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May 16, 2019, Montgomery, Alabama – Eight representatives of the Adrian Dominican Congregation, along with a contingent from First Presbyterian Church in Tecumseh, Michigan, took a 15-hour bus ride to Montgomery, Alabama, to immerse themselves in the racist violence of the late 19th century to the civil rights efforts of the mid-20th century.
<< View a presentation about the trip at the bottom of this article. >>
The eight people representing the Adrian Dominican Sisters were Sisters Attracta Kelly, OP, Virginia (Ginny) King, OP, Carleen Maly, OP, Patricia McDonald, OP, Kathleen Nolan, OP, and Suzanne (Sue) Schreiber, OP; Associate Deb Carter; and Co-Worker Robyn Wellman, a nursing assistant. The First Presbyterian Church of Tecumseh had invited members of the Congregation to join them in the bus trip to Selma and Montgomery, Alabama.
“It really was like a religious experience every place we went,” said Sister Kathleen, Director of the Adrian Dominican Sisters Office of Peace, Justice and Integrity of Creation.
The April 26-28, 2019, tour included visits to the Selma Interpretive Center, the welcome center for the National Historic Trail: Selma to Montgomery, following the 54-mile route of the three civil rights marches that took place in 1965; the Edmund Pettus Bridge across the Alabama River in Selma, the site of the March 7 Bloody Sunday in which civil rights demonstrators were attacked by police; and the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, the first church at which Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. served.
The group also visited the Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration and the National Memorial for Justice and Peace, which features about 800 monuments on which are engraved the names of the 4,400 people who were lynched in various counties in the South. Both the Museum and the Memorial were opened in April 2018 by Equal Justice Initiative, founded by attorney Bryan Stevenson, who focuses on “fighting poverty and challenging racial discrimination in the criminal justice system.”
Many of the participants were particularly moved by the display of coffin-sized monuments of the people who were lynched in each county. “The steel monuments for each county hung at eye level at first but progressively became higher and higher off the walking platform,” Sister Suzanne explained. “I felt the power of that design in space as we gradually walked under the steel panels that were lifted up, dramatizing the hangings.”
Sister Kathleen said it was difficult to fathom. “You’re looking at thousands of people who lost their lives, whole families.” She added that the National Museum for Justice and Peace also has duplicates of each memorial so that the counties involved can take their monument home and memorialize the people who were killed there.
Sister Ginny was shocked by the lynching of entire families. “I had no idea they grouped families and children,” she said. She was also saddened by the reasons given for the lynchings: as harmless as walking too closely behind a white woman.
Deb was surprised by photos she saw in the Legacy Museum of white people celebrating at lynchings, and the famous photo of Hazel Bryan Massey, then about 15 years old, screaming in anger as Elizabeth Eckford, a black student, walked into the Little Rock School after the Court had ordered it to be integrated.
Sister Attracta was also moved by the Legacy Museum and its history of racism in the United States – and the continuation of racism even today. “There’s a whole section on discrimination against people of color,” she said. But people of color “are still stopped and pulled over while driving with no reason other than their color. Young men are convicted of crimes and put in jail – and it goes on and on.”
The Civil Rights efforts, especially the Selma to Montgomery Marches and the Edmund Pettus Bridge were also highlights for many participants. “Walking across the bridge brought back the experience of Bloody Sunday – just being in that environment,” Sister Ginny recalled.
Sister Carleen was moved by an encounter at a park across the bridge with Charles, an African American veteran of the Korean War who had been on the front line during one of the marches and been struck on the head by police. “Charles showed a huge scar on his head,” she recalled. “He was surprised at how much hatred there was.” Sister Carleen also recalled Charles’ sense of urgency about speaking to younger people, making sure that they are aware of the bigotry in our nation’s history.
Overall, the participants were overwhelmed by the intense experience, and all the more determined to work for a world in which hatred no longer exists.
Sister Kathleen, who participated in the trip to Alabama after working with people seeking asylum in El Paso, Texas, drew connections between the bigotry and racial discrimination experienced in the South and continued instances of injustice and hatred.
“I couldn’t get [the experience in El Paso] out of my head,” she said. “A group of people is being terrorized and victimized because of the color of their skin, because of where they’re from, because they’re different. ... You’re confronted with the sin of racism.”
Sister Sue was inspired by the clear language used at the National Memorial for Peace and Justice. “The words give us ways to think and talk about the horrors of that time, the late 19th and early 20th centuries.” For example, the National Memorial spoke of the discrimination as “reinforcement of racial dominance over political and economic resources.”
This clear language “helps us feel the stories of terror, name the injustices, and work toward awareness,” Sister Sue said. “I want to be part of that process, and visiting the Memorial helps me to internalize our history and see how it has affected our current social climate.”
