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November 24, 2020, Detroit – Dominican Volunteer Danielle Porter has been educated by Dominicans most of her life.
“I grew up with the Dominicans,” Danielle said. A native of the western suburbs of Chicago, she attended St. Edmund Parish School, where Adrian Dominican Sisters once taught. From there, she attended Fenwick High School in Oak Park, Illinois, sponsored by the Dominican Friars of the Province of St. Albert the Great. Most recently, she graduated from Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, sponsored by the Grand Rapids Dominican Sisters.
This year, she’s continuing her Dominican education in a different way: through community life with Adrian Dominican Sisters Ginny King, OP, Janice Brown, OP, and Nancyann Turner, OP, at Gesu Parish in Detroit. She is rounding out her education with practical ministry at All Saints Literacy Center and Siena Literacy Center, two of the seven literacy centers sponsored by the Adrian Dominican Sisters.
Danielle’s placement with Dominican Volunteers USA (DVUSA) is the result of a year of discernment during her senior year at Aquinas. “By the end of my junior year I knew I needed a little more time before applying for graduate school,” she said. During Mass, she prayed about her next steps after graduating. During Mass at a later date, she heard a presentation about DVUSA. “I spoke to two of the recruiters and by December 2019 I finished my application,” she said.
Danielle is one of six DVUSA volunteers for 2020-2021. Dominican Volunteers make a commitment to an 11-month experience in which they live in community with Dominican Sisters or Friars and are engaged in ministry. This year, Dominican Volunteers are serving in Racine, Wisconsin; Chicago; Blauvelt, New York; Houston, Texas; and Detroit.
Community life is “what I had expected,” said Danielle. “My mother used to tell me stories about how she was in the convent. My mom was in the convent around the same age that I am, which is really weird but inspiring, so I grew up with stories about how she lived with the nuns.”
A native of Haiti, Danielle’s mother studied abroad in Belgium, where she entered a religious community and was a novice there when her grandfather asked her to come back home.
Danielle said living with Sisters Ginny, Janice, and Nancyann “is like living with my family.” They pray together three times a week and formally eat together twice a week – though they eat together more often. Danielle takes her turns at cooking dinner and helps with the cleaning. “We do talk, and during the whole political cycle we were watching the news and praying to help boost our spirits,” Danielle said.
Her ministry at All Saints involves “very administrative, behind the scenes work,” such as writing thank-you notes to donors, Danielle explained. In addition, she is involved in two special projects at All Saints: the “five years-five goals” project for Giving Tuesday, in recognition of All Saints’ fifth anniversary, and a rearrangement of the space at the center to allow for greater accessibility for people who have disabilities and to create a “book nook” for all adult learners.
Since completing her tutor training, Danielle also has begun tutoring an English as a Second Language (ESL) student. As the daughter of two immigrants – her father is from Jamaica – Danielle said she especially enjoys tutoring an ESL student.
Danielle said her work at All Saints is also giving her the skills she will need when she formally enters the work force. “Even though I’m not getting paid, I’m still learning how to work alongside staff, meet deadlines, and do all the work that is essential for the workforce without being part of it as a 40-hour work week,” she said.
In her time as a Dominican Volunteer, Danielle has accumulated a number of special memories. One took place on Election Day, when, in the course of a lesson, Danielle taught her learner about homophones in the English language – words that sound the same but have different meanings.
“I was so excited,” she said. “I did tell her that her youngest child would actually have to learn homophones,” and that she would be equipped to help him to understand the concept.
At the conclusion of her year as a Dominican Volunteer, Danielle hopes to attend graduate school, most likely to study philosophy. She holds a bachelor’s degree with a double minor in philosophy and legal studies. “I’m an academic at heart, so I do enjoy learning and seeking knowledge,” she said. Graduate school “is what my heart is aiming for.”
Danielle also has a heart for her year as a Dominican Volunteer and encourages anyone who feels called to apply for this program to do so. “If you’re called to be [a volunteer], you should be one,” she said. “I’m almost finished with my first year and it’s very rewarding to know that you’re looking at the Catholic faith from a different perspective. In this program, you see it from behind the scenes with the Sisters in a community that values study and prayer.”
