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January 18, 2023, El Paso, Texas – From late November to mid-December – during the time that many people consider to be the “holiday season” – three Adrian Dominican Sisters were among other Catholic Sisters and lay volunteers who served in ministry to asylum seekers crossing into the U.S. at the Texas-Mexico border.
The Adrian Dominican Sisters’ Catherine of Siena Mission Chapter, encompassing Sisters and Associates predominantly outside of Adrian, Michigan, invited Sisters to serve for at least a week at the border. Three Sisters served at St. Ignatius Parish in El Paso, Texas, which had set up its parish hall and school – now closed – as a clearing house for immigrants seeking asylum in the United States. The immigrants are bused to the center by Border Patrol personnel.
Sister Mary Soher, OP, explained that St. Ignatius began receiving refugees about eight months ago, originally only on Mondays – until the number of refugees coming to El Paso increased in June and July. “They went from once a week to three times a week,” she said. The parish’s philosophy is to turn no one away.
Typically, the parish accepts immigrants coming from detention on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays; offers them clothing, food, and whatever else they might need; helps them to make travel arrangements – usually by plane or bus – to the home of their sponsors; and provides transportation to the airport or bus station.
“The object of St. Ignatius and the immigrants they [welcome] is to turn them over as quickly as possible and get them to their destination” where they can stay until their court date for seeking asylum, explained Sister Janet Stankowski, OP. While the court date is originally set in El Paso, where they were received, most asylum seekers can arrange to go to a court that’s near where they will be staying.
Sister Janet served at St. Ignatius during Thanksgiving week – a unique experience because of the holiday. “We had a huge load of people – 180 on Monday and 150 on Tuesday – and by Wednesday of Thanksgiving week, maybe there were 25 to 30 who weren’t able to move on,” she said. Many stayed for two or three days waiting for transportation.
Sister Janet recalled giving the remaining immigrants a special experience of U.S. Thanksgiving: Mass in Spanish and then a walk to nearby Sacred Heart Church in downtown El Paso, which offered Thanksgiving meals to about 750 people who are homeless and immigrants. She spent Friday working with an immigrant family to wash 10 loads of sheets and towels and transporting people to the airport or bus stations.
Sister Nancy Jurecki, OP, served at St. Ignatius December 4-10, 2022, finding it to be a “really positive experience.” She was particularly surprised by the many places that the immigrants came from: Central America, South America, Turkey, and Russia.
“The center itself is like a day center and a couple of buses come in, and it’s a matter of feeding the people and connecting them to wherever it is that they’re going,” Sister Nancy explained. “The dignity that they give people is heart-warming. It’s a welcome center in the truest sense of the word.”
She spent the mornings of the immigrants’ arrival in food preparation, offering them a hot meal, and afternoons transporting them to the airport or bus station. On days when the immigrants don’t arrive, she said, volunteers sorted donations of clothing.
Sister Nancy noted the fast pace of volunteer work at St. Ignatius. “You don’t get to know a lot of people on a really personal level because it’s so fast, but there are opportunities.” Volunteers who know Spanish have multiple opportunities to get to know the people, however. “They can listen to the stories and understand them.”
Sister Mary, who served December 11-20, 2022, was especially surprised at the state of the immigrants who arrived at St. Ignatius. They would get off the bus wearing shoes with no shoelaces, sweatpants, and T-shirts. “That was every person, regardless of their age,” she explained. “You knew automatically that they were refugees if that’s all the clothing they had.”
St. Ignatius offered them clothing – including heavier shirts and jackets to people going to colder states and sweaters for those staying in warmer climates, Sister Mary explained. Immigrants who had money were encouraged to go to one of the hotels working with St. Ignatius, where they could take a shower.
Sister Mary noted a particular challenge for immigrants seeking transportation during the Christmas season: the cost. “The price of tickets kept going up, up, up,” she said. “Somebody wanted a plane to New Jersey. One ticket was $500.” She added that planes and buses were both full during the Christmas season. But, she added, the immigrants “made it this far and the amazing thing was people’s ability to get where they were going.”
All three Sisters were impressed and inspired by the parishioners of St. Ignatius and the other volunteers – and moved by the plight of the immigrants and their strength, courage, and resiliency.
“What I learned is that people came with nothing,” Sister Janet said. “They got off those buses with a little Ziploc bag with their passport, money, and paperwork – that’s it.” Still, she said, they did bring their families and their faith, as well as a “determination that they could survive and maybe even thrive.”
Sister Mary saw predominantly young immigrants – often young families with small children. She was amazed at the ability of the parents to come to the United States with their young children and navigate the system. “I didn’t ask a lot of questions,” she said. “You just want to make them feel welcome and safe for whatever they want to go to next.”
Sister Janet added: “I admired tremendously the priest at St. Ignatius, who lived the Gospel, lived the words of Pope Francis. He exemplified what Pope Francis said about welcoming the immigrants. He was welcoming the stranger and trying to integrate them into new life. He set the pace, but the volunteers who worked tirelessly, they put me to shame.”
