of agencies nationwide that serve in such areas as affordable housing, food and nutrition, immigration and refugee services, leadership development and Catholic identity, and integrated healthcare. In addition, CCUSA advocates for social justice and offers disaster relief. In turn, CCUSA is a member of Caritas Internationalis, which has 165 national members throughout the world.
In her welcome, Sister Donna spoke of the “millions of prayers that collect in our hearts and permeate our collective being as Catholic Charities workers in this country,” from intercessions for the nation’s many needs to lamentations over the loss of life and livelihood during the pandemic, to the African proverb calling on all to pray with their feet.
But Sister Donna offered a special type of prayer: a prayer of gratitude. “We have so much to thank God for these days,” she said. “We’ve been entrusted with accompanying so many people who reflect back to us the face of Christ. This is such sacred, sacred work.”
Cardinal Luis Tagle, President of Caritas Internationalis, addressed the CCUSA workers from Rome via video, thanking them for their heroic work, especially during the pandemic. “You are reminding the whole world that the pandemic does not produce only cases of sickness and unfortunately death, of loss of jobs and loss even of dreams,” he said. “They are not just cases. They are human beings.”
“Thank you for defending the dignity of every human person,” Cardinal Tagle said. “You are a sign of hope. You are the seeds of hope of God’s Word of love, being sown by the Word of God wherever you are, so that in the arid ground created by the pandemic, love will bloom.”
Bishop Frank J. Dewane, Bishop of the Diocese of Venice, Florida, and Episcopal Liaison to CCUSA, presided over Mass for the 110th anniversary celebration. In his homily, he spoke on the surprising identity of Jesus as servant. “Those of you who work in Catholic Charities, you know that is what we are called to be – the servants of those who are in need.”
He recalled those who had served people in need throughout the 110 years of Catholic Charities, and the continued call to service of Catholic Charities workers today. “In giving that response to serving, we become always more the man or woman we are called to be.”
Watch the entire CCUSA 110th anniversary celebration.
Feature photo: Venice, Florida, Bishop Frank J. Dewane celebrates Mass at Epiphany Cathedral to recognize the 110th anniversary of Catholic Charities USA.