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By Associate Melinda Mullin
Born in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, Associate Roberta Clemak first met the Adrian Dominican Sisters when she attended their school from fourth through eighth grades. She spent one year in high school with the Sisters of Loretto before deciding to become an Adrian Dominican Sister at the age of 15.
Although Roberta left the Congregation in 1970, she continued to teach at Adrian Dominican-run schools and kept in close contact with many of the Sisters, saying, “I’m really impressed and influenced by them; they are wonderful women.” It was only after a suggestion from her friend, Rosalie Bulanda, OP, that she became an Adrian Dominican Associate in 2009. As Roberta says, “Once a Dominican, always a Dominican.”
“Education is my charism,” Roberta says. “I really wanted to stay in the Catholic school system, so I spent 44 years in the Archdiocese of Detroit and I still keep in touch with former teachers and students.” Roberta taught English, math, and French, and was also a school administrator. She taught for eight years at St. Alphonsus in Dearborn, was principal at St. Agatha in Redford for 18 years, and retired from Our Lady of Sorrows, Farmington, in 2002. “I loved what I did,” she said.
Roberta met her husband, Charles, known as Carl, an engineer for General Motors, through mutual friends. They were married in 1973 and are still happily married.
Roberta and Carl lived in the same community since 1979 along with five other families. Most are Catholic, but they are members of different parishes. “We kind of have our own senior citizen community,” Roberta said. “We watch out for each other, and it is wonderful to have such close friends for so many years.”
Roberta belongs to a parish in Livonia, Michigan, where she spent six years as chairperson of the Education Commission. She is now a Eucharistic minister and lector and volunteers to compose the Sunday prayers of the faithful every other month. In addition, she brings Communion to her 92-year-old neighbor, who is also a former Adrian Dominican Sister and a close friend.
“It has been a wonderful life,” Roberta says, then laughs as she adds that she has never watched the movie starring James Stewart. Unlike James Stewart’s character in It’s a Wonderful Life, who never left his small town, she has traveled extensively and recently returned from a cruise in the Caribbean. She has been around the world three times, visiting Antarctica and 127 countries, and been on 55 cruises.
Before she and Carl retired, they spent their summers traveling through Europe and visiting small towns. “Europe is not what it used to be,” she says sadly, because the younger people from those towns have left for the big cities.
Roberta loves meeting and making connections with people she meets during travels. While on a trip to Vietnam they enjoyed getting to know their tour guide, who was from Bangkok, Thailand. On a subsequent trip to Bangkok, she and Carl were surprised and pleased to see him at their hotel.
Once, while on a tour of Peru and the Amazon, Roberta and Carl met a couple from Mumbai, India. The next year on a cruise that stopped in Mumbai they visited with the same couple, and then again the following year!
Another memorable trip was when a pastor Roberta knew from St. Agatha sponsored a tour to Rome. When he asked if they would like to meet Pope John Paul II, Roberta thought he was kidding. He wasn’t. So, 11 people crammed themselves into little Italian cars and travelled to Castel Gandolfo. After Mass they were personally introduced to the Pope. Carl, who is Polish, was especially honored and thrilled.
The last major trip Roberta and Carl took prior to the COVID-19 pandemic involved skiing at Lake Tahoe. The pandemic was hard on her, as she had to limit in-person visits and traveling. Roberta refers to this time as “the lost years.”
Roberta’s passion is people. She loves getting together with her sister and brother who live nearby, going to breakfast with friends after Mass every week, teaching religious education to her great-nephews, and meeting new people. In fact, it could be said that Roberta has her own “World-Wide Web” of family, friends, neighbors, church community, Dominican Sisters and Associates, former students and colleagues, and people she has met through her travels around the world. “Living brings me joy, contentment, and peace,” she says.
What one notices most about Associate Faye Jahnigen during Adrian Dominican Associate Zoom meetings are her highly articulate contributions to discussions, her careful listening when others speak, and her ready laugh attesting to her sense of humor. What is less obvious, but at the heart of Faye’s Dominican Charism, is that she lives life as a continuous pray-er. She truly believes that she is in the presence of God at all times and tries to make every situation a prayerful one. Through continuous prayer and lifelong education, Faye has embraced a wide range of experiences in her life.
Growing up in the Detroit area, Faye attended Santa Maria Grade School, run by Sisters of St. Rita, an Italian order. She attended Blessed Sacrament High School and Girls’ Catholic High School, both run by Immaculate Heart of Mary (IHM) Sisters from Monroe, Michigan.
After high school, Faye joined the U.S. Army and was sent to Alabama for basic training. She describes the experience as culture shock for a young African-American woman in 1960s Alabama. While stationed in Germany, Faye became what was then called a tertiary, or lay, Dominican. Sixty-four years later, she still keeps in contact with the parish in Germany.
Faye’s last post during her time in the Army was at the Presidio in San Francisco. During one of her weekend jaunts down the California coast, she visited Santa Cruz, loved it, and decided to move there. Faye feels blessed to live by the ocean and Sea Cliff State Park, as it is here that she can see the awe of God’s creativity manifested. It was in Santa Cruz that she met the Adrian Dominicans, Sisters Rita Eileen Dean, OP, and Jane Celeste Fries, OP, who invited Faye to join them and their Mission Group.
Faye has had a long career in healthcare, including working in residential care homes, acute care nursing at Stanford University Hospital, and finally as a radiology technologist at Santa Cruz Medical Clinic for 23 years. It was there, she says, that “I really learned and honed my craft,” and she credits Dr. Victor Mockus for helping her become skilled in reading X-rays.
Faye taught X-ray technician students how to position patients to get the best view of underlying bone structure for diagnostic purposes, a job she really enjoyed. She also worked with the coroner on forensic investigations, suicides, executions, and exhumations. During this time, Faye saw, too often, the cruelty humans inflict on each other. Through it all she felt called to help and to pray especially for those who had no one to pray for them.
As a perpetual student, Faye is fascinated by languages and cultures. Her passion started in grade school while listening to the Italian Sisters speak in their native language. As part of Latin studies in high school, she performed plays and skits, her most memorable being Catiline Orations, a set of speeches given to the Roman Senate by Marcus Tullius Cicero in 63 BC. While working as a radiology technologist she learned Spanish to better communicate with some of her patients.
Faye learned German during the three-and-a-half years she was stationed in Germany and she joined a local judo club that gave judo demonstrations at nearby towns. Seeing Germany as lived by the locals, she developed lasting affection for the country, its people, and its food.
Since then, whenever Faye travels, she tries to learn some of the language and culture ahead of time, such as for her trip to China where she visited the Great Wall, and for a three-week solo trip to Japan. While in Japan she rode on the bullet train and enjoyed the Japanese specialty unagi, grilled eel over rice. She delighted in learning about Japanese customs, such as having special shoes to wear only in the bathroom.
Faye has been playing the flute for 25 years and studies with a teacher from Kazakhstan. The teacher lives with her elderly mother, who only speaks Russian or German, giving Faye an opportunity to speak German and pick up a few Russian words as well. While Faye is quite proficient on the flute, she prefers to play for herself or with her teacher for the flute teacher’s mother. She says she is too nervous to play for anyone else.
Her fear of performing, however, doesn’t keep her from serving as cantor, acolyte, and lector in the 40-plus years that Faye has attended Mass at Resurrection Parish in Aptos. She practices ahead of time, asks the Holy Spirit for extra assistance, and reminds herself that these are God’s people. Besides, as she says, they can’t see her knees knocking behind the lectern!