St. Ignatius is located in the poorest diocese of the whole state of Texas, Sister Nancy said, adding that parishioners have taken on the projects themselves. “It costs about $5,000 a month to feed the people.” But, she added, the program is also supported by Bishop Mark J. Seitz. “He said we need to open people’s eyes to the fact that this is not a criminal activity,” she said. “This is very legal and it’s the kind thing to do – it’s really Gospel driven.”
Sister Nancy encouraged others who have the opportunity to get involved in this ministry. But, she added, “there’s no way to prepare for it. It’s just a matter of an open mind and an open heart. It’s clearly a broadening experience. You’re not the same [afterwards].”
Feature photo: Immigrants leave a Border Patrol bus and line up for services at St. Ignatius Church in El Paso, Texas.
January 3, 2023, Adrian, Michigan – The year 2022 found the Adrian Dominican Sisters – like so many organizations in the United States – slowly easing pandemic-related restrictions. But it also brought tremendous change as the Sisters approved five Enactments and elected a new General Council to lead the Congregation for the next six years. The year also brought continued challenges as Sisters, Associates, Co-workers, and other Partners in Mission strove to live out the Vision: Seek truth, make peace, reverence life. Below are the top 10 highlights of 2022, selected by Co-workers in the Office of Communications.
Delegates from the Adrian Dominican Sisters meet every six years to approve Enactments – the direction that the Congregation will take in the next six years – and elect a Prioress and General Council to lead the Sisters and Associates in living out those Enactments. Elected to the General Council were Sisters Elise D. García, OP, Prioress; Lorraine Réaume, OP, Vicaress; and Janice Brown, OP, Bibiana “Bless” Colasito, OP, and Corinne Sanders, OP, General Councilors.
The 2022 General Chapter affirmed an Enactment that continues a 2016 Enactment on diversity. This area was addressed in many ways in 2022. Kevin Hofmann was named the first Director of the Congregation’s Office of Racial Equity and Cultural Inclusion. His outreach included telling his personal story during a Lunch and Learn program at Weber Retreat and Conference Center and writing a weekly blog exploring equity and inclusion. In reparation for the Congregation’s role in racism and white supremacy, the Adrian Dominican Sisters established the Sister Jamie Phelps Endowed Scholarship at the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University, New Orleans, an endowment in support of the Department of African American and African Studies at Michigan State University; and a scholarship at Siena Heights University for students of color. Barry University in Miami, a sponsored institution of the Congregation, received $1 million in endowment for the Pathways for Tomorrow Initiative to prepare Hispanic pastors to lead congregations. INAI, an art gallery adjacent to Weber Center, hosted the Unraveling Racism art exhibit and an artist’s talk to tell of the experiences that the artists had in racism and white supremacy.
The 2022 Enactment on Sustainability calls on the Adrian Dominican Sisters to become a Laudato Si’ Action Platform Congregation, joining with Catholic organizations throughout the world to carry out the vision of Pope Francis in his 2015 encyclical. Brad Frank, of Adrian, Michigan, was hired to fill the role of Director of the Office of Sustainability with the election of the former director, Sister Corinne Sanders, OP, to the General Council. Along with an installation of a solar array, Motherhouse campus improvements in sustainability include a new permaculture sink to streamline the process of preparing produce for the Dominican Life Center kitchen and the purchase of an electric mower, the first electric vehicle purchased for the Motherhouse. But the Congregation was involved in sustainability efforts throughout the world. Sister Durstyne Farnan, OP, Dominican Representative to the United Nations, traveled to Egypt for COP27, a United Nations conference in which national leaders were to make significant commitments to address global climate change. She also participated in a Dominican Sisters Conference-UN webinar on climate change efforts throughout the world. Father James Hug, SJ, priest chaplain at the Motherhouse, continued to write Catholic liturgical materials for the annual Season of Creation, held globally September 1 through October 4.
The Dominican family – in the United States and throughout the world – continued to grow and to become closer to one another in the past year. Sister Elisabeth Nguyen, OP – a Dominican Sister from Vietnam and an Adrian Dominican Associate for many years – transferred to the Adrian Dominican Congregation as a vowed member, while Sisters Leizel Tedria, OP, Meliza Arquillano, OP, and Marifi Lugtu, OP of the Our Lady of Remedies Mission Chapter in the Philippines renewed their vows. Adrian Dominican Sisters took on leadership roles in the U.S. Dominican family, with Sister Katherine Frazier, OP, named Director of Dominican Youth Movement, and Sister Xiomara Méndez-Hernández, OP, named Executive Director of the Dominican Sisters Conference (DSC). Associates – women and men who make a non-vowed commitment to Congregations of Dominican Sisters – and other Partners in Mission also played key roles in the Dominican family. Adrian Dominican Associate Nancy Mason Bordley was named the first Director of the Office of the Dominican Charism, helping Associates and other partners in mission to live out the Dominican Charism. During the year, the Congregation celebrated the formal Ritual of Acceptance of four new Associates online in August and three new Associates in Henderson, Nevada, in November. This was the final Ritual of Acceptance presided over by Associate Mary Lach, who retired after 13 years as Director of Associate Life.
