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Amazon Basin, Ecuador, January 6, 2023 – Sisters Mary Priniski, OP, and Lorene Heck, OP, view their recent eco-tourism trip to the Amazon Rainforest Basin as more than an adventure, more than a visit to the site of an organization that received a grant from the Congregation’s Ministry Trust Fund, but as a mystery and connection to neighbors far away. Sister Lorene is Director of the Ministry Trust Fund, and Sister Mary is Chapter Prioress of the Adrian Dominican Sisters’ Catherine of Siena Mission Chapter.
They were among 11 people participating in an eco-tour sponsored by Maketai, an organization founded by Adrian Dominican Sister Judith Bisignano, OP, to support the vision of the Achuar people in their territory in the Amazon. Attending the tour with Sisters Lorene and Mary were Sandra Morse, Director of Maketai, Inc.; Celestino Antik, Achuan guide; and Julián Larrea, Ecuadorian guide.
The tour began in Quito, Ecuador, and involved travel by plane into the Achuar Territory of the Amazon Rainforest, where the group remained for six days. There they explored the rainforest, and came to know the Achuar communities, their culture, and the importance of the rainforest as the “lungs” of Earth.
The two Adrian Dominican Sisters arrived in the Amazon Rainforest with a sense of connection. Sister Judy had encouraged them to participate in the tour to experience the rainforest and to see first-hand how the funds from the Ministry Trust grant were being spent. Grants from the Ministry Trust fund community organizations and projects in which Adrian Dominican Sisters are involved.
The Adrian Dominican Sisters’ Ministry Trust grant to Maketai for fiscal year 2023 provides funding to train members of the Achuar community to work as eco-tourist guides. Sister Lorene explained the desire of indigenous groups such as the Achuar “to have small groups of people come to see the importance of the Amazon Rainforest.” The eco-tourists then become advocates of the rainforest and the indigenous peoples, she explained. A previous grant funded the reforestation of the Achuar territory with the purchase of 10,000 saplings to be planted in three Achuar communities.
Sisters Lorene Heck, OP, left and Mary Priniski, OP, with Shaman Rafael Taish.
One type of sleeping accommodation that Sisters Mary and Lorene, and the other eco-tourists used in the Amazon Rainforest.
The Sisters’ experience of the eco-tour deepened their sense of connection. The tour included time for participants to experience the forest through hiking, swimming, fishing, and viewing birds and the other wildlife. “Sometimes being in the jungle was really quiet, and then you hear the crackling which could be branches or some animals,” Sister Lorene recalled. She was impressed by many aspects of the jungle: the animals, birds, dolphins, mango trees, and 700-year-old kapok trees.
Adding to the sense of adventure was the means of travel from village to village as tour members met the Achuar people. Because the Achuar Territory has no highways, travel from one of the 40 Achuar communities to another is by hiking or canoeing. “To get to those villages is a 6- to 7-hour trek through the jungle,” or a 3-hour ride in a canoe – sometimes motorized and made more sustainable by solar panels, Sister Lorene said.
“We met some really wonderful people along the way,” Sister Lorene said. “The Achuar people themselves were described to us as quiet and shy, but once they became comfortable, there was a great exchange, even when we don’t speak the same language.”
The tourists learned much of the culture of the Achuar, meeting with people involved in local crafts: weaving, pottery, and bowls and jewelry made of seeds from the forest. The Achuar live off the land, Sister Mary said, and are not in a monetary economy.
Sister Mary spoke to the importance of preserving the rainforest as well. “The purpose [of the tour] is to save the rainforest,” she said. “The reason for people to go is to learn that we depend on this part of the world. It’s about sustainability. It’s about how the people there want to preserve the forest” from threats such as oil companies, which have obtained grants to blocks of land within the Achuar territory.
Sister Lorene Heck, OP, foreground, and Sister Mary Priniski ride kayaks through the river in a mango grove Achuar with guide Celestino Antik.
Sister Mary sees a strong connection between the efforts of the Achuar people to preserve their land and the efforts of the Adrian Dominican Sisters and other organizations and individuals throughout the world to live more sustainably.
The Adrian Dominican Sisters have a Sustainability Enactment – a focus on sustainability for the next six years – with a “real focus on our Motherhouse property,” Sister Mary said. “It’s a natural link to see that what we’re doing in Adrian is linked to what the Achuar people are trying to do in their home in Ecuador … In some ways, you look at [Ecuador] as the other side of the world, but it’s the same struggle.”
The Adrian Dominican Congregation’s support of the projects of Achuar “broadens our concept of what sustainability is,” Sister Lorene agreed. “It’s more than the acreage we have in Michigan.”
Sister Lorene said the people in the distant land of the Amazon Rainforest now are more real to her. “They are my neighbors because I have met them.”
Both Sisters expressed gratitude for the opportunity to visit the Amazon Rainforest and to meet the people of the Achuar Territory. “I’m so grateful for the experience,” Sister Lorene said. “Words just can’t express how grateful I have become.”
Feature photo at top: Sister Mary Priniski, OP, rides a kayak with Achuar guide Celestino Antik on a river through a mango grove.
January 3, 2023, Adrian, Michigan – The 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.