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June 14, 2019, San Rafael, California – Adrian Dominican Sister Mary Soher, OP, finishing her third year as Director of Campus Ministry at Dominican University of California, received a pleasant surprise at the close of the 2018-2019 academic year: she received two awards in recognition of her service and dedication to the school.
Sister Mary was awarded the Club Advisor of the Year for her service as staff advisor to the Siena Leadership Team, the student leaders of campus ministry. In addition, the Penguin Pantry – a food pantry available every Tuesday to Dominican University students – received the Outstanding Student Program/Event of the Year for 2018-2019. Both were announced during the Penguin Leadership Awards ceremony on May 2.
As staff advisor for the Siena Leadership Team, Sister Mary “provides support at meetings and events, but allows students to take the lead,” said Jessica Frazier, Director of Student Services, in her tribute to Sister Mary. “She is inclusive, celebrates diversity, and encourages students to find creative ways to fill gaps she notices on campus.”
Sister Mary and the Campus Ministry Department initiated the Penguin Pantry on September 11, 2018, to help Dominican University students who were struggling financially. Many of the students are on financial aid or are first-generation students, Sister Mary explained in an interview.
Every Tuesday, students have the opportunity to select free produce, proteins, starches, juices, and snacks such as chips or cookies provided by the SF-Marin Food Bank. The food bank delivers items between noon and 1 p.m., Sister Mary explained. “I have student volunteers who set it up like a farmer’s market. … We provide recipes that students can make in a microwave and we try to give examples of what they can do to combine different food items in their meals.”
The Penguin Pantry was recognized not only for providing food for students but for creating community among student volunteers and those who benefit from the pantry.
Sister Mary said she was “totally surprised and shocked,” about receiving the awards. “I really enjoy working with the students and helping them learn how to become leaders.”
Sister Mary sees the award for the Penguin Pantry as “an award to the whole campus, because it’s a huge collaborative effort.”
During the President’s Reception for the Senior Class on May 16, Sister Mary received the John F. Kennedy Senior Appreciation Award, named for a former Vice President of Student Life at Dominican University – not for the U.S. President.
“Her spirit is contagious, her passion for students is immeasurable, and her energy is limitless,” said Rachel Stowell, Senior Class Senator for the Associated Students of Dominican University, the student government. “She challenges us to go beyond our levels of comfort and to push our boundaries in the belief that we will become the people we are meant to be. She models a life of service.”
The award recipient is chosen by members of the Senior Class, Sister Mary said, noting that the Class of 2019 had been welcoming to her when she first came to Dominican University.
Sister Mary said the Campus Ministry programs have been formed around the four Dominican Pillars of community, prayer, ministry, and study. Campus Ministry, which serves a very ecumenical and interfaith population, “reaches out to anyone who’s seeking to be a believer or to those who want to deepen their relationship with God,” she said. “We offer opportunity for service and outreach and continue to add that educational component in all that we do, helping to empower the students as life-long learners.”
Sister Mary especially treasures the Full Moon Hikes, in which she leads students to the beach for a time of reflection and back to campus under the full moon. She also appreciates the alternative spring break trips to the U.S.-Mexico border. “We’re really starting to get connected with people who are experiencing the border day-in and day-out and offering our students the opportunity to view life through the eyes of others so they have a better sense of what’s really happening,” she said.
The Dominican Sisters of San Rafael – who founded and sponsor Dominican University of California – have been a “wonderful support for campus ministry,” Sister Mary said. The Sisters are involved with the students through activities such as the Busy Student Retreats and special Christmas ornament decoration sessions. “I’m extremely grateful for that,” she said. “It’s quite a collaborative effort.”
Feature photo: Sister Mary Soher, OP, right, receives the 2019 John F. Kennedy Award from Mary Marcy, President of Dominican University of California. The award is named for Dominican University’s former Vice President of Student Life. Photo by David Albee, Courtesy of Dominican University of California