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Associate Judi Engel

“You are God’s Work of Art”

By Judi Engel
Adrian Dominican Associate

Each year, the Dominican Youth Movement USA sponsors two preaching conferences for young people: college/university students and high school students. Both are directed toward introducing young people to Dominican life and traditions, including the Dominican Charism of preaching.

The purpose statement for the high school conference is to “empower students to discover and deepen the preacher within themselves through prayer, study, community, and interaction with members of the Dominican family.” 

Over several very full days in the high school preaching conference, workshops are presented under broad titles such as Gathering in the Dominican Tradition, Prayer in the Dominican Tradition, and Preaching in the Dominican Tradition. The students are divided into groups of 12 to 15, called “Home Groups,” which meet each day after the sessions for reflection, discussion, and prayer.

Under the heading of Preaching, various workshops and presentations cover areas such as Preaching the Signs of the Times (social justice) and Preaching through the Arts. As an artist and a Dominican, I have always seen my work in the visual arts as my personal “language” for preaching. So when I saw the call for presenters in the arts, I volunteered. 

Part of discovering “the preacher within” is the realization of just how much we are loved, how much our God truly delights in us as “the work of God’s hands,” so I chose the quotation, “You are God’s Word of Art” (Eph 2:10, Jerusalem Bible) as the theme and clay as the medium.

Over the course of the day, I worked with three groups. I began each session by introducing myself as a Dominican Associate and artist. I added a bit about how and why I believe the arts – all of them – are compelling languages for preaching.

What the young people didn’t anticipate was that I would ask them to follow me in a guided process, working with their eyes closed! I gave them a focus and then led them through the initial steps in the process before leaving them to work in silence, eyes closed the whole time. As students seemed to be finished, I spoke quietly with them, letting them add finishing touches (eyes open) and clean up their workplace.

When everyone was finished, I invited them to say anything they wished about the experience and asked why they had worked with their eyes closed. My reason was that they had to trust the process, and they couldn’t see what anyone else was doing and start comparing their work. 

Associate Judi Engel stands watching four seated students creating clay art with their eyes closed

 

Then we gathered in a circle as they held their work in their hands. I asked them to exchange their pieces with the person on their right, then quietly pray for a few moments for that other person whose work of art they were holding and who, like themselves, was God’s work of art.

To conclude, I asked them to recall the creation story in Genesis and how God, after each step in creation, said, “That’s good!” I reminded them that each of them is “God’s work of art” and that they are incredibly loved, a source of delight to God just as their clay piece – or any other accomplishment – is a source of delight.

As teenagers, they were naturally often shy in their sharing, but they clearly were engaged. I hope that each one will remember that they are a beautiful and beloved creation, a “work of art,” and that this helps them discover, strengthen, nourish, and trust “the preacher within.”
 


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.


 

 

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