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October 12, 2020, Flint, Michigan – In the weeks before the November 3 national election, two stories related to the Adrian Dominican Sisters are among hundreds that are told by Nuns on the Bus 2020. Among the Nuns on the Bus is Adrian Dominican Sister Durstyne Farnan, OP, United Nations Representative for the Dominican Sisters Conference. In addition, the story of St. Luke N.E.W. Life Center – founded in 2002 by Sisters Carol Weber OP, and Judy Blake, CSJ – was told on September 29, 2020, during a virtual tour by Nuns on the Bus.
Sponsored by NETWORK: A Catholic Social Justice Lobby, Nuns on the Bus explores election-year social justice issues through site visits to social service and community agencies, town hall meetings, dialogues, state voting information, and short videos featuring “nuns on the bus” who are involved in social service and social justice issues.
In her video, Sister Durstyne speaks of her ministry at the United Nations and of her special concerns for the issues of equality for women, immigration, nuclear weapons, and climate change. She encourages voters to “make this election count” and to vote for candidates who will move the world forward.
During her visit to St. Luke N.E.W. Life Center, Sister Simone Campbell, SSS, Director of NETWORK, interviewed Sisters Carol and Judy, as well as staff members Tiffany and Christine, who had participated in the Center’s programs.
Sister Judy explained the unique origin of the Center: a recurring dream that she experienced during a 30-day retreat. In response, Sisters Judy and Carol began a street ministry to the people of Flint.
The Center occupies a former grammar school owned by St. Luke Parish. Programs include a Wednesday women’s group; a food pantry; a hot meal program; a literacy center, which offers both adult literacy training and preparation for GED; an employment preparation program for men and women; and social enterprises, such as commercial sewing and lawn care, which enable graduates to further develop their skills and work ethic.
Sisters Judy and Carol told Sister Simone that, because of the pandemic, many of the Center’s programs have had to be adapted. Learners and tutors in the literacy program still work one-on-one, Sister Carol said, but now they meet via Zoom.
The Commercial Sewing Enterprise – which once produced items such as medical scrubs, lab coats, designer aprons, and stadium blankets – now focuses entirely on masks, Sister Carol said. To date, women in Commercial Sewing have made more than 13,000 masks. “We really try to help our community mask up,” she explained. “The ZIP code we’re in is one of the highest in Flint for COVID.”
While Sisters Carol and Judy spoke of the history and programs of the N.E.W. Life Center, Tiffany and Christine told their own stories: the impact that the Center has had on their lives.
Tiffany recalled discovering the Center while she was in the midst of depression, “on the verge of giving up.” Suffering from a back problem and unable to work, she heard about the food drive at the Center and brought some food from her own pantry. Immediately upon walking into the Center, she said, she felt love. “I felt like I’d been around there forever,” she said. She was invited immediately to the women’s Wednesday group, became involved in GED, and participated in the employment training class.
“Right now, I pretty much run the donations department and I love the community,” Tiffany said. “They helped me get out of that dark place. I’m just the giving-est girl now. I didn’t know I was that kind.”
Christine had always loved helping people and hoped to start a homeless shelter. She moved from Flint to Georgia but returned home when her grandmother – now doing well – was diagnosed with cancer. She came to the Center at the suggestion of her sister, who told her of the employment program. “Coming here, it just opened up so many doors,” she said. “Everybody was so nice…. I can actually live my life now. All of these wonderful, beautiful people are behind me.”
Both Tiffany and Christine are enthusiastic about continuing their work with the Center and helping with proposed programs, such as outreach to women suffering from abuse. “I’m looking forward to expanding this program, continuing this vision,” Tiffany said. “I would love to stay on board.”
Christine also expressed her joy at continue to work at St. Luke N.E.W. Life Center. “I look forward to working here,” she said. “I like helping people, seeing people with a smile on their face."
Feature photo: Sisters Carol Weber, OP, and Judy Blake, CSJ, founders of St. Luke N.E.W. Life Center, and staff members Tiffany and Christine chat via Zoom with Sister Simone Campbell, SSS, of NETWORK: A Catholic Social Justice Lobby, during a virtual visit by Nuns on the Bus.
