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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
January 31, 2023, Adrian, Michigan – The Adrian Dominican Sisters stand in solidarity with the National Black Sisters' Conference and their statement calling for reform of policing practices, greater oversight and accountability by the Justice Department, and “an end to the police brutality that continues to plague Black and poor communities.” Below is the statement by the National Black Sisters Conference.
The New Year is barely a month old. We have just celebrated the national holiday honoring the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the warrior of peace, and the world sadly commemorated International Holocaust Remembrance Day. In a few days, we will celebrate Black History Month as we honor the achievements and contributions of African Americans in the struggle for freedom.
Yet here we are again grieving the death of another young Black man, Tyre Nichols, whose life was taken at the hands of five Black police officers on a night in a quiet Memphis neighborhood.
Tyre Nichols' life at the age of 29 was taken before he had a chance to fulfill his purpose. This young man was not a person to be feared or perceived to be a threat. He was a son, father, and contributor to society; respected and loved by all who knew him. His only crime was being Black in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Violence against African Americans has been a fact of life in this country since the first slave patrols were created in the 1700s to apprehend runaway slaves. Historically, the system was designed to institutionalize terror against Black people.
The five Black police officers who brutally took Tyre's life as he cried out for his mother; were indoctrinated into a corrupt system and freely chose to perpetrate violence against other Black people in the name of institutionalized racism.
Unfortunately, police violence is not new. The video of the incident is no different from other police footage, and the only difference is that the majority of the officers are Black!
In speaking to this fact, Mr. Nichols' mother, RowVaugh Wells, stated:
"…And what they are doing to black communities is wrong. We're not worried about the race of the police officers, and we're worried about the conduct of the police officers. Policing in this country is focused on control, subordination and violence…society views black people as inherently dangerous and criminal..."
The National Black Sisters Conference is worried too! When will we wake up as a nation?
How many lives will it take? How often must we bear witness to the senseless killing of African Americans by the police? Where is the collective voice of our religious communities, African American organizations, and Church? The prophet Micah's words speak to what the righteous are called to do: "The just God demands justice!" God demands a change of heart.
As we move into Black History Month, how will we answer a mother's prophetic words on the sad occasion of her son's death? What will we remember? How will this modern-day Black genocide be eradicated? Where do we go from here?
With righteous indignation, we all must act! Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. writes in his book, Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? "Freedom is not won by passive acceptance of suffering. A struggle wins freedom against suffering." Let this be our rallying cry for justice!
As the National Black Sisters' Conference, we are demanding JUSTICE FOR TYRE! and calling for:
Immediate passage of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2021 by Congress
More progressive oversight and accountability of police departments by the Justice Department
Local and State reform of policing, and
The end to police brutality that continues to plague Black and poor communities
Finally, we call on our Church to speak out in the name of the Gospel. This killing is a pro-life issue that is just as important as protecting the life of the unborn.
Tyre's spirit cries out for justice, and we will continue to stand in the gap, crying out in the name of justice for our people.
United in the struggle for justice,
The National Black Sisters' Conference
January 30, 2023
Members of the Adrian Dominican Sisters General Council are: Sisters Elise D. García, OP, Prioress; Janice Brown, OP, and Bibiana “Bless” Colasito, OP, General Councilors; Lorraine Réaume, OP, Vicaress and General Councilor; and Corinne Sanders, OP, General Councilor.