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October 18, 2021, Detroit – Sister Rosalie Esquerra, OP, was recently recognized for 48 years of dedication and commitment and for the lives she influenced for the good through her ministry at Life Directions. The Detroit-based organization – which Sister Rosalie co-founded – encourages young people in high school and beyond to work with and inspire their peers, helping them to recognize their own gifts and lead productive and happy lives.
Sister Rosalie was honored during Life Directions’ Spirit of Hope Tribute Gala.
“It’s been a wondrous journey,” she said of her ministry at Life Directions. She was one of the founders of the organization with Father John Phelps, CSsR, President and CEO; Father Alexander Steinmiller, CP; and Alexander and Judith MacDonald.
“Father John had initiated a conversation about the poor in Southeast Detroit,” Sister Rosalie recalled. “The five of us were caught up by that vision, so we initiated various programs,” including working in public schools. At the time, Sister Rosalie said, she was already involved in public schools, walking with the students through their various challenges, including local gangs.
Very early on, the co-founders began what has been their focus for much of their history: “peers inspiring peers.” Sister Rosalie, Father John, and Father Alex each began working with one high school in Detroit. “We initiated conversation groups with at least 15 students” in each school, Sister Rosalie said. “We asked teachers to send us students who are positive and have goals and students who are ambling along. The idea was peers inspiring peers.” During the first session, participants were invited to express their concerns, and the three leaders from Life Directions created modules based on those concerns.
“The impact on the schools was incredible,” Sister Rosalie recalled. Among the students who had been less purposeful, “grades went up, attendance improved, and the spirit in the school was positive.”
But, Sister Rosalie said, the focus of Life Directions was on young people in Detroit who were past the age of high school. Young adults were invited to a retreat, “Focus Life,” which helped them to see that each is a gift.
The focus during the retreat was still on “peers inspiring peers,” with groups formed of seven to nine achieving and non-achieving young adults. “They’d work in small groups and encourage and support each other,” Sister Rosalie said. “Their role was to share their journey, the journey dealing with hurts and heals, the joys and the special things that happened in their lives.”
After the retreat, Sister Rosalie said, the participants were invited to stay connected as a circle in their neighborhood. Married couples would continue to listen to, guide, encourage, and support them, she added.
In both programs, the staff of Life Directions focused on low-income neighborhoods in which gangs and gang violence were prevalent, Sister Rosalie said. “Years later, the neighborhoods are still doing well,” she said. “The impact in the neighborhood is still evident.”
The success of the program in Detroit led Life Directions to begin programs in Chicago; New Orleans; San Antonio, Texas; Tucson, Arizona; and Salem, Oregon. Since then, with the success of the program established in these areas, Life Directions turned its own focus solely on Detroit and Chicago, she said.
“One of the core values we hold is that you are a gift and I walk with you to help you see your gift, grow in your gift,” Sister Rosalie said, adding that seeing the gifts in others is also important. “All of us are gifts, and many times the focus that is given is on the downside of people’s lives rather than on their gift side, their caring side,” she said. “Sometimes that caring side is just a spark. By walking with people, recognizing them, encouraging them, they actual begin to value the gift they are.”
Many of the people Sister Rosalie worked with attended the gala tribute to her. “The people at the celebration were people we worked with in high school 50 years ago and people from retreats,” as well as from parish missions that Life Directions conducted, Sister Rosalie said. “It was really special to be there and see people who had met me at a retreat when they were a young person or had met me at school because of the peer motivation program.”
Many others who were influenced by Sister Rosalie could not attend the celebration because of COVID-19 restrictions. These include a group of Adrian Dominican Sisters, who created a video in tribute to Sister Rosalie. Watch the video by Sister Suzanne Schreiber, OP, and hear more about Sister Rosalie’s impact and influence.
July 15, 2021, Adrian, Michigan – Adrian Dominican Sisters in ministry throughout the United States helped identify people affected by COVID-19 who could benefit from $1,000 grants issued by Catholic Extension.
Gary, the head of a household that included two other elderly adults on fixed incomes, received help in paying the three-month balance on his electric bill. Children participating in the Rosa Parks Children’s Program at the Capuchin Soup Kitchen in Detroit received their own set of garden tools to help them raise and harvest vegetables to take home to their families. They also received school supplies.