Feature photo (top): Sister Patricia McDonald, OP, explores an exhibit at the interpretive center of the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Photo by Sister Suzanne Schreiber, OP
Representatives of the Adrian Dominican Sisters and their hosts, members of the First Presbyterian Church of Tecumseh, pose in the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, the first church at which Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. served.
March 24, 2019, Adrian, Michigan – The Adrian Dominican Sisters Motherhouse Campus celebrated National Catholic Sisters Week (NCSW) by reaching out March 14 to local Partners in Mission – Motherhouse Co-workers, Siena Heights University Torchbearers (faculty and staff members who are specially trained in the Mission of the Adrian Dominican Sisters), and tutors of Adrian Rea Literacy Center.
Begun in 2014, NCSW is recognized March 8-14 to shine a spotlight on the commitment and ministries of U.S. Catholic Sisters. Adrian Dominican Sister Mary Soher, OP, was instrumental in this initiative.
In recent years, the Adrian Dominican Sisters marked the week with special outreach programs to the Adrian area community. “This year we decided to bring [the NCSW celebration] closer to home with all of us on Siena Heights Drive,” said Sister Rosemary Abramovich, OP, Co-chair of the Campus NCSW Committee.
The Committee invited Torchbearers, tutors, and Sisters to the March 14 Mission Retreat, a program presented four times throughout the year to help the Congregation’s new Co-workers become more steeped in the Mission of the Adrian Dominican Sisters. “The Mission Retreat is all about what our partnership means,” explained Erin Dress, Director of Human Resources.
Sister Esther Kennedy, OP, traced the Congregation’s history from St. Dominic’s original mission in 13th century Spain to combat the heresy that creation is evil and only the spirit is good. He founded the first convent of Dominican cloistered nuns in 1206 in southern France, which, in turn, ultimately founded 11 other convents for women. The Adrian Dominican Sisters trace their history to one of those convents: Holy Cross in Regensburg, Bavaria, Germany, which sent four Sisters to the Americas.
“The seeds of St. Dominic scattered across the ocean, landed in New York, and soon spread to Michigan,” Sister Esther said. The foundation of Sisters who originally came to Adrian to serve at St. Mary and St. Joseph Parishes eventually grew. In 1885, the community became a province of the original New York foundation, and in 1923 became a separate Congregation of Dominican Sisters.
“You are bringing forth the seed in this time,” Sister Esther told the participants. “It is a new moment in time for collaboration with people and for working with others in really profound ways.”
Sisters Peg O’Flynn, OP, and Carleen Maly, OP, shared their own call to the Mission as Adrian Dominican Sisters. Sister Peg said that many of her family members served in religious life and that she was pleased to enter the Adrian Dominican Congregation. She currently serves as the Congregation Fleet Coordinator in the Finance Office and as interviewer for a series of videos, Our Dominican Lives: A Sister’s Story. Sister Carleen, Director of the Adrian Rea Literacy Center, recalls hearing a message from God, “Be for more people,” and entering the Congregation in response.
Jennifer Hunter, Executive Director of Campus Services and the daughter of a Lutheran Minister, also shared her story. While working at ProMedica Health Systems, Jennifer received a call from a friend, informing her of an opening for Executive Director of Campus Services for the Adrian Dominican Sisters. She began in that ministry in October 2012. “I feel like this is my call,” Jennifer said. “God knows what he’s doing and leads you to serve those who need you. I’m a Partner in Mission, learning from the Sisters, serving alongside them.”
Several participants in the NCSW program recognized their own call to the Mission.
Tina Adams sees her role as tutor at Adrian Rea Literacy Center as “giving back. I see tutoring as part of the mission, making the adult learners more comfortable and familiar with our language.” She said she appreciates the many opportunities that the Sisters give to the adult learners and others in need.
Tim Tracy, who works in the Technology Department for the Congregation, said, he sees the Mission in action as he assists Sisters, listens and shares his own knowledge of technology.
Melissa Tsuji, Career Services Specialist at Siena Heights University, graduated from there in 1990. “One of the reasons I was excited to be a Torchbearer is that many of my role models as a student were Adrian Dominicans,” she said. “Every day I get to walk with our students and help them figure out their story. … The work that I do with our students helps them to understand their multifaceted role in the fabric of the Siena community but also the greater community and the world as a whole.”
Read more about how you can become a Partner in Mission as an Adrian Dominican Sister, Associate, or Co-worker.
Feature photo (top) Sister Patricia Harvat, OP, General Councilor, welcomes the Adrian Dominican Sisters’ Partners in Mission to a special program for National Catholic Sisters Week.