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Celebrating the Commencement are, from left, graduates Derek Rankins Jr., and Aisha C. Young; Dr. C. Reynold Verret, President of Xavier University of Louisiana; Joan Rutherford, aunt of graduate Aubry Osborn, who was absent due to illness; and graduates Princess McEvilley and Connie McCalla.

August 10, 2023, New Orleans, Louisiana – “This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad!”

That was the greeting that Sister Jamie Phelps, OP, gave to graduates, faculty members, and administrators at Xavier University’s Institute for Black Catholic Studies (IBCS) in her commencement address for the IBCS Master of Theology Program. The three-week summer module focused on the theme, “Here I Am – Send Me.”

Sister Jamie Phelps, OP, former Director of the IBCS,
gives the commencement address.
Photo by Irving Johnson III, 2023 IBCS Commencement

Sister Jamie congratulated the graduates – Connie McCalla, Princess McEvilley, Aubry Osborn, Derek Rankins, and Aisha Young – for completing the module, part of the IBCS mission to prepare people for ministry with communities of Black Catholics. 

Sister Jamie also encouraged the assembly to rejoice that the graduates responded to God’s call. “They have committed themselves to theological study, to enhance and root their response to their call to engage in the Church’s ministry in the world. … Let us join our graduates in their promises to continue the mission of Jesus.” 

At a reception later in the day, the Adrian Dominican Sisters were recognized for endowing a $500,000 in Sister Jamie’s name. “Echoing our words of intention, IBCS Director Kathleen Dorsey Bellow said that we made it as an act of reparation for our complicity in the sin of racism and as an investment in the future that IBCS is creating,” said Prioress Elise D. García, OP, who accompanied Sister Jamie to the celebration. “They gifted us with a beautiful statue of a Sankofa bird, which symbolizes looking back at the past to make positive progress in the future.” 

For Sister Jamie, the brief visit to the IBCS was a return to the past, to an institute she was instrumental in founding. In October 1978, she participated in the Black Catholic Theological Symposium, which convened for the first time. Symposium participants proposed the IBCS as a way to sustain the efforts of Black Catholic theologians. Sister Jamie and Father Thaddeus Posey, OFM Cap., then met with the President of Xavier University to start the IBCS. “We had a great meeting with the president, and he agreed to it,” she recalled. 

From left, Sister Elise D. García, OP, Prioress of the Adrian Dominican Congregation; Sister Sylvia Thibodeaux, SSF; and Father Roy A. Lee, PhD, IBCS Associate Director
Photo by Irving Johnson III, 2023 IBCS Commencement

Sister Jamie joined the faculty of IBCS after receiving her doctorate in systematic theology from the Catholic University of America. She went on to serve on the faculty of the IBCS and directed the Institute for eight years.

“The purpose was to provide education for Blacks and non-Blacks to do effective ministry in the Black Catholic community,” Sister Jamie explained. “To do effective ministry in a community, you need to know the history and culture of that community and the social and cultural circumstances. You can only do that by being in the community.” 

Sister Jamie believes that the Institute has had an impact over the years, helping parishes nationwide. “We have Black Catholic parishes that have enculturated our liturgy,” helping them to create music, liturgy, and a style that reflects the Black community, she said. 

“The people in the pew get a deeper understanding of what it means to be a follower of Christ by following the mission of Jesus in their particular context,” Sister Jamie said. “The fact that the Institute is still living suggests to me that this is something that God wanted to happen for us to guarantee an improved ministry in the Black Catholic community.”

Read more about the commencement ceremony in an article by Nate Tinner-Williams in Black Catholic Messenger. 

Participants in the Environmental Leadership Experience with plants they potted at the beginning of their adventure at the Adrian Dominican Sisters Permaculture Garden.

May 30, 2023, Adrian, Michigan – Eight students from Barry University in Miami and one from Siena Heights University in Adrian began their summer with an intense week of learning outside of the classroom: as participants of the Environmental Leadership Experience. (ELE). 

“It’s a new experience,” said Barry University sophomore Sierra Johnson, a marketing and graphic design major. “Being born in Miami and being the youngest of three, I never really had a chance to go out or experience the world.” She and her colleagues explored this new world together during the week of May 7-13, 2023, accompanied by two faculty members from Barry University.

Participants came together to “learn about sustainable agricultural ecosystems,” explained Sister Corinne Sanders, OP, General Councilor and former Director of the Office of Sustainability. “Through the lens of environmental stewardship, the program [offers] hands-on activities on the Adrian Campus and Permaculture Gardens.”

Begun in 2017, ELE made a comeback this summer after years of absence enforced by the COVID-19 pandemic. ELE is a collaborative effort of the universities and the Motherhouse Office of Sustainability.

Students create a rain garden next to the parking lot
of Weber Retreat and Conference Center.

Activities included a tour of the Motherhouse grounds and the Permaculture Garden and work in the Reflective Garden at the Dominican Life Center. But the students spent a major portion of their time building a two-basin rain garden next to the parking lot of Weber Retreat and Conference Center. Along with serving as a pathway to the labyrinth and Cosmic Walk behind Weber Center, the garden was built “as a means of mitigating the degradation caused by rainwater and snow melt coming from the higher ground,” Sister Corinne explained.

The students rounded out their experience with a tour of the Detroit River, a visit to nearby Hidden Lake Gardens, dinner at a nearby restaurant, and a presentation to the Sisters of their experience at the Motherhouse. 

For Anita Zavodska, Professor of Biology at Barry University, the experience in Adrian was a renewal of an enjoyable time in 2019. This year’s experience is “just as wonderful” as in 2019, she said. “We have another wonderful group of students who are really willing to get their hands dirty and work and make a difference,” she said. “It’s like coming home.”   

For the students, ELE was not only a new experience of planting seeds in the Motherhouse grounds, but of planting them in their own hearts as well. 

“I’ve always wanted to work for the environment,” said Lily Hernandez, a Barry student majoring in biology. As a member of Barry’s Green Team, she hopes to incorporate what she learned through ELE into work at Barry. Yet, as she considers a career as a doctor, she hopes to go beyond her time in college. “Everybody could use [this experience] and be a little more sustainable, whatever you’re going into – being more sustainable, loving Earth,” she said.  

Benny Rubinsztejn, a history major at Barry University and a native of Brazil, hopes to begin a second career after 25 years as a stockbroker. 

ELE “is like a highway that works both ways, because students learn something new and bring it home,” Benny said. He sees ELE as important not only because of the environmental impact but also because of the impact on human society, at a time of great division and polarity. When people work together on a project such as the rain garden, he said, “you can build some bridges to [other] people so they respect each other. That’s the most important thing right now.” 

Both Lily and Sierra were inspired not only by their work through ELE but also by the different vegetation and wildlife they experienced in Michigan. “This week in Michigan continuously reminds us of how important it is to take a moment to appreciate all that we have and all that God has given us,” Sierra wrote in a blog organized by the ELE students.

Read the students’ entries in the blog, and watch a video of the experience below.





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