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February 2, 2021, Detroit – The week of January 18, 2021, was a turning point not only for the United States as its new President and Vice President, Joseph Biden and Kamala Harris, were inaugurated. It was also a turning point for Sister Racquel Rones, OP, who became a new U.S. citizen the next day, January 21, at the Detroit District Office of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Sister Racquel took her oath of citizenship with about 25 other people who came from a variety of countries. Because of COVID-19 protocols, she said, the new citizens were encouraged to leave after they received the certificate and could not participate in the tradition of shaking the judge’s hand. Still, she said, she celebrated with her local community from Adrian who had accompanied her to Detroit: Sisters Jo Gaugier, OP, Tarianne DeYonker, OP, and Attracta Kelly, OP.
“I am so happy,” said Sister Racquel, a native of the Philippines and a member of the Adrian Dominican Sisters’ Our Lady of Remedies Mission Chapter, based in Pampanga, the Philippines. She was inspired by the welcoming words of the judge who presided over her Naturalization ceremony. “He told us, ‘Don’t forget January 21, 2021 – you’re celebrating your second birthday,” she recalled. “He encouraged us, when we’re able to travel, to discover the United States, our new country, with many mountains and beaches.”
Sister Racquel entered the Dominican Congregation of Our Lady of Remedies in 2000 and made her final profession of vows in April 2009. When the Remedies Congregation merged with the Adrian Dominican Sisters in 2011, she said, she was encouraged to consider applying for U.S. citizenship because of her youth and the possibility that one day she might minister in the United States.
Her ministries have included managing the Dominican Religious Store in San Fernando, Pampanga; serving as teacher, librarian, and bookkeeper at Dominican School of Apalit in Apalit, Pampanga; and serving as school treasurer at Holy Rosary College Foundation in Tala, Caloocan, and at Immaculate Conception Academy in Guagua, Pampanga. In addition, she served as pastoral minister at St. Eystein Menighet Parish in BodØ, Norway.
Sister Racquel is no stranger to the United States. Shortly after the two congregations merged, she spent a year with her sister in California.
Before coming to Adrian in January 2020, Sister Racquel received a letter from Sister Attracta, Director of the Adrian Dominican Sisters’ Office of Immigration Assistance, listing the documents she would need to prepare to apply for U.S. citizenship. Her application was filed the second week of March.
“The hardest part [of becoming a citizen] was preparing for the interview and the exam,” Sister Racquel said. “Living with the community, watching the news, and being immersed in the culture really helped me, but what was really the hardest part was studying for the civics questions.”
She found support from her local community; from Sister Patricia Siemen, OP, Prioress, and members of the General Council; and from the Sisters at the Motherhouse, who encouraged her and prayed for her. In addition, Sister Corinne Sanders, OP, helped her to study for the exam and Sister Carleen Maly, OP, Director of the Adrian Rea Literacy Center, helped her improve her pronunciation of English.
In the end, Sister Racquel said, she was surprised by the easiness of the questions. “I didn’t find it hard,” she said. “If you’re open and ready, just challenge yourself. I was expecting the worst [of the exam], but my experience was not bad…. Prayers really work. Trust God.”
The new citizen also received informal education about the U.S. culture from her life with her local community in Adrian and from watching the news. She was particularly struck by the continuing efforts of African Americans – with the help of other Americans – to achieve racial equality through the Black Lives Matter movement. “It’s really enriching my history,” she said. “I’m so touched by their experience and how resilient they are, to be still fighting for their rights in this country.”
Sister Racquel also felt the shock of the Sisters in her community over the insurrection that took place at the Capitol on January 6 – and the excitement at watching the Inauguration. “We watched all day,” she said.
Once she receives her U.S. passport and visits her sister in California, Sister Racquel anticipates resuming ministry in the Philippines or Norway. But, she said, part of her will remain in her new country.
“I’m ready to embrace the future as an Adrian Dominican Sister,” Sister Racquel said. “I am so happy to know our Sisters, to share stories and life with them. … I will look back when I’m in my ministry, wherever that is. Now I have confidence.”
Feature photo: Sister Racquel Rones, OP, proudly displays her citizenship certificate and the U.S. flag on the day she became a naturalized U.S. citizen.
