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January 25, 2023, Adrian, Michigan – Laws dating as far back as 1640 – well before the United States of America was established – have either strengthened the institutionalism of racism in what is now the United States or have in some sense liberated Black people who have been oppressed.

That was the theme of a piece of artwork, A Natural Language Search, now showing at INAI: A Space Apart, as part of a special exhibit, Unraveling Racism. That exhibit will remain at the art gallery of INAI, adjacent to Weber Retreat and Conference Center, through Saturday, January 28, 2023.

Michelle Graznak, the Detroit-area artist who created A Natural Language Search, visited INAI on January 15, 2023, during the Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend, to speak about her artwork to Adrian Dominican Sisters and Associates and to members of the Lenawee County Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). 

Michelle was part of a group of 12 Michigan artists who gathered regularly to listen to John Biewen’s podcast, Seeing White, and to share an artistic dialogue about the issues raised in the podcast. The artwork in Unraveling Racism is the result.

From left, Sisters Virginia King, OP, Lorraine Réaume, OP, and Jamie Phelps, OP, listen to a presentation by local artist Michelle Graznak. Photo by Sister Suzanne Schreiber, OP

Michelle said she deliberated for a long time about how to approach the subject through art. She ultimately based her decision to create A Natural Language Search in part on her experience in a Catholic school when her Dominican teacher read from a history book about U.S. history and at one point closed the book and then spoke of the past from her own personal experiences. “I realized that … the putting down of the book and talking from life experience was the most impactful thing for me,” Michelle said. “That means there’s something missing in an authorized text by an authorized institution. That’s where I became curious, so I decided to educate myself.”

Michelle’s interest was piqued when, on the podcast, she heard about the 1640 John Punch case, in which John Punch – the only Black servant of three indentured servants who ran away – was sentenced to a lifetime of slavery, while the other two were only sentenced to a few more years of slavery. Michelle noted that this was the first case in which the defendant’s race was a factor in sentencing.

Michelle began to study other legal cases involving race. “I wanted to approach institutions, especially the legal institutions,” she said. “When [issues] get to court, it’s always way after it’s been an issue in society. The law is a reflection of what society has already been going through.” The John Punch case “became the basis of my further research into laws that contribute to the continuous construction of legally racialized body [of laws],” she wrote in her artist’s statement.

In Michelle’s artwork, the John Punch case is the first in a series of laws and court decisions dealing with race, covering 1640 through 2019. That year, the Michigan House Judiciary Committee began to consider automatic expungements of certain crimes from criminal records – a process that was interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Numerous legal decisions and proceedings between those two dates are written on blocks of cloth – becoming more and more unraveled toward the bottom of the artwork – placed on a large white sheet. The work also includes the projection of a bald eagle – national symbol of freedom and democracy – in its natural habitat.

In her artist’s statement, Michelle explains that the white fabric is “a page in a book, a blank slate which the early colonizers believed this land to be, the color of spirituality and of terrorists’ cloaks.” She added that the process of cutting and sewing fabric “became a meditative space where my growing knowledge of this country’s legal history intersected with forgotten memories, observations and experiences of race throughout my life.”

Michelle said much of her research focused on Michigan, an abolitionist state that still had laws that discriminated based on race. “As people who were escaping from slavery came into Michigan, white people came to see that these were skilled people,” possibly competition for jobs, she explained. “There was a concerted effort on the part of white people to keep Brown and Black people out of the job market.” 

The laws and decisions depicted in A Natural Language Search are only a portion of the racist laws that Michelle uncovered, she said. Information on more cases is available on her website

Jeanette Henagan, Branch President of Lenawee County NAACP, attended the event and said the issue persists. “There were many laws that were passed intentionally to keep the Black community from realizing our full rights as U.S. citizens,” she said. “Even after the passing of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, there are people who continue to try to limit or deny our rights. My hope is that more right-minded people will serve in our legislature and on our Supreme Court that will assure that everyone is afforded equal rights under the law.” 

Throughout the afternoon, Michelle spoke to various groups as they came to INAI, eliciting questions, comments, and reflections from her audiences. Sister Josephine Gaugier, OP, was struck by reflections offered by members of the Lenawee County Chapter of the NAACP. 

“They said that as mothers and grandmothers, they never get to rest from being worried and concerned for their children and grandchildren because they know that when they step out the door, anything can happen,” Sister Josephine said. “That’s another white privilege that we have – that we don’t have to worry like they do about our children. We don’t get pulled over just because we’re white.” She added that the women also expressed the hope that generations in the future won’t have to worry as much about their children.

INAI (pronounced in-EYE, meaning “within” in Japanese) is a contemplative space and art gallery that resonates with the Adrian Dominican Sisters’ Vision: to seek truth, make peace, and reverence life. It houses an art gallery, a quiet space for personal reflection and meditation, and an art room. 

The next exhibit, Carole Harris: Textile Artist, is open from Friday, February 3, 2023, through Sunday, May 21, 2023. The Artist’s Reception is from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m. Sunday, April 23, 2023. All guests are screened for COVID-19 and are required to wear masks.