Danielle also urged prospective Dominican Volunteers to follow their passions. “Know your passion and go into a program that facilitates and nourishes those kinds of passions – whether or not you seek to be in religious life in the future or be single or have a family.”
May 5, 2017, Washington, D.C. – A number of Adrian Dominican Sisters, Associates, and friends braved the heat and crowds of Washington, D.C., to express their commitment and concern for Earth and her inhabitants. The group – along with students from Siena Heights University in Adrian – were participating in the People’s Climate March on April 29.
The crowd was estimated in the tens of thousands, and some say up to 200,000 people took part in the march, which was organized into eight blocs of activists. The march coincided with the 100th Day in office of President Donald Trump – and of the Feast of St. Catherine of Siena, great Dominican mystic and reformer.
Sister Janet Stankowski, OP, and Patty Gillis, an Adrian Dominican Associate, were among the staff members and supporters of Voices for Earth Justice (VEJ), an interfaith network of people who care for Earth. Their group marched as part of the Defenders of Faith bloc.
“I wore my Dominican scarf in honor of the Feast of St. Catherine of Siena,” Patty said. “I felt her energy in all the caring people taking their concerns to the seat of power, much like Catherine did in the Middle Ages.”
Patty said she was uplifted to be among the indigenous peoples who took part in the march, and among people of so many faith traditions. “They reminded us all that Care for Creation is a moral and spiritual issue.” She was also pleased to see the influence of Pope Francis on many participants through his picture and quotes from his encyclical, Laudate Si, on banners carried through the streets of Washington, D.C.
“The People’s Climate March was very impressive, with many, many activists,” Sister Janet said. “We stood in respect as the indigenous communities and Protectors of Justice prepared to lead the March. They were followed by the immigrants, water keepers, and Creators of Sanctuary.” In all, Sister Janet said, her participation in the Climate March was “a meditative, powerful, and hopeful experience.”
Members of the group from Adrian – marching with the Defenders of Truth group – also found the Climate March to be a hopeful experience, in spite of the urgency of the climate change issue and challenges such as the 90-degree heat, crowds, and the difficulty of traveling to the march site.
“It’s so hopeful, because you are out there with all these people and you think, ‘Wow, these are all people who care about the same things I do, and there are so many of us,’ ” explained Sister Kathleen Nolan, OP. She is the Director of the Adrian Dominican Congregation’s Office of Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation. “How can [the March] not make an impact?”
Sister Kathy – along with Sister Maurine Barzantni, OP, and Holly Sammons, Dominican Volunteer – were impressed by the kindness of the people they encountered, whether at their hotel or among other participants, in spite of the discomfort and inconveniences.
“Everyone is so peaceful and kind,” Holly said. She noted that the atmosphere of peace among the participants made parents feel secure enough to bring their young children to the march. “It’s kind of cool to see people being introduced to this [activism] at so young an age, and parents feeling it’s safe enough to bring their kids, too.”
They were also impressed by the commitment of so many people, not only at the People’s Climate March, but the weekend before, at the science march and at a May Day demonstration in Chicago. “Week after week, the crowds continue to come out,” Sister Kathy said. “The energy hasn’t lagged.”
Sister Maurine saw the interconnectedness of issues represented by many of the marchers, from Black Life Matters activists to indigenous peoples who carried signs such as “Don’t Break Treaties.” But the various agendas “all fit under the same category – respect for our world and respect for the inhabitants of our world,” Sister Maurine said.
In general, the participants from Adrian came away from the People’s Climate March with a renewed commitment to caring for Earth – and a greater sense of a culture of respect. Sister Maurine said the message she would like to bring to others after her experience of the march is that “people desire to respect the Earth and everything in the Earth and on the Earth.”
Feature photo (above): Staff and supporters of Voices for Earth Justice (VEJ) took part in the Climate March: back row, from left, Karen Clarke; Patty Gillis, Associate and Director of VEJ; Sister Janet Stankowski, OP; Marian Gillis; and Laura Gillis. Seated in front is Nate Butler, Laura’s husband.
Sisters Kathleen Nolan, OP, third from left, and Maurine Barzantni, OP, front row, right, with a group of Co-workers, friends, and Siena Heights University students, take part in the People’s Climate March on April 29.