January 5, 2020, Sylvania, Ohio – Sister Corinne Sanders, OP, Director of Sustainability for the Adrian Dominican Sisters, was named Eco-Educator of 2020 by Science Alliance for Valuing the Environment (SAVE), an environmental organization based at Lourdes University in Sylvania, Ohio. Lourdes University is sponsored by the Sylvania Franciscan Sisters.
Eco-Educator is one of five awards presented by SAVE to honor those who are involved in enhancing environmental sustainability.
“It’s nice to be honored, to be recognized for this work,” Sister Corinne said. “One of our hopes for the permaculture site [at the Adrian Dominican Motherhouse] is that it’ll grow as an education site. It was nice to have that recognized and brought to attention.”
Permaculture is a system of land use that takes into account environmental sustainability, working with – and learning from – natural systems. Maintained by Sister Corinne and Jared Aslakson, Permaculture Specialist, the permaculture site has already been used as a venue for educating others about the environment.
Beginning in 2017, students from Siena Heights University in Adrian and Barry University in Miami Shores, Florida – both sponsored by the Adrian Dominican Sisters – spent 10 days to two weeks each spring participating in the Environmental Leadership Experience (ELE). They learned about permaculture and other environmentally sustainable practices and gained first-hand experience from working at the permaculture site. The 2020 ELE program was canceled because of the pandemic.
“It’s one of the most exciting times we have each year,” Sister Corinne said. The students “have to apply to be accepted, so they’re very motivated, and they go back to their college campuses to implement various environmental practices. It’s a wonderful adventure. It’s part of our hope for the permaculture garden being an educational site.”
In a typical Fall semester, Jared teaches a class of Siena Heights students for one hour per week, giving them opportunities to work in the permaculture site and learn from the experience. “I’m under no illusion that they’ll want to become small-scale farmers,” he said. Typically, they graduate and enter other fields. “But they have some kind of literacy about what our farming system is like,” he added. “Having a society with more literacy [in agricultural practices] seems worthwhile to me.”
In the spring of 2019, sixth-grade students from an elementary school in Lenawee County, Michigan, came to the Motherhouse to participate in the River Raisin Water Festival. Hosted by the Adrian Dominican Sisters and organized in collaboration with the River Raisin Institute, the River Raisin Watershed Council, and Lenawee Intermediate School District, the event focused on topics such as habitat restoration, marsh bird management, macroinvertebrates such as dragonflies and mayflies, and rain gardens.
Canceled in 2020 because of the pandemic, the River Raisin Water Festival is in the planning stages to be held virtually in May 2021. “The presenters have agreed to work virtually with the students,” Sister Corinne said. “Our hope is to distribute the recordings to other schools.”
Along with these formal educational opportunities, Sister Corinne said she and Jared are also open to offering tours for groups and to community education programs.
Sister Corinne said she became passionate about environmental sustainability through a process of awakening. “Our lifestyles have not been healthy for the planet, and I think once you realize that, everyone gets passionate about trying to reshape lifestyles and habits and getting into a right relationship with Earth,” she said. “I think it’s an awakening.”
Both Sister Corinne and Jared have hope for the future – for a time when human beings will be more respectful to Earth and develop more sustainable lifestyles. “Humans have the capacity to be successful when they put their hearts and minds into it,” Sister Corinne said. Healing the planet “is going to require a continued and strong commitment to lifestyle changes, but if you can get people to do that, I think we can make an impact.”
“We’ve got some rough sledding, for sure, but I don’t think that’s the same thing as saying it’s the end of the world,” Jared said. “In these periods of history where everything changes at once and all the certainties go up in the air, it’s a time to try new things, new ways for humans to live.” He gave the example of people who, after spending almost a year working from home, “might realize they don’t have to commute an hour to the office or want to spend more time with their kids.”
Sister Corinne hopes the permaculture site can be a place where people can come to learn more about the environment and about sustainable practices. “We’ve had a lot of different groups each year that have come for touring,” she said. “We’re open to community education programs. They have yet to be developed, but are part of the vision for the site.”
For information or to arrange for a tour, contact Sister Corinne at 517-266-3420.
Feature photo: Sister Carol Coston, OP, left, who was instrumental in the founding of the permaculture site at the Adrian Dominican Sisters Motherhouse campus, poses with Sister Corinne Sanders, OP, Director of the Office of Sustainability.