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December 29, 2021, Washington, D.C. – Many people would be excited at the opportunity to tour the White House at Christmas time. For Sister Raghad Saeed Saqat, OP, a Sister of the Dominican Congregation of St. Catherine of Siena from Iraq, it was a moving and thought-provoking experience.

Sister Raghad – a doctoral student studying physics at Catholic University of America – was invited to accompany Sister Donna Markham, OP, President and CEO of Catholic Charities USA, to a Christmas party at the White House. Because of the pandemic, the party was a tour of special rooms in the White House decorated for Christmas.

“They decorated everything,” Sister Raghad explained. “There were different kinds of trees and beautiful decorations. … It was pretty amazing to see all the decorations of Christmas and all the colors,” with each room honoring something different, from nature to the military. 

Sister Raghad said she was also moved by the parting gift of a White House Christmas ornament. “This is a good sign for the new year,” she said. “It will carry something from the White House to Iraq. It’s an instrument of peace.”

Sisters Raghad and Donna stand outside of the White House
Sisters Raghad Saeed Saqat, OP, left, and Donna Markham, OP, stand in front of the White House before attending the Christmas festivities.

The experience at the White House brought mixed feelings to Sister Raghad. When Sister Donna invited her to accompany her to the White House, she said, she was worried. “I didn’t think they’d accept me as an Iraqi,” but she was cleared after her documents were checked.

At a deeper level, Sister Raghad said, the visit to the White House reminded her of her own country, which had been decimated years ago by the 2003 U.S. invasion. It was in the White House, she noted, that the decision had been made to attack her country.

The relationship between the two countries was also an issue for Sister Raghad when, in 2018, she came to the United States – first to study English and then to begin her doctoral studies in nano physics. She finished her academic studies and passed her comprehensive exam, and is working on research and writing her dissertation.

“The challenge when I came here was how I can be in a country that destroyed my country,” Sister Raghad said. “Sometimes I got to a point where I don’t want to stay here, especially at the beginning. You feel you have to be with your people.”

The Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Iraq have faced numerous challenges in recent years. In August 2014, the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena were forced to evacuate their convents on the Nineveh Plain with the coming of ISIS. The Sisters – along with tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians, Yazidis, and other religious minorities – were displaced for years in northern Iraq. In recent years, the Sisters and other local residents returned to their former homes, which in many cases had been destroyed by ISIS.

Sister Raghad said she had originally planned to study at a university in England, but the documents she needed were destroyed by ISIS. “We lost our convent, our books, even our documents – everything – but God was there walking with us, walking in our journey,” she said. “We need faith for sure, and hope that things will be better.”

Since coming to the United States, Sister Raghad has faced her fair share of challenges – as the only Iraqi student and as a doctoral student studying in a second language. “I am the only Iraqi student, and I am a Sister,” she said. “There is a mission here – not just to be studying here, but to show who the Sisters are, especially from a different country.”

Sister Raghad said her fellow students have shown a great interest in her life and in the situation of Iraq. “It’s very interesting how the people want to hear from me, and they are very respectful to hear me tell my story. They are wonderful people and they want to help me. Before I thought about what the U.S. did to Iraq, but the people [here] are amazing, how they try to help.”

Since coming to know people in the United States, Sister Raghad has served as a bridge between the people of the two nations. She tells Americans, “We are not all ISIS. There are really good people in Iraq. Do not look at us as terrorists. We are really kind people, generous people.” 

On the other hand, Sister Raghad tells the people of Iraq that, although America is a powerful country, the people of the United States are kind and want to help. “They don’t want to make people suffer,” she said. “They feel our pain.”

Sister Raghad hopes to continue this ministry of good will when, after she completes her doctorate, she returns to teach at the University of Mosul. “I will be teaching Muslims and all kinds of people at the University of Mosul,” she said. “To be there as a Christian is a big thing, to give the people hope. Especially after ISIS, it means a lot to people to have a Christian there.”

In the meantime, Sister Raghad appreciates the people at Catholic University and the support of the Dominican family in the United States. “They are my family,” she said. “They are my Sisters, my friends for sure. Without them I cannot do this in such a short time. They encourage me. They’re walking with me.”

November 9, 2021, Adrian, Michigan – Archivists from a variety of U.S. congregations of Dominican Sisters gathered virtually October 19-21, 2021, to discuss best practices and common issues and to learn from speakers in related fields. Participating were Sister Beverly Bobola, OP, Assistant Archivist, and other members of Dominican Archivists for a Common Repository (DARC), as well as professional archivists and historians from related organizations. 

About 30 people attended the entire summit, while another 20 or so – including leaders of Dominican Congregations – joined the gathering when possible. 

Lisa Schell

Lisa Schell, Archivist for the Adrian Dominican Sisters and a member of the planning committee, said this year’s summit brought in speakers from a variety of fields and from organizations such as the Detroit Institute of Art, the Queens (New York) Memory Project, and the City of Chicago. “We wanted to look outside ourselves,” Lisa explained. “The idea was to collaborate outside of our comfort zone and be inspired.”

Archivists who work in organizations outside of congregations for women religious have much to teach the Dominican archivists, Lisa said. “We could still get the benefit of sharing best practices of archives and get a perspective of what’s possible.”

One keynote speaker – Eileen Markey, journalist and Assistant Professor at City University of New York Herbert H. Lehman College – noted the importance of archivists of women’s religious congregations. “She spoke of how important it is for archivists to understand that much of American history is patriarchal, centered in the male,” Lisa recalled. The archives of women’s religious communities are treasures that can profoundly influence the understanding of the role of women in U.S. history, Lisa added.     

Another speaker, Katie Gordon, is Co-founder and National Director of Nuns and Nones, which brings Catholic Sisters together with young Millennial spiritual seekers to share community, faith, and experiences. “She had a lot to say about Sister stories and how important they are, making them accessible and available to people of younger generations,” Lisa said.

For her part, Lisa especially loves the opportunity to tell the history and stories of the Adrian Dominican Sisters. A lover of history, she taught high school history for 15 years before changing course. She earned a Master of Library and Information Science degree with certificates in Archival Administration and Records Management from Wayne State University in Detroit and worked for eight years as a corporate archivist before coming to work for the Adrian Dominican Sisters in 2018. 
A year later, Lisa hosted the Dominican Archivists Summit in Adrian. The focus then, she said, was on standardizing the archival collections of the U.S. Dominican congregations. Participants at the 2019 Summit worked together to bring consistency to their collections and to the vocabulary they use for those collections in preparation for the time when they might be in a common repository.

Hopes are that the 2023 Summit will be in person. However, Lisa said, she is stepping away from planning the Dominican Archivists Summits after being elected Vice President and President-Elect of the Archivists for Congregations of Women Religious (ACWR), a professional organization of about 350 archivists serving congregations of Sisters in the United States.  

Whether working with Sister Beverly at the Adrian Dominican Motherhouse, with archivists of other Dominican congregations, or with Colleagues from the ACWR, Lisa relishes her work. “I love Sisters’ history and the Sisters here,” she said. “It’s so exciting to be part of a community that is in alignment with things I believe in … It’s a rare opportunity to be a professional woman and surrounded by women.”

Feature photo: Katie Gordon, Co-founder and National Organizer of Nuns and Nones – an alliance of Catholic Sisters and diverse spirituality seekers – offers a presentation on programming and outreach engagement during the summit of Dominican Archivists.



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