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Adrian Dominican Sisters and Associates join in the 2017 Climate March.

February 20, 2020, Adrian, Michigan
– As we celebrate World Day of Social Justice on February 20, 2020, a number of Adrian Dominican Sisters reflect on their call as Christians and as Dominicans to work toward social justice and to advocate for those who are denied it in any way.

“Our commitment to peace and social justice is very Dominican,” said Sister Kathleen Nolan, OP, Director of the Adrian Dominican Congregation’s Office for Peace, Justice and Integrity of Creation. “It’s part of our DNA because of our charism of searching for truth and speaking truth – veritas. There’s no greater truth than the Gospel call to justice and following in the Gospel values.” 

Sister Maureen O’Connell, OP, front right, and other Dominicans in the Houston, Texas, area at the Houston Lights for Liberty rally, advocating for immigrants.

Members of the Dominican Order work together to respond to social justice issues. The International Dominican Commission for Justice and Peace is made up of Justice and Peace Promoters of the world’s regions and continents. Each of the Adrian Dominican Sisters’ Mission Chapters has a Justice and Peace Promoter to help coordinate the efforts of the Chapter in various issues of peace and justice.  

Sister Patricia Erickson, OP, Justice and Peace Promoter, said the Florida Mission Chapter has worked for years advocating for the repeal of the death penalty in their state. Sister Patricia has also been very active in working toward a just immigration reform and just treatment of immigrants. A nurse practitioner, she serves every Saturday at clinics in Mexico for people who live in Mexico while awaiting asylum hearings in the United States.

The Dominican Midwest Mission Chapter, based in Chicago, has been working on immigration issues for years. Sisters and Associates “respond to the social, educational, legal, and spiritual needs of documented or undocumented immigrants” through service such as weekly prayer at a detention center for immigrants, observing and reporting on court procedures for detainees, and serving as literacy tutors. 

Associate Peggy Treece Myles, left, and Sister Leonor Esnard, OP, stand in front of the Nuns on the Bus at its stop in South Bend, Indiana, during the 2018 tour on tax justice.

Sister JoAnn Fleischaker, OP, participates in a monthly public witness in Chicago with Sisters and Brothers of Immigrants. “The mission is to have a collective voice seeking justice for immigrants,” she said. “We respond to the Gospel mandate to uphold the dignity of each person.”

Sister Judy Byron, OP, Program Director for the Intercommunity Peace and Justice Center (ICPJ) based in Seattle, Washington, said much of the organization’s work deals with justice for women, such as those who work in agriculture and are subjected to sexual abuse. The ICPJ also offers programs to educate the public about human trafficking and, from its beginnings in the 1990s, with the housing issue. 

Sister Virginia King, OP – Justice and Peace Promoter for the Great Lakes Dominican Mission Chapter based in Detroit – has focused on climate change since she ministered in California. Climate change “is aggravated by our use of coal and gas,” she said. “Green energy is where I’ve put some energy and focus to address climate change, to use less of the polluting energies and more of the green energies.”

Sister May Cano, OP, Justice and Peace Promoter for Our Lady of Remedies Mission Chapter based in the Philippines, deals with a variety of issues in her work with the Diocese of Kalookan. She also has a unique focus, working with family members of victims of extrajudicial killings – people killed, with the permission of the government, because they are suspected of being drug dealers or users.

Sister Cathy Olds, OP, right, helps prepare a meal for immigrants staying at Annunciation House, a hospitality house in El Paso, Texas, for immigrants coming out of detention.

While the Sisters and Associates might focus on different specific justice issues, they see those issues as connected.  “They’re all part of the whole,” Sister Kathleen said. “We need to see those [issues] as connected, as respect for life – all life, not just human life. All life is the issue.”

Sister Janice Holkup, OP, Justice and Peace Promoter for the Dominican West Mission Chapter said justice work is “all about values. My values are human values, values that support justice for all.”

The Sisters also recognize their justice work as rooted in the Gospel and their faith.  “Since from initial formation and as a young religious, I was exposed and had worked for justice and peace,” Sister May said. “I am inspired by the Gospel of truth, to proclaim the Gospel to the lowly, free the prisoners, and so on.” 

Sister Patricia agrees. “My faith life is based on the Gospel, and that’s where I learned what justice and peace means – through what I read and through what Jesus teaches me through the Gospel,” she said. 

Sister Janet Stankowski, OP, left, and Associate Patricia Gillis attend the People’s Climate March in April 2017.

Many of the Sisters said their justice ministry is a challenge because there is widespread injustice. “You have to figure out where you’re going to put your energies,” said Sister Virginia. Sister Judy said added challenges are the need to raise funds for resources and the political environment.

But the Sisters also find hope as they continue in their justice advocacy. Sister Patricia finds hope in the immigrants and asylum seekers. “The people are in such dire circumstances,” she said. But “along with their faith, they have hope that things will be better for them.” She is also encouraged by the number of younger people who are becoming involved in work for social justice. 

“If enough people come together, we can make a difference for the common good,” Sister Janice said.

