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October 26, 2015, Adrian, Michigan – Adrian Dominican Sisters, Associates, and interested local community members gathered October 15 at Weber Retreat and Conference Center to explore issues of concern for Earth and the creatures who inhabit her. The free program was offered by the Congregation’s Office of Global Mission, Justice and Peace, directed by Sister Kathy Nolan, OP.

After a welcome by Sister Kathy and contemplative prayer led by Sister Esther Kennedy, OP, Sister Patricia Siemen, OP, focused the morning on exploring Laudate Sí, Pope Francis’ recent encyclical on climate change and care for Earth. Sister Pat, founder of the Center for Earth Jurisprudence, walked participants through a “roadmap” of the encyclical: its various themes and its hopeful message. Sister Pat repeated this presentation on October 17 for the Sisters at the Dominican Life Center. Watch her presentation, recorded and posted on the Adrian Dominican Sisters’ website.

Lura Mack, Executive Director of the Portfolio Advisory Board, addresses the group.

Sister Pat returned in the afternoon to speak about the United Nations Climate Summit, planned for November 30 through December 11, 2015, in Paris. This is the 21st UN gathering on climate change, Sister Pat said, noting that during the 17th conference in 2011, the negotiators said that by 2015 they would have a framework that could be implemented. 

“The ultimate objective of the climate summit is really to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations or emissions internationally,” Sister Pat explained. The purpose is “to limit global temperature increase above the pre-industrial levels by no more than 2 degrees Celcius” – 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit. “Scientists today are saying that [we can afford] an increase of no more than 1.5 degrees. 

Sister Elise García, OP, spoke of the urgency of the issue, of the great need for the negotiators from the 195 member nations to succeed in bringing about a binding agreement. She noted that global temperature has already increased by nearly 1 degree. “That’s why it’s so critical now that we really stop the path that we’re on in order to make sure that we don’t hit the tipping point.” 

The 2015 UN gathering is the 21st to focus on climate change, Sister Pat said, noting that during the 17th conference in 2011, the negotiators said that by 2015 they would have a framework that could be implemented. “Let’s hope that this time the countries around the world really are able to accomplish this.” 

At the same time as the UN Conference – at which about 15,000 official representatives are expected to gather – members of the Civil Society Sector will gather, representing a variety of activist groups concerned about the environment and its impact on low-income people. Sisters Pat and Elise will attend events at the Civil Society Sector. Sister Pat will preside at a special tribunal, the Third International Tribunal on the Rights of Nature, organized by the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature.

“We’re trying to plant the seeds for a legal system that’s going to protect not only human rights but sees human rights as a part of the larger rights of nature, and that nature itself – our rivers and our mountains and our other brothers and sisters in beings – have intrinsic rights to exist and flourish,” Sister Pat explained. 

The tribunal called by the Global Alliance – modeled on the concept of the war crimes tribunals that were held after World War II – will present a hearing to determine if there is enough evidence to show corporations or other organizations have violated the rights of aspects of nature such as eco-systems. “We don’t have any judicial body to take this to, even if there are violations,” Sister Pat explained.  “We are trying to model what we think a world tribunal on climate justice should look like.” 

The first international tribunal, held in Ecuador in January 2014, looked at the evidence of eight cases of environmental rights violations, including the endangerment of the Great Barrier Reef. 

Sister Elise, who covered the first tribunal for the National Catholic Reporter’s Global Sisters Report, will again be covering the tribunal and other events in Paris for the Global Sisters Report. “The reason I’m going is to try to bring some press and publicity to what’s happening in the civil side of the Paris talks,” Sister Elise explained.

Father James Hug, SJ, presides
at the closing Mass.

Rounding out the afternoon events were three brief reports on different ways that care for Earth is addressed at the Adrian Dominican Motherhouse.

- Sister Carol Coston, OP, spoke of the work of the Permaculture Office, which is finding ways for the Motherhouse grounds to be more sustainable. 

- Father James Hug, SJ, sacramental minister at the Motherhouse, spoke of a letter from Catholic colleges and universities throughout the world, promising their support for the Pope’s environmental efforts, as described in Laudate Si.

- Lura Mack, Executive Director of the Congregation’s Portfolio Advisory Board (PAB) spoke of ways that the PAB is supporting the Congregation’s sustainability efforts through its work in corporate responsibility and through making low-income loans to organizations such as the Solar Energy Loan Fund in Fort Pierce, Florida.

The Day of Education ended in prayer, with a special Mass at which Father Jim presided.

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October 23, 2015, Miami, Florida – Sister Joan Leo Kehn, OP, co-director of religious education at St. Gregory the Great Parish in Plantation, Florida, will receive the Lifetime Catechetical Leadership Award from the Archdiocese of Miami. The award presentation will take place after the 8:00 a.m. Mass opening the archdiocese’s Catechetical Conference, held October 24 at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

The Lifetime Catechetical Leadership Award “recognizes Catechetical Leaders who exemplify the call to share the Faith in the spirit of Catechesi Tradendae” (On Catechesis of our Time), a 1979 encyclical by St. John Paul II. 

“This award is presented to you in appreciation and recognition of the outstanding ministry, faithful service, joyful commitment and visionary leadership you have shared in the Catechetical Ministry of the Archdiocese of Miami,” Peter J. Duchrám, Director of the Office of Catechesis, in a letter to Sister Joan. 

At all of her ministry sites, Sister Joan said, she has been involved in teaching religious education to public school students – as well as teaching religion daily in Catholic schools. She has ministered at St. Gregory for 23 years, serving as director of religious education from 2004 to 2006. She is currently in her fifth or sixth year as co-director with director Antonio Vomvolakis, a former seminarian. 

“In the religious education program, we have over 400 students – 100 more than any other year I’ve been here,” Sister Joan said. “It’s a big increase this year. It happens because the other schools closed down their registration. We never close ours down.”

Sister Joan has a lifetime of fond memories of her catechetical ministry – including a very recent memory. On the second day of this school year, the children were told that a visitor would be walking through the halls. They lined the walls to wait for the visitor and saw one of the associate pastors carrying the monstrance in procession with school administrators. “The students got on their knees when they saw the Blessed Sacrament,” she recalled. “They realized it was really Jesus.”

Even after many years in catechetical ministry, Sister Joan still takes great delight in teaching the faith to young students. The children – especially those who had never had religion before – are “full of questions and have such open minds and eat up every word you say,” she said. “That is what encourages me to go on.” In many homes, she said, the religious education children come home from class and pass on the faith to their parents.  

Sister Joan also recently celebrated her 60-year Jubilee at St. Gregory Church during a special Jubilee Mass, attended by 13 Adrian Dominican Sisters. The highlight of the Mass was renewing her vows to Sister Mary Ann Caulfield, Chapter Prioress of the Florida Mission Chapter. In addition, the Adrian Dominican Sisters in attendance sang the traditional Dominican Blessing to the assembly.

A native of Toledo, Sister Joan attended Blessed Sacrament Elementary School and Notre Dame High School in her home town. Attracted by the Sisters’ joy, prayerful lives, teaching, and friendliness, she entered the Congregation on June 25, 1955, two weeks after her high school graduation.  She holds a bachelor’s degree from Siena Heights College (now University) in Adrian and a master’s degree in elementary education from DePaul University in Chicago.

Before coming to St. Gregory, Sister Joan taught in three schools in Chicago and two others in Florida: St. Helen in Vero Beach and St. Ann in West Palm Beach. 



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