INAI: A Space Apart is open from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. daily, or by appointment. Call 517-266-4090 or 517-266-4000.


Feature photo: Artist Michelle Graznak points to one of the laws or court findings that were featured in her artwork A Natural Language Search, on exhibit at INAI: A Space Apart. Photo by Sister Suzanne Schreiber, OP

2022 Year in Review Collage of news images

January 3, 2023, Adrian, MichiganThe year 2022 found the Adrian Dominican Sisters – like so many organizations in the United States – slowly easing pandemic-related restrictions. But it also brought tremendous change as the Sisters approved five Enactments and elected a new General Council to lead the Congregation for the next six years. The year also brought continued challenges as Sisters, Associates, Co-workers, and other Partners in Mission strove to live out the Vision: Seek truth, make peace, reverence life. Below are the top 10 highlights of 2022, selected by Co-workers in the Office of Communications.

1. General Chapter 2022

Delegates from the Adrian Dominican Sisters meet every six years to approve Enactments – the direction that the Congregation will take in the next six years – and elect a Prioress and General Council to lead the Sisters and Associates in living out those Enactments. Elected to the General Council were Sisters Elise D. García, OP, Prioress; Lorraine Réaume, OP, Vicaress; and Janice Brown, OP, Bibiana “Bless” Colasito, OP, and Corinne Sanders, OP, General Councilors.  


2. Racial Equity and Cultural Inclusion 

The 2022 General Chapter affirmed an Enactment that continues a 2016 Enactment on diversity. This area was addressed in many ways in 2022. Kevin Hofmann was named the first Director of the Congregation’s Office of Racial Equity and Cultural Inclusion. His outreach included telling his personal story during a Lunch and Learn program at Weber Retreat and Conference Center and writing a weekly blog exploring equity and inclusion. In reparation for the Congregation’s role in racism and white supremacy, the Adrian Dominican Sisters established the Sister Jamie Phelps Endowed Scholarship at the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University, New Orleans, an endowment in support of the Department of African American and African Studies at Michigan State University; and a scholarship at Siena Heights University for students of color. Barry University in Miami, a sponsored institution of the Congregation, received $1 million in endowment for the Pathways for Tomorrow Initiative to prepare Hispanic pastors to lead congregations. INAI, an art gallery adjacent to Weber Center, hosted the Unraveling Racism art exhibit and an artist’s talk to tell of the experiences that the artists had in racism and white supremacy. 


3. Sustainability/Climate Change

The 2022 Enactment on Sustainability calls on the Adrian Dominican Sisters to become a Laudato Si’ Action Platform Congregation, joining with Catholic organizations throughout the world to carry out the vision of Pope Francis in his 2015 encyclical. Brad Frank, of Adrian, Michigan, was hired to fill the role of Director of the Office of Sustainability with the election of the former director, Sister Corinne Sanders, OP, to the General Council. Along with an installation of a solar array, Motherhouse campus improvements in sustainability include a new permaculture sink to streamline the process of preparing produce for the Dominican Life Center kitchen and the purchase of an electric mower, the first electric vehicle purchased for the Motherhouse. But the Congregation was involved in sustainability efforts throughout the world. Sister Durstyne Farnan, OP, Dominican Representative to the United Nations, traveled to Egypt for COP27, a United Nations conference in which national leaders were to make significant commitments to address global climate change. She also participated in a Dominican Sisters Conference-UN webinar on climate change efforts throughout the world. Father James Hug, SJ, priest chaplain at the Motherhouse, continued to write Catholic liturgical materials for the annual Season of Creation, held globally September 1 through October 4. 


4. Dominican Family 

The Dominican family – in the United States and throughout the world – continued to grow and to become closer to one another in the past year. Sister Elisabeth Nguyen, OP – a Dominican Sister from Vietnam and an Adrian Dominican Associate for many years – transferred to the Adrian Dominican Congregation as a vowed member, while Sisters Leizel Tedria, OP, Meliza Arquillano, OP, and Marifi Lugtu, OP of the Our Lady of Remedies Mission Chapter in the Philippines renewed their vows. Adrian Dominican Sisters took on leadership roles in the U.S. Dominican family, with Sister Katherine Frazier, OP, named Director of Dominican Youth Movement, and Sister Xiomara Méndez-Hernández, OP, named Executive Director of the Dominican Sisters Conference (DSC). Associates – women and men who make a non-vowed commitment to Congregations of Dominican Sisters – and other Partners in Mission also played key roles in the Dominican family. Adrian Dominican Associate Nancy Mason Bordley was named the first Director of the Office of the Dominican Charism, helping Associates and other partners in mission to live out the Dominican Charism. During the year, the Congregation celebrated the formal Ritual of Acceptance of four new Associates online in August and three new Associates in Henderson, Nevada, in November. This was the final Ritual of Acceptance presided over by Associate Mary Lach, who retired after 13 years as Director of Associate Life.


