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February 8, 2023, Adrian, Michigan – Human trafficking is a global problem that entraps an estimated 27.6 million people – but it can also be found locally, in areas such as Lenawee County, Michigan.
Sister Patricia McDonald, OP, a member of the Lenawee County Anti-Human Trafficking Coalition, conveyed that message to a gathering in the Adrian City Chambers in observance of Human Trafficking Prevention Month, observed each January.
Human trafficking victims are coerced or deceptively lured into labor trafficking in areas such as farms, salons, and restaurants and into sex trafficking, Sister Pat said. She cited statistics from the U.S. Department of defense that human trafficking generates $51 billion through forced labor and $99 billion per year through sex trafficking. Anybody can be a victim, but people who are vulnerable are especially susceptible.
Sister Pat urged the audience to be on the lookout for anything unusual and to report it to the police so that the situation can be investigated. She also encouraged people to watch out for their own mental health and to treat their children with care so that they can grow up in a healthy state of mind, less likely to be preyed upon by human traffickers.
Read more about Sister Pat’s presentation in an article in the Daily Telegram by Brad Heineman.
By Madelyn Birmingham
Content Writer, Siena Heights University
February 2, 2023, Adrian, Michigan – When she was a little girl, Sharon Weber didn’t spend a lot of time in one place. As a byproduct of her father’s job, her family was constantly relocating, which lent her to experience five different grade schools and a different high school – all of which were Catholic. It is only fitting, then, that as Sharon settled into her adult life, she would remain anchored at one institution, and a Catholic one at that: Siena Heights University.
At one of her elementary schools, Sister Sharon’s instructor was an Adrian Dominican Sister. The Sisters’ contagious passion for life and joyous demeanor drew her to the Adrian Dominican Sisters, and her religious convictions drew her to a dedicated lifestyle.
After graduating high school, she joined the Adrian Dominican Sisters and ended up furthering her education at Siena Heights College (now University). During the first two years, as both a postulant and novice, Sister Sharon was also a full-time student.
Following her first two years, she was qualified to teach at an elementary level. she taught first grade for five years, and seventh grade for one year. During this time, she was continuing her own education after hours and over the summer. After receiving her bachelor’s degree, Sister Sharon completed master’s and PhD degrees from the University of Michigan, an experience that also allowed her to study and teach in Germany at the University of Konstanz.
After completing her formal education, Sister Sharon returned in 1974 to Siena Heights, where the next four decades would serve as a continuation of the lifelong education that comes through teaching and interacting with others. Until her election to the Congregation’s General Council in 1986, Sister Sharon taught chemistry and other science courses, as well as Letters and Sciences courses for the institution.
In one of those years, Sister Sharon was awarded the Sister Eileen K. Rice Award for Teaching – an accomplishment that she still regards as one of the most honorable accolades of her career. After 1993, following a yearlong sabbatical, she returned to Siena Heights to teach and occupied several administrative roles for the university from 1993 to 2022.
Throughout this time, Sister Sharon experienced Siena Heights University from multiple perspectives: student, teacher, Division Chairperson of the Science and Math Division, Acting Director of the Graduate Program, Acting Dean, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, Vice President of Academic Affairs, and – while on the General Council – as a Member of the Board of Trustees.
During her time as Acting Director of the Graduate Program, as well as the Acting Dean, Sister Sharon rose to the occasion of satisfying the needs of the university, even above her own personal preferences. Her interim roles were brief but essential and serve as a testament to her commitment to Siena Heights, allowing it to grow as an institution. The administrative roles occupied by Sister Sharon were crucial to the development of Siena Heights University, with her time as the Vice President of Academic Affairs helping to bring about the Nursing and Engineering programs. Additionally, Siena Heights’ introduction of its Online Program began during her time in administration, though she gives substantial credit to Dean Deb Carter during that timeframe for the addition of the Online Program.
Despite these impressive career accolades, Sister Sharon feels the most pride in herself and her career when looking at the successes of other people. She notes: “The most important moments I’m proud of are when I get to listen to how we [the Siena Heights community] have really had a good effect on people’s lives.”
When asked about her inspirations and greatest influences, Sister Sharon spoke fondly of many sources of inspiration in her life. Her family – parents, siblings, and grandparents – were the first she named, but also praised fellow Adrian Dominican Sisters, teachers, Siena Heights faculty and staff, as well as her students. She fondly recalls a story where one of her first-grade students inspired her:
“We were talking about how Jesus calms the storm at sea, and so I was at my dramatic best, and was painting this picture of a storm at sea – with the lightning and thunder and waves and wind – and said to them: ‘Do you think the apostles were afraid?’ And every hand in the room goes up, and I picked a student and said, ‘So what do you think? Were the apostles afraid?’ And the student answered: ‘No Sister, Jesus was in the boat.’ And that day, a six-year-old taught me a lot about faith. There are so many little places where people can inspire you, and you remember it almost sixty years later.”
On the topic of inspiration, there are two very crucial elements that inspired Sister Sharon to stay at Siena Heights for as long as she did, and the two elements are surprisingly simple: Its people and its mission. In the words of Sister Sharon: “Siena is its people, and I think it has a mission that’s worth expending energy on.” She recalls how, while the current mission statement of the university was not verbalized at the time she was a student, the heart of it permeated through the culture and people of Siena Heights University. She credits Siena Heights in her journey to becoming more competent, purposeful, and ethical – as both a student and educator.
For this reason, Siena Heights University serves as a place where Sister Sharon believes seeds are planted, and that from those seeds, many fruits are grown. This impact, she says, is especially prominent in our alumni. Each year, at the alumni awards ceremony, Sister Sharon remains amazed by how many successful alumni credit Siena Heights with integral components that helped to bring about those successes.
Sister Sharon also views Siena Heights as a place where Dominican tradition and the search for truth is fostered and done in a very committed environment, in both the academic world and relational world; additionally, it is a place where lifelong relationships are developed.
As a result of these lifelong relationships, and the search for truth, Sister Sharon Weber was given additional accolades outside of the aforementioned Sister Eileen K. Rice Award. In 2012, she was the recipient of the Zonta of Lenawee’s Amelia Earhart Award, which is given to those who exemplify a pioneering spirit and excellence in their field.
Most recently, upon her retirement in 2022, the Science Hall was officially dedicated as the “Sister Sharon Weber, O.P., Ph.D., Science Hall.” This is a tremendous honor, though Sister Sharon remains very humble in that she believes many other people deserved the same recognition.
Throughout her many years spent at Siena Heights as a student, professor, and administrator, Sister Sharon has witnessed the changes in higher education firsthand. The three differences that struck her as the most prominent include the cost, the technological advancements, and the goals that students have for themselves in attaining a college education – that is, the focus on career rather than on liberal arts education.
When asked about her plans for retirement, Sister Sharon says that they are still in the works. She is enjoying the time she’s been able to spend with her family, as well as enjoying her own personal hobbies, but hasn’t yet figured out her full retirement plans. While she isn’t entirely certain what the future holds, Sister Sharon knows how she wants to be remembered by her students, fellow faculty, and staff:
“I want to be remembered as a Dominican, who, in the search for truth, has tried to listen to all sides.”
Photos courtesy of Siena Heights University