September 14, 2020, Adrian, Michigan – For the past three years, Adrian Dominican Prioress Patricia Siemen, OP, has played a special role in a canonical network of Catholic Sisters throughout the world. Her term as delegate for the United States, North America Constellation 3 of the International Union of Superiors General (UISG) has given her a greater sense of global needs and responses – and a profound appreciation of the commitment of Catholic Sisters throughout the world.
“The greatest takeaway is that there is an extraordinary organization in Rome that represents the interests of congregations globally,” Sister Patricia said. The congregations of women religious around the world “differ very much from one another, but I found a commonality in mission, to live religious life authentically, to be in solidarity with those who are most vulnerable, and to share the charism of religious life globally with each other.”
As a delegate, Sister Patricia had opportunities to meet with Sisters from other nations – and from throughout the United States. For the past three years, she has served in leadership at the regional and global level with the other U.S. delegate, Sister Constance Phelps, SCL, Community Director of the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth, Kansas. Both were elected in 2017 and completed their term in August 2020.
The UISG offers an opportunity every third year for the Major Superiors of all member women’s congregations throughout the world to gather. The most recent general assembly was May 6-10, 2019, in Rome. About 820 Major Superiors from 80 communities attended that meeting under the theme “Sowers of Prophetic Hope.” As a delegate, Sister Patricia helped to plan the event.
The plenary gatherings offer the opportunity to “learn the story of women religious from other cultures and other countries and a chance to support each other and to be formed,” Sister Patricia said. “It is a forum for women religious to meet and share on issues of religious life.”
The United States Constellation is one of 37 constellations in the UISG structure, each based on regions of continents and each represented by one or two delegates. The U.S. Constellation represents 143 congregations of women religious. Membership in the UISG is made up of the Major Superior – in the case of the Adrian Dominican Sisters, the Prioress – of each member congregation.
“The delegates form an international council,” Sister Patricia explained. “We are available to advise or be consulted by the UISG office in Rome in matters regarding religious life.” The UISG has its own board, which consults with the office on a regular basis, she said.
Sister Patricia attended the November 2017 international delegates meeting in Manila, the Philippines, which drew about 46 delegates to discuss and learn about interculturation. “It’s becoming a global institute for leadership on canonical issues and formation,” Sister Patricia said. The meeting also serves as a “forum for women religious to meet and share on issues of religious life.”
“I have learned from Sister delegates the common commitment to meeting the needs of the people of God, wherever they are,” Sister Patricia said. “I have learned the incredible resiliency and joy that Sisters from other countries exhibit, and their commitment to the Sisters and to the people they serve. I benefitted tremendously from [interacting with] people from different cultural and racial backgrounds and identities.”
The delegates also convene an annual meeting of all Superiors General in their own Constellation. Members of the U.S. Constellation usually gather the day after the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) assembly, Sister Patricia explained.
Sister Patricia and Sister Constance worked together on the agenda for this year’s August 15 gathering of the United States Constellation, highlighting care for Earth and updating members on the work of the UISG.
The Zoom call technology was arranged by the Communications and Technology Departments of the Adrian Dominican Sisters. Brad McCullar, Director of Technology, and Sheila Wathen, Assistant Director of Communications, did “yeo-people’s work in getting this organized,” Sister Patricia said. She also gave credit to her assistant, Mary Weeber, and Sister Constance’s assistant, Pamela Logan, for the “behind-the-scenes organizing.”
During their service together as delegates, Sisters Patricia and Constance strove to increase the connection and conversations between the UISG and the LCWR. “LCWR’s mission is to attend to the needs of the elected leadership in the U.S., but there are so many common commitments [between the two groups] – to the environment, anti-human trafficking, protection of girls and women,” Sister Patricia said. “When we can build those connections globally, it enhances the work that we can do locally.”
Just as the Adrian Dominican Congregation served the needs of the Constellation, Sister Patricia said that her service as delegate benefitted the Congregation tremendously. Serving as a delegate “gave me a wider global view,” she said. “Congregational leadership isn’t only about the Congregation because we live in a wider world.”
Feature photo: Sisters Constance Phelps, SCL, left, and Patricia Siemen, OP, delegates for the U.S. Constellation, stand outside the retreat house during the UISG international delegates meeting in Manila in November 2017.