Adrian Dominican Sisters and Associates lived out their commitment to justice and peace advocacy in a variety of ways in 2022. Sisters Marilyn Winter, OP, and Patricia McDonald, OP, members of the Lenawee County Anti-Human Trafficking Coalition, were among four panelists in a human trafficking panel discussion on the continuing prevalence of human trafficking. Sister Durstyne Farnan, OP, Dominican representative to the United Nations, spoke out on her disappointment at the lack of progress in UN Nuclear Disarmament meetings. Sister Donna Markham, OP, President and CEO of Catholic Charities USA, was among many faith leaders to participate in the White House United We Stand Summit, calling on people in the United States to foster unity and to take a stand against hate-motivated violence. Sister Marilín Llanes, OP, a former member of the Congregation’s Portfolio Advisory Board (PAB), took on the role of Portfolio Manager. She oversees the PAB’s community investments, low-interest loans to organizations that promote social, economic, and environmental justice in local communities.
As the United States reeled under numerous mass shootings and many called for stricter gun laws, Adrian Dominican Sister Judy Byron, OP, Director of the Northwest Coalition for Responsible Investment, took a different approach to stemming gun violence. She was involved in a campaign by faith-based investors to call on gun manufacturer Sturm Ruger to undertake a Human rights risk assessment to determine how their products contribute to gun violence. Sister Judy further discussed this approach during the After Buffalo, After Uvalde Webinar, focusing on recent incidents of gun violence. In the meantime, the General Council of the Adrian Dominican Sisters spoke out several times against the easy access to guns that makes gun violence a more common occurrence. (See more in item 8 below.)
2022 was a year of milestone celebrations for both individuals and organizations. During the year both Sister Mary Arnold Benedetto, OP, and Sister Mary Catharina Bereiter, OP, celebrated their 100th birthday. Sister Carol Coston, OP, founding director, attended the 50th anniversary of NETWORK, a Catholic social justice lobby. Closer to home, 25 Sisters marked their Diamond, Golden, and Silver Jubilees with Mass and dinner at the Motherhouse in June. Sisters marking their 80, 75, and 70 years in religious life were honored at local celebrations. Co-workers at Motherhouse marked a collective 445 years of service with Adrian Dominican Sisters.
The Leadership of the Adrian Dominican Sisters – often in conjunction with other Congregations of Catholic Sisters – voiced their concern in a number of issues and events in 2022. The Leadership Council – comprised of the General Council and the elected Chapter and Mission Prioresses in the Congregation – released a statement calling for the immediate passage of voting rights legislation. The General Council released a number of statements: in defense of the Gospel work of Catholic Charities USA; a call on Ash Wednesday for prayer and fasting for Ukraine; on the mass shooting in Buffalo, as well as support of the Black Sisters Conference and LCWR statements on the Buffalo shooting; and in response to the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas. The 2022-2028 General Council joined leaders of Catholic Sisters in Michigan in issuing a statement on the divisiveness of elections. The General Council also issued statements in response to the mass shooting in Colorado Springs and in observance of the UN International Day for Elimination of Violence Against Women.
Sponsored institutions of the Adrian Dominican Sisters were involved in a number of ways in furthering the Mission of the Congregation. Rosarian Academy of West Palm Beach, Florida, offered its inaugural Adrian Dominican Sisters Scholarship Awards to students on the basis of merit and need, as well as a focus on diversity. Regina Dominican High School, an all-girls school in Wilmette, Illinois, opened its Building Her Tomorrow campaign to redesign the campus for the benefit of the students. St. Luke’s N.E.W. Life Center in Flint, Michigan, hosted a summer camp to help elementary school students improve their academics and to enjoy some recreation. Barry University, in Miami, Florida, received $1.25 million to establish Sister O’Laughlin Scholarship, to be given as financial support for students who embody Sister Jeanne’s legacy of academic success and service to the community. Sister Peg Albert, OP, announced her retirement as President of Siena Heights University in Adrian at the end of the 2022-2023 academic year. In addition, Siena Heights named its Science Hall after Sister Sharon R. Weber, OP, PhD, upon her retirement after more than 40 years of service as chemistry professor and Vice President of Academic Affairs. Both universities granted honorary degrees to recognize the dedication of its recipients: Siena Heights University to Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky and the Adrian Dominican Sisters’ 2016-2022 General Council, and Barry University to outgoing Prioress Patricia Siemen, OP.
Outreach, service, and advocacy for immigrants has long been a value of the Adrian Dominican Sisters. This year, Sister Donna Markham, OP, PhD, President and CEO of Catholic Charities USA, made plans with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) to resettle Ukrainian refugees. Sister Lucy Vazquez, OP, a native of Cuba, wrote an opinion piece for Florida Today on refugee transfers by Texas, noting that this practice treats immigrants as political pawns. Members of the newly merged Catherine of Siena Mission Chapter – made up of the regions in the United States outside of Adrian – expanded on the previous Dominican Midwest Chapter Initiative on Immigration outreach. The new initiative includes not only Chicago-based programs, such as Court Watch in which volunteers attend immigration court to ensure justice for the immigrants and the weekly rosary at a detention center in the Chicago area, but also outreach to immigrants in Tacoma, Washington, and Tucson, Arizona.