More information on how Adrian Dominican Sisters and Associates are involved in justice issues can be found on the Congregation’s Engaged in the Mission page. The website also offers opportunities to advocate for justice and peace through its action alert page.

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January 22, 2020, Adrian, Michigan – Human trafficking – slavery – has been in existence for thousands of years, and the modern version of this insidious, evil practice must be recognized and prevented.

That was the core message Sisters Marilyn Winter, OP, and Patricia McDonald, OP, brought to an assembly of Adrian Dominican Sisters January 16, 2020, during Human Trafficking Awareness Month. The month begins on January 11, 2020, National Human Trafficking Awareness Day, and concludes on February 8, 2020, the Feast of St. Josephine Bakhita, patron saint of human trafficking victims.

Both Sister Marilyn and Sister Patricia are involved in the Lenawee County Regional Anti-Trafficking Task Force, one of 130 member organizations of the Michigan Human Trafficking Task Force.

Human trafficking is “a crime against humanity, pure and simple,” Sister Patricia said. “It’s a matter of misuse of power and control. … We’re dealing with a sick society at a lot of levels. The more we know the more we can help people grow in their understanding."

Sisters Marilyn and Patricia spent much their presentation reminding the Sisters of the widespread practice of modern-day slavery, its insidiousness, and its impact on victims and on our society.

Sister Marilyn noted the work that the Catholic Church has done to prevent and end human trafficking. For example, the Vatican hosted an international meeting of law enforcement officers working to end the practice, as well as similar meetings in April 2019 and September 2019.

“One of the first principles of Catholic social teaching has to do with human dignity,” with the rights of all human beings to respect and dignity, Sister Marilyn said. “That’s the very basis for what we do in human trafficking work.” She cited the 2007 statement of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee on Migration: “Human trafficking is a horrific crime against the basic dignity and rights of the human person. All efforts must be expended to end it.”

The Scope of Human Trafficking

Sister Patricia McDonald, OP, presents background information on human trafficking.

An estimated 40 million people worldwide are entrapped in sex trafficking and in forced labor in restaurants, agricultural sites, sweatshops, domestic servitude in homes or hotels, construction, and nail salons, while another 15 million are trafficked into forced marriages, Sister Marilyn said. Human trafficking also involves the removal of internal organs from a victim, she added.

Sister Patricia noted that people are not always trafficked as a result of kidnapping or other forms of violence. “There are many ways to entrap people,” she said. Human trafficking involves any process in which the trafficker gains control of another: recruitment, transportation, coercion, fraud, deception, and the abuse of power, she explained. 

To illustrate various ways that people can be trafficked, Sister Patricia cited several case studies: Irene, who came to the United States as the employee of a company that supplies housekeepers and whose living expenses were deducted from her $1 per hour wages; Eddy, who came from another country and, with his father, was forced to work on a blueberry farm under dangerous conditions with little rest or food; and Allison, a 12-year-old girl in foster care who befriended an older man. He invited her to live with him and forced her into prostitution to pay back what he had spent on her.

Often, Sister Patricia said, trafficked people don’t understand that they’re victims with rights. They might remain in their slavery because they’re “afraid of being imprisoned or deported, fearful of putting family in danger, and mistrustful of authorities” – police officers who can free them. “They could be physically isolated or guarded by traffickers.”

While anybody can be the victim of human trafficking, Sister Marilyn noted, they tend to be vulnerable people who are dealing with poverty, homelessness, disabilities, abuse in their family, foster care, or neglect. Many vulnerable people are groomed – treated kindly by a stranger or acquaintance and lured into slavery, she said.

Our Role: Identifying Victims and Preventing Human Trafficking

Both presenters noted the hidden nature of human trafficking and pointed to signs that a person could be trafficked. “We don’t want to ignore the signs,” Sister Patricia said. These include the inability to leave the worksite, limited contact with family and friends, the tendency to avoid eye contact, and unexplained injuries, she said. Sister Marilyn said that medical professionals might especially notice if another person repeatedly answers questions aimed at the patient – a possible sign that the patient is being trafficked.  

Sisters Marilyn and Patricia also outlined steps that the general public can take to prevent human trafficking:

  • Buy ethically. “Especially if we look for a bargain, we could end up buying things made with slave labor,” Sister Marilyn said, encouraging her audience to watch for and purchase fair trade products such as coffee, tea, and chocolate. The website www.slaveryfootprint.org can help identify items made by human trafficking victims.
  • If you come upon a situation and suspect that human trafficking might be involved, call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 1-888-373-7888. The center is open all day, every day.

“I think we have to focus on prevention,” Sister Marilyn said. She recommended creating a culture that respects each human being and recognizes the value of each human life. As a nation, we can prevent human trafficking “by the way we raise children in the family to care for one another to keep them from bullying or pornography,” Sister Marilyn said. “It would help in the future to let people know as adults that they can’t control others.”

Feature photo (top): Sister Marilyn Winter, OP, speaks on the Catholic Church’s teaching on human trafficking.


Sisters attending the talk pray for an end to human trafficking. In the front row are, from left, Sisters Joan Baustian, OP, Angela Susalla, OP, and Marie Luisa Vasquez, OP.



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