Val, a single mom in Chicago who contracted the COVID-19 virus and who struggled with bills even after returning to work, received help paying her electric bill and hospital bill, and received gift cards to pay for groceries and gasoline. Two women served by the St. Kateri Center in Chicago received help in paying their bills: Paula, an iron worker in Chicago and the single mother of four children, worked sporadically and was disqualified from unemployment benefits. Tina, who cares for two grandchildren, was laid off from her work of cleaning the rooms at Palmer House in Chicago.
These individuals and their families were the beneficiaries of special grants: the Sisters on the Front Lines Grants from Catholic Extension and, for the individuals in Chicago, grants from Foundations and Donors Interested in Catholic Activities (FADICA), which focused its Sisters on the Front Lines grants to families in Chicago. Catholic Extension, a member organization of FADICA, gives grants to underserved, “mission” Catholic communities in the United States to help them build up the Catholic presence.
The grants went to Adrian Dominican Sisters who minister to people on the margins and who knew individuals and families who had special financial needs as a direct result of the pandemic.
Sister Jane Zimmerman, a spiritual director at Marillac St. Vincent Family Services in Chicago, said it was a privilege to work with Val to receive the grant. “Val was overjoyed and so grateful to have received this unexpected assistance,” Sister Jane said. “As for me, the experience gave me the opportunity to reflect on our Adrian Dominican commitment to ‘walk in solidarity with people who are poor.’”
Sister JoAnn Fleischaker, OP, who worked with both Tina and Paula at the Kateri Center, said she was also grateful for the assistance from FADICA. She has been involved in the Kateri Center, a center for Native Americans in Chicago, since 2015, after ministering for 21 years in Oklahoma as part of a Dominican collaborative ministry with the Cheyenne and Arapaho.
Sister Maureen McGrath, OP, Director of the Catholic Community Center in Benton Harbor, Michigan, described Gary as the “kindest, most grateful man.” Thanks to the Sisters on the Front Lines grant, she said, “we were able to assist Gary with an electric bill which required more assistance than we could have pledged … When I told him about the Catholic Extension gift, he almost cried, he was so very grateful for the relief.”
Sister Nancyann Turner, OP, recent Program Director for the Rosa Parks Children’s Program, said the grant money was used for the Children’s Peace Garden Program. “With monies from the grant, sessions were held more often but smaller so that children could keep a social distance from each other.”
These grants – and several more – were shepherded by Sister Nancy Murray, OP. While she was sidelined during the pandemic from her formal ministry – portraying St. Catherine of Siena at parishes, schools and other organizations throughout the world. She coordinated the $1,000 grants to families served by organizations in which Adrian Dominican Sisters were involved.
Catholic Extension announced the campaign, Sisters on the Front Lines, in June 2020 as a way to serve people whose lives have been affected by COVID-19. The plan was to give grants of $1,000 to 1,000 Sisters, knowing that they would know which families needed help because of the pandemic.
Sister Nancy originally reached out to Adrian Dominican Sisters who worked with organizations that served people facing poverty or homelessness. Other Sisters who received the grants for individuals or families were Sister Theresa Mayrand, OP, Associate Director of Gianna House, Detroit, which offers resources to pregnant teenagers and to all new mothers in need; Sister Carol Weber, OP, Co-founder and Co-director of St. Luke N.E.W. Life Center, Flint, Michigan, which offers a variety of services to help people in the Flint community to become self-sustaining; and Sister Patricia Leonard, OP, Associate Director of St. Ann Place, which provides services to homeless women and men in West Palm Beach, Florida.
Sister Nancy also received a grant for an Adrian area migrant farm worker family that is suffering economically because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Other Sisters receiving the grant through FADICA were Sister Joan Mary, OP, who, as a volunteer at Aquinas Literacy Center in Chicago, tutored a woman who became pregnant and went to Syria to be with her mother. The grant enabled the literacy center to purchase laptops for adult learners so that they could continue to be tutored remotely.
Sister Eunice Drazba, OP, procured a grant for an employee who had been laid off from St. Leonard’s Ministries, which helps men and women leaving the prison system to adapt successfully in the community. Sister Dorothy Dempsey, OP, received a grant for a family with a special needs child.
Feature photo: Paula, with one of her daughters, received a check from FADICA to help her catch up on her bills during the COVID-19 pandemic. She was identified by Sister Jo Ann Fleischaker, OP, as heading a family that needed a grant.