Equity and Inclusion


In response to the proposal from the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) that congregations focus on the dismantling of racism, the Adrian Dominican Sisters began by identifying resources that can assist us in raising our consciousness of white privilege and white supremacy, both personally and systematically.

From January 2021 through June of 2023, our Toward Communion: Undoing Racism and Embracing Diversity Committee and our Justice Promoters collaborated on a project to provide information on prominent Black and Indigenous Catholics who have made significant contributions to the church and society, along with reflection questions and a prayer.

In May of 2022, Kevin D. Hofmann was named the founding Director of Racial Equity and Cultural Inclusion for the Congregation. With the goal of normalizing conversations about race and culture and discussing what it means to feel included and excluded, Kevin began contributing to this blog in June of 2022. He shares his unique experience of growing up Black in a white family in Detroit and educates on topics of equity and inclusion.

Equity and Inclusion Project

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Sister Theresa Maxis Duchemin

Drawing of Sister Theresa Maxis Duchemin in habit

Sister Theresa Maxis Duchemin:
Woman of Color, Pioneer of U.S. Religious Life

Theresa was the first U.S.-born African-American woman to become a religious. The child of unwed parents of mixed racial lineage, she still received an education far superior to most women of her time, thanks to the kindness of her adoptive family, the Duchemins. Her upbringing in their Haitian refugee community enabled Theresa to attend a school established for the children by Elizabeth Lange and Magdalen Baras, also of Haitian origin.

In 1829 these women formed the Oblate Sisters of Providence, the first congregation of African-American women in the United States. At age 19, Theresa was one of the founding members. While serving as General Superior of the congregation, Theresa came into contact with Rev. Louis Gillet who was seeking women religious to teach in the new state of Michigan.

Theresa agreed to help Gillet found a new congregation in Monroe, Michigan: the Congregation of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. After a decade of successful ministry and growth in Monroe, a dispute over the congregation arose in 1859 between the bishops of Philadelphia and Detroit. The bishop of Detroit blamed Theresa, deposed her as General Superior, and sent her to a Pennsylvania foundation, which then became a separate branch of the IHM congregation.

Theresa struggled for years to reunite the two congregations. In an effort to remove herself as an obstacle to reunion, Theresa spent 18 years in exile with the Grey Nuns of Ottawa. During this time, the bishops of Detroit and Philadelphia forbade the IHM sisters to communicate with Theresa. Writings from both bishops indicate scorn for mixed race people and their male dominance over women’s congregations. In 1885, Theresa was allowed to return to the IHM community in West Chester, Pennsylvania, where she lived her last seven years.

What happened to Theresa is representative of the experience of thousands of women in the past. Vilified and banished for her assertiveness, for her lack of social respectability, and for her determination to remain faithful to what she believed was a God-given mandate, she saw her intentions and her community co-opted by men who thought they knew better than she what the community should be about. All this happened in the 1800s. Yet in some ways, the story and the situation are still occurring in our 21st century.

 

Resources

Our Founders page of IHM Sisters' (Monroe, MI) website - ihmsisters.org/who-we-are/history-and-archives/our-founders

History section of IHM Sisters' (Scranton, PA) website - www.sistersofihm.org/who-we-are/ihm-history/theresa-maxis.html

Pilgrim: Let Your Heart be Bold by Margaret Gannon (Scranton, PA: Congregation of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, 2018).

Paths of Daring, Deeds of Hope: Letters by and about Mother Theresa Maxis Duchemin edited by Margaret Gannon (Scranton, PA: Congregation of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, 1992).

"Dangerous Memory: Mother Theresa Maxis Duchemin and the Michigan Congregation of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary" in Building Sisterhood: A Feminist History of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary by Marita Constance Supan (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1997).

"Sharing a Co-Founder, IHM and Oblate Sisters Work on 20-Year Reconciliation," Global Sisters Report article by Dawn Araujo-Hawkins, September 3, 2015.

 

Reflection Questions

Read the poem "Christ in the Margins" by Edwina Gately (from her book, Christ in the Margins). In this poem, Edwina Gately has effectively described founders of present-day congregations.

Racism, sexism and clericalism challenged Theresa Maxis' intense call to serve God. How do we handle the tensions between church authority and congregational discernment? How do we resolve this?

Theresa Maxis had every reason to feel betrayed by church leaders and even some of her sisters. How do we rise above criticism, betrayal, and hypocrisy and stay focused on the mission?

Theresa was a true pioneer, daring to travel to new frontiers for the sake of mission. How are we breaking new ground today?

 

Prayer

Gracious God, may the heritage we have received from our foremothers be like water flowing from a source that seeps into every part of us, touching every part of our lives, giving us life. In turn, may we become life-givers to everyone we meet.

May we burn with zeal for the call of our charism. In the spirit of our founders may we be active in our preaching so as to feed the hungry, heal the sick, make peace and challenge racism.

May we remember the spirit and courage of Theresa Maxis and Catherine of Siena as we model their service, their identification with the poor, and their commitment to the mission of Jesus.

Let us treasure always the perseverance and great faith of Theresa Maxis and all women leaders of the church.

Amen

 

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Avatar  michael J Rossillio 7 months agoReply

Hello,

I have had a spiritual connection with Mother Duchemin for many years. I have read several books about her, and in particular the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The burning question concerning her heroic dedication and devotion to God and His Catholic Church is why her cause for canonization has not been introduced, especially by the IHM congregation. I have asked this question to several individuals of authority in the order, as well as Bishop Bambera, the bishop of the Scranton diocese, but none have responded. The friction between Mother Theresa and the male hierarchy of the Church is well-known, but so is the reason for it. She was protecting the autonomy of her order and acted on her belief that she was doing God's work.

We can look at the life of Mother St. Mary of the Cross MacKillop as a comparison. A local bishop wanted to take credit for the success of the Sisters of Saint Joseph of the Sacred Heart of Australia, co-founded by Mother MacKillop. His jealousy resulted in his excommunication of her. She was stripped of her title as superior and foundress and ordered to leave the institution she had started. Mother MacKillop obeyed but kept her habit in a suitcase under the bed, believing she would one day be able to return to her sisters. On his deathbed, the bishop accepted Mary back into the Church, reinstating her as superior and foundress. It took one hundred years for St. Mary of the Cross MacKillop to be canonized, becoming Australia's first saint. Another example is Mother St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, foundress of the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, who met with resistance by the male hierarchy of the Church on her very first day upon her arrival in New York City from a long trip by boat from Italy. In meeting with the bishop, she was told that there was a mistake, and she should board the next boat back to Italy. Mother Cabrini stood firmly, saying to the bishop, "I cannot do that, Your Excellency. I have been sent to America by the pope." She would go on to establish 67 institutions, including schools, hospitals, orphanages, and homes for the elderly and destitute. St. Frances Cabrini would become the first person from the United States to be canonized by the Chruch.

I firmly believe that Mother Theresa Maxis Duchemin should one day be canonized. As far as I can tell, there has been no cause for her canonization introduced. What can I do as a member of the laity to see that happen?

Sincerely,
Michael J. Rossillio, Jr.

N.B. Your listing of her religious title of "Sister", should be changed to "Mother," a title that she earned from her tenure as the superior general of her order. It was also stated in her obituary that she was given the title of "Mother" as one of the senior members of the community.



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U.S. Black Catholic History Links

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