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April 4, 2018, Washington, D.C. – As youth from throughout the United States marched on March 24 to protest gun violence and the mass shootings of several of their peers throughout the years, Adrian Dominican Sisters and Associates stood with them in support and solidarity. Sisters attended the national march in Washington, D.C., as well as “sibling marches” throughout the country.
Adrian Dominican Sisters Kathleen Nolan, OP, and Maurine Barzantni, OP, were among an estimated 800,000 people who crowded into the streets of Washington, D.C., to protest the epidemic of gun violence and mass shootings. The event was organized by students from Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, who lost 17 classmates in the latest school shooting.
“It was a different experience because of the density of the people,” Sister Maurine recalled. “We were so packed that we could not even move.” Instead, the two Sisters watched the program on a nearby large screen. Still, Sister Maureen added, “it was wonderful to think of 800,000 people supporting a cause that had not [previously] been popular to support.”
Sister Kathleen, Director of the Congregation’s Office of Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation, noted that the event was clearly the work of the students, who all spoke articulately about their hopes to end gun violence. “It was also clear that the adults were there to support the students,” she said. “The adults knew their role.”
Both Sisters noted the failure of U.S. adults to persuade Congress to pass a bill that would include a sensible solution to the rampant gun violence in the nation – and most notably the mass school shootings that have taken place over the past 20 years. “We should have stopped this at Columbine [High School],” Sister Maurine said. “And then they killed children” at Sandy Hook School and other schools.
Still, both Sisters Kathleen and Maurine were happy at the groundswell of support for reasonable gun control measures – and by the diversity of people calling to an end to gun violence. “It wasn’t about being a Democrat or Republican or about religion,” Sister Kathleen said. “It was about saving lives. Everybody who was there that I saw was there to support the kids and promote gun safety to save lives, so that this would never happen again.”
In Washington, D.C., and around the country, students leading the marches also focused on making an end to violence in the schools into a political issue in the 2018 and 2020 elections.
In Adrian, Michigan, as in other places, voter registration was a key effort of the students. Speaking to a crowd of about 300 people – including numerous Adrian Dominican Sisters – leaders from Adrian High School and Tecumseh High School noted their own eligibility to vote in 2020. They promised to hold candidates to their responsibilities to vote for reasonable measures to end the violence at schools and in the city streets.
The student leaders in Adrian spoke articulately of the pain and fear of growing up as part of the generation of school violence and promised that the issue would remain way past the day of the marches. At the invitation of the students, teachers spoke eloquently of their refusal to be armed as part of the solution – and of their role to teach children, not to add to the violence.
While Sisters attended the march and rally at Adrian’s Old Courthouse, participants attending an Adrian Dominican Sponsored Institution Conference in Adrian took time from an already-packed schedule to pray in solidarity with the students and for an end to the violence.
Attending the March in Detroit, Sister Suzanne Schreiber, OP, said she was impressed by “the number of young people at the March, their passion for dealing with the gun violence issues and their emphasis on voting.” She was also inspired by a young woman who spoke of her own mental and emotional illness “in relation to what is often a misdirected focus on mental illness in the conversation [on gun violence].”
Although thousands attended the event in Detroit, Sister Suzanne said it was a very peaceful experience. She noted that members of the Meta Peace Team were on hand to offer mediation in case of conflict, but “all was peaceful.”
Sisters Patricia Leonard, OP, Judith Rimbey, OP, and Donna Baker, OP, faced some opposition when they participated in the march in Palm Beach, Florida. “We marched down Southern Boulevard, [President] Trump’s access to his home on Mar-a-Lago, with thousands of people, all age groups,” she reported. “It was truly impressive.” They noted that the march participants were heckled by only a couple of supporters of President Trump, but the crowds responded peacefully, waving their signs.
In San Francisco, Sister Judith Benkert, OP, and San Rafael Dominican Sisters Mary Kiefer and Patti Bruno joined a crowd of thousands, taking public transportation to the march site on Market Street. Amid signs with messages such as “Guns do kill people” and “This is a not a moment! This is a movement,” they gathered to hear the speakers. “Senator Diane Feinstein was the oldest,” Sister Judith noted. “The youngest were sixth-graders to 20-somethings. All were short and to the point: schools should be safe. Signs asked for laws that required background checks for everyone – with no loop holes.”
Noting the population of 2,800 people in Watkinsville, Georgia, Sister Mary Priniski, OP, noted that an impressive number – 300 to 400 people – attended the March for our Lives at Veterans Park in that small town. People in the area were eager to raise their voices for common-sense gun control, Sister Mary said, speaking of a woman from rural Georgia who traveled 40 miles to attend the event.
Sister Mary recalled children carrying signs, asking that they not be the next victims of a school shooting. “The final two speakers were a sophomore and a senior at Oconee County High School, asking us to vote since they could not do so,” Sister Mary said. “However, we were reminded that in 2020 they could vote and in 2024 they could run for office. It was a day filled with hope and promise.”
Sister Maureen O’Connell, OP, saw moments of sadness, but more moments of promise and excitement during the march that drew an estimated 15,000 people to the march in Houston, Texas. Among the attendees were students from St. Agnes Academy and St. Pius High School, both sponsored by the Houston Dominican Sisters.
Sister Maureen was saddened by a 10-year-old boy who tried to figure out how he would respond to a shooter in his school – and concluded that he would stand near the door to protect his classmates.
On the whole, however, Sister Maureen was impressed by the students, who clearly led the event. “There was something about this that was so touching because it was all young people who were clear about what they wanted.” Although Mayor Sylvester Turner spoke and has promised to appoint a committee to study gun violence, the march was run by high school and college students.
The students’ emphasis on voter registration and on taking the gun violence issue to political leaders was hopeful for Sister Maureen. “We’re in the state we’re in because of apathy, because we don’t vote,” she said. “The young people have said, ‘We do have a voice. Let’s use it.’”
Feature photo (top): From left, Adrian Dominican Sister Maureen O’Connell, OP, with Laura Henderson, a member of the Dominican Family in Houston, and Houston Dominican Sister Carol Mayes, OP, participate in the march in Houston, Texas.
Left: Participating in the Chicago march are, back row, from left, Sisters Joan Mary, OP, and Marilín Llanes, OP, and front row, from left, Sisters Jean Keeley, OP, and Xiomara Méndez-Hernández, OP. Right: Sisters Mary Trzasko, OP, left, and Beverly Stark, OP, at the march in Charleston, South Carolina.