5. Justice and Peace

Adrian Dominican Sisters and Associates lived out their commitment to justice and peace advocacy in a variety of ways in 2022. Sisters Marilyn Winter, OP, and Patricia McDonald, OP, members of the Lenawee County Anti-Human Trafficking Coalition, were among four panelists in a human trafficking panel discussion on the continuing prevalence of human trafficking. Sister Durstyne Farnan, OP, Dominican representative to the United Nations, spoke out on her disappointment at the lack of progress in UN Nuclear Disarmament meetings. Sister Donna Markham, OP, President and CEO of Catholic Charities USA, was among many faith leaders to participate in the White House United We Stand Summit, calling on people in the United States to foster unity and to take a stand against hate-motivated violence. Sister Marilín Llanes, OP, a former member of the Congregation’s Portfolio Advisory Board (PAB), took on the role of Portfolio Manager. She oversees the PAB’s community investments, low-interest loans to organizations that promote social, economic, and environmental justice in local communities.


6. Gun Violence

As the United States reeled under numerous mass shootings and many called for stricter gun laws, Adrian Dominican Sister Judy Byron, OP, Director of the Northwest Coalition for Responsible Investment, took a different approach to stemming gun violence. She was involved in a campaign by faith-based investors to call on gun manufacturer Sturm Ruger to undertake a Human rights risk assessment to determine how their products contribute to gun violence. Sister Judy further discussed this approach during the After Buffalo, After Uvalde Webinar, focusing on recent incidents of gun violence. In the meantime, the General Council of the Adrian Dominican Sisters spoke out several times against the easy access to guns that makes gun violence a more common occurrence. (See more in item 8 below.) 


7. Milestones

2022 was a year of milestone celebrations for both individuals and organizations. During the year both Sister Mary Arnold Benedetto, OP, and Sister Mary Catharina Bereiter, OP, celebrated their 100th birthday. Sister Carol Coston, OP, founding director, attended the 50th anniversary of NETWORK, a Catholic social justice lobby. Closer to home, 25 Sisters marked their Diamond, Golden, and Silver Jubilees with Mass and dinner at the Motherhouse in June. Sisters marking their 80, 75, and 70 years in religious life were honored at local celebrations. Co-workers at Motherhouse marked a collective 445 years of service with Adrian Dominican Sisters.


8. Statements

The Leadership of the Adrian Dominican Sisters – often in conjunction with other Congregations of Catholic Sisters – voiced their concern in a number of issues and events in 2022. The Leadership Council – comprised of the General Council and the elected Chapter and Mission Prioresses in the Congregation – released a statement calling for the immediate passage of voting rights legislation. The General Council released a number of statements: in defense of the Gospel work of Catholic Charities USA; a call on Ash Wednesday for prayer and fasting for Ukraine; on the mass shooting in Buffalo, as well as support of the Black Sisters Conference and LCWR statements on the Buffalo shooting; and in response to the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas. The 2022-2028 General Council joined leaders of Catholic Sisters in Michigan in issuing a statement on the divisiveness of elections. The General Council also issued statements in response to the mass shooting in Colorado Springs and in observance of the UN International Day for Elimination of Violence Against Women


9. Sponsored Institutions

Sponsored institutions of the Adrian Dominican Sisters were involved in a number of ways in furthering the Mission of the Congregation. Rosarian Academy of West Palm Beach, Florida, offered its inaugural Adrian Dominican Sisters Scholarship Awards to students on the basis of merit and need, as well as a focus on diversity. Regina Dominican High School, an all-girls school in Wilmette, Illinois, opened its Building Her Tomorrow campaign to redesign the campus for the benefit of the students. St. Luke’s N.E.W. Life Center in Flint, Michigan, hosted a summer camp to help elementary school students improve their academics and to enjoy some recreation. Barry University, in Miami, Florida, received $1.25 million to establish Sister O’Laughlin Scholarship, to be given as financial support for students who embody Sister Jeanne’s legacy of academic success and service to the community. Sister Peg Albert, OP, announced her retirement as President of Siena Heights University in Adrian at the end of the 2022-2023 academic year. In addition, Siena Heights named its Science Hall after Sister Sharon R. Weber, OP, PhD, upon her retirement after more than 40 years of service as chemistry professor and Vice President of Academic Affairs. Both universities granted honorary degrees to recognize the dedication of its recipients: Siena Heights University to Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky and the Adrian Dominican Sisters’ 2016-2022 General Council, and Barry University to outgoing Prioress Patricia Siemen, OP


10. Immigration

Outreach, service, and advocacy for immigrants has long been a value of the Adrian Dominican Sisters. This year, Sister Donna Markham, OP, PhD, President and CEO of Catholic Charities USA, made plans with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) to resettle Ukrainian refugees. Sister Lucy Vazquez, OP, a native of Cuba, wrote an opinion piece for Florida Today on refugee transfers by Texas, noting that this practice treats immigrants as political pawns. Members of the newly merged Catherine of Siena Mission Chapter – made up of the regions in the United States outside of Adrian – expanded on the previous Dominican Midwest Chapter Initiative on Immigration outreach. The new initiative includes not only Chicago-based programs, such as Court Watch in which volunteers attend immigration court to ensure justice for the immigrants and the weekly rosary at a detention center in the Chicago area, but also outreach to immigrants in Tacoma, Washington, and Tucson, Arizona.




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