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Participants in the Environmental Leadership Experience with plants they potted at the beginning of their adventure at the Adrian Dominican Sisters Permaculture Garden.

May 30, 2023, Adrian, Michigan – Eight students from Barry University in Miami and one from Siena Heights University in Adrian began their summer with an intense week of learning outside of the classroom: as participants of the Environmental Leadership Experience. (ELE). 

“It’s a new experience,” said Barry University sophomore Sierra Johnson, a marketing and graphic design major. “Being born in Miami and being the youngest of three, I never really had a chance to go out or experience the world.” She and her colleagues explored this new world together during the week of May 7-13, 2023, accompanied by two faculty members from Barry University.

Participants came together to “learn about sustainable agricultural ecosystems,” explained Sister Corinne Sanders, OP, General Councilor and former Director of the Office of Sustainability. “Through the lens of environmental stewardship, the program [offers] hands-on activities on the Adrian Campus and Permaculture Gardens.”

Begun in 2017, ELE made a comeback this summer after years of absence enforced by the COVID-19 pandemic. ELE is a collaborative effort of the universities and the Motherhouse Office of Sustainability.

Students create a rain garden next to the parking lot
of Weber Retreat and Conference Center.

Activities included a tour of the Motherhouse grounds and the Permaculture Garden and work in the Reflective Garden at the Dominican Life Center. But the students spent a major portion of their time building a two-basin rain garden next to the parking lot of Weber Retreat and Conference Center. Along with serving as a pathway to the labyrinth and Cosmic Walk behind Weber Center, the garden was built “as a means of mitigating the degradation caused by rainwater and snow melt coming from the higher ground,” Sister Corinne explained.

The students rounded out their experience with a tour of the Detroit River, a visit to nearby Hidden Lake Gardens, dinner at a nearby restaurant, and a presentation to the Sisters of their experience at the Motherhouse. 

For Anita Zavodska, Professor of Biology at Barry University, the experience in Adrian was a renewal of an enjoyable time in 2019. This year’s experience is “just as wonderful” as in 2019, she said. “We have another wonderful group of students who are really willing to get their hands dirty and work and make a difference,” she said. “It’s like coming home.”   

For the students, ELE was not only a new experience of planting seeds in the Motherhouse grounds, but of planting them in their own hearts as well. 

“I’ve always wanted to work for the environment,” said Lily Hernandez, a Barry student majoring in biology. As a member of Barry’s Green Team, she hopes to incorporate what she learned through ELE into work at Barry. Yet, as she considers a career as a doctor, she hopes to go beyond her time in college. “Everybody could use [this experience] and be a little more sustainable, whatever you’re going into – being more sustainable, loving Earth,” she said.  

Benny Rubinsztejn, a history major at Barry University and a native of Brazil, hopes to begin a second career after 25 years as a stockbroker. 

ELE “is like a highway that works both ways, because students learn something new and bring it home,” Benny said. He sees ELE as important not only because of the environmental impact but also because of the impact on human society, at a time of great division and polarity. When people work together on a project such as the rain garden, he said, “you can build some bridges to [other] people so they respect each other. That’s the most important thing right now.” 

Both Lily and Sierra were inspired not only by their work through ELE but also by the different vegetation and wildlife they experienced in Michigan. “This week in Michigan continuously reminds us of how important it is to take a moment to appreciate all that we have and all that God has given us,” Sierra wrote in a blog organized by the ELE students.

Read the students’ entries in the blog, and watch a video of the experience below.


Joel Henricks Director of Facilities and Grounds introducing the unveiling of the solar array

May 11, 2023, Adrian, Michigan – The Adrian Dominican Sisters took a step closer to their goal of reducing the carbon footprint of the Motherhouse Campus May 5, 2023, with a dedication and blessing of a 900-kilowatt solar array. 

The solar array is composed of two sections: a set of 276 solar panels on top of a car port in the Regina parking lot, visible from Siena Heights Drive, and a 1,846-panel solar array on 2.5 acres of the north field behind Weber Retreat and Conference Center. The two sites combined are expected to produce 1.1 kilowatt hours of energy each year – about a quarter of the Motherhouse Campus’s annual consumption.

Sister Patricia Siemen, OP, right, introduces the members of the 2016-2022 General Council who served with her, from left, Sisters Patricia Harvat, OP, Frances Nadolny, OP, Mary Margaret Pachucki, OP, and Elise D. García, OP, now Prioress.

Sister Elise D. García, OP, Prioress of the Congregation, presided over the dedication, welcoming Sisters, Associates, Co-workers, and guests. She introduced those who had played major roles in the solar array project: Sister Patricia Siemen, OP, past Prioress, and other members of the 2016-2022 General Council; the members of the 2022-2028 General Council; Joel Henricks, Director of Facilities and Grounds; and Brad McCullar and Ray Casey, of the Technology Office. In turn, Joel introduced representatives of organizations that had partnered with the Congregation on the solar array project: Scott Hill of Krieghoff-Lenawee, a construction firm that has worked on many construction projects for the Congregation; Mike Deaton, President of Laibe Electric; and David Patterson of Consumers Energy. 

Sister Patricia cited the Adrian Dominican Sisters’ 2016 General Chapter Enactment on Sustainability as the motivation for investing in the solar array. “We committed ourselves to recognizing the violence against Earth community that places our common home in dire jeopardy and intensifies the suffering of people on the margins, future generations, and all of creation,” she said. “These solar panels … are a concrete outcome of that commitment made in 2016.”

Sister Patricia noted that the Congregation will benefit from “being able to draw upon the actual energy that comes from this solar array.” But above all, she said, “we really want to make this contribution so that we ourselves as a community will lighten our own carbon footprint, and we know day by day climate disruption is getting more and more massive and causing more and more suffering.”

Sisters Elise and Patricia blessed the solar array at the Regina parking lot, an image of the solar array in the north field, the electrical gear, and the crowd. Together, they pushed the button that started the power to the array. 

The dedication ceremony was the culmination of a long planning process, beginning in 2016-2017 under Sister Patricia, and three years of work on the project, beginning in 2020. “We’ve been talking about solar power [and other] renewable energy sources on campus for several years, and it finally came to fruition,” Joel said. While the Congregation’s solar array is small compared to others found throughout Michigan and across the United States, its contribution is still significant. “That small array that we have produces enough energy to power about 105 homes in an entire year,” he said. “That’s impressive.” 

Learn more about the solar array here.



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