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September 9, 2022, Adrian, Michigan – Like many other Adrian Dominican Sisters, Sister Carol Gross, OP, started out as a classroom teacher and, over the years, branched out to other ministries: religious education, parish ministry, pastoral ministry, and spiritual direction. But she also branched out geographically: from her native Ohio to Michigan and, for the last 31 years, to the Dominican Republic. She retired and returned to the Motherhouse in Adrian, Michigan, in June 2022 – with many stories to tell of her various ministries in the Dominican Republic.
Sister Carol Gross, OP, shortly after she began her ministry in the Dominican Republic.
Sister Carol began this change in ministry after seven years of ministry at a parish. “I was approaching burnout and was thinking of a sabbatical to learn Spanish,” she recalled. In 1990-1991, she went to the Dominican Republic for her Spanish studies. “I was there 13 weeks and I fell in love with the Dominican people – their joy, their resiliency, their inventiveness and spontaneity,” she recalled.
She returned to the United States and received permission to return to the Dominican Republic for ministry. She began slowly, becoming involved with pastoral ministry and religious education at Seccion San Jose. “I worked mostly in [nearby] Villa Fundación and did some ministry in other villages.”
Sister Carol Gross, OP, with an assistant at Hope for Haina.
Most of Sister Carol’s time in the Dominican Republic was spent in Haina, not far from the nation’s capital, Santo Domingo. “Haina is a very dense poor area,” with a population of about 15,000 people when Sister Carol ministered there from 1996 to 2012. Today, she said, the population is closer to 20,000 to 25,000.
Sister Carol was involved in the lives of the people of Haina, first in one of the Christian communities of the local parish. The parish of about 15,000 people was divided into local communities – first 30 and later 35. “Each community had its own council, catechism, and adult formation group,” she recalled. She ministered in one of those communities, which ultimately divided into two.
During her first years there, a priest celebrated Mass in her community on the first Tuesday and the fourth Friday of each month. On Sundays, the community gathered for Liturgy of the Word. “Starting out, we did most of the planning, but by the time we finished, 17 or 18 people were [leading] the Liturgy of the Word on Sunday,” Sister Carol explained. “I would [prepare] a guide for the prayers and a guide for the homily,” which mostly consisted of questions and dialogues by members of the community.
Sister Carol was also involved in parish-wide ministry, working with the parish catechetical team. In 2005, the parish started Hope for Haina, a medical clinic, which began in the church sacristy.
The clinic includes a general practitioner, a pediatrician, and a dentist and next year will include a psychologist to work with adolescent mothers, Sister Carol said. The clinic also offers a special program for insulin-dependent diabetics and an ultrasound – and will soon add an electrocardiogram. “We’re able to provide some medicines and we have a very small but important nutrition program,” she said.
The clinic was supported by grants, including $5,000 from St. Owen Parish in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, and $5,000 from the Conrad Hilton Foundation, she said. In addition, the Adrian Dominican Congregation has helped to sponsor Hope for Haina through Ministry Trust grants given to community organizations in which Adrian Dominican Sisters are involved, and through mission appeals given by Adrian Dominican Sisters and Associates to participating parishes throughout the United States. Hope for Haina has also received grants from Dignity Health – now CommonSpirit Health – the healthcare systems to which the Congregation’s hospitals have belonged. Sister Carol continues to work with grants for the clinic.
Sister Carol Gross, OP, with members of the spiritual direction team in Haina, Dominican Republic.
In 2012, Sister Carol moved her focus to ministry in the areas of San Juan Bautista, Villa Fundación, and Santo Domingo. “I did a lot of pastoral work, a lot of catechesis, a certain amount of administration, and spiritual direction,” she said. “The last seven years has been mostly spiritual direction, the formation of spiritual directors, and the clinic.”
Sister Carol began her involvement in spiritual direction in 2002, when she and Sisters Ana Feliz, OP, and Nancy Jurecki, OP, took a spiritual companioning course sponsored by the Conference of Religious of the Dominican Republic (CONDOR).
Sister Carol went on to teach the course, at first mostly to women religious. “We’ve had lots of religious, but lately it’s been lots of lay people, mostly women,” Sister Carol said. The program also offers workshops for priests – six classes over six weeks, she said. At one point, she and her spiritual direction team offered a four-week course, Introduction to Spiritual Companioning, to 12 cloistered nuns from six monasteries and traditions.
Sister Carol also taught spiritual direction in the master’s program offered by the Catholic University of Santo Domingo. “When the pandemic came along, they asked me to teach the course online,” she recalled. “I never saw [the students] in person until they had a good-bye party for me.” She will teach a new course for supervisors of spiritual direction students.
As Sister Carol reflects on her time in the Dominican Republic, she said she has learned much. “I learned that you don’t have to have a lot to be happy,” she said. “You don’t have to be super-educated to be happy. You can live and love and give.” She was impressed by the message of young man as he directed a Liturgy of the Word: “A poor person is one who has nothing to give.”
Sister Carol has seen that generous act of giving among people who are materially poor – but also among those who have money, including graduates of the Santo Domingo Colegio where Adrian Dominican Sisters once taught. “They’re super-generous with their time and with what they have,” she said. “They always have something to give and could not be outdone in generosity.”
Sister Carol is also impressed and inspired by the Adrian Dominican Associates in the Dominican Republic. “They range from people who have practically nothing to people who are very, very comfortable,” but they all have something to give and are generous with their time.
She is also grateful for the support of the Congregation as she ministered in the Dominican Republic. “I’ve had wonderful opportunities, [but] I never had anything that paid” monetarily, she said. Still, she added, “I got paid a lot because I was paid with a lot of joy.”
March 15, 2022, Miami, Florida – Barry University played an important role in the life of Sister Linda Bevilacqua, OP. She graduated from Barry College in 1962 and returned to spend most of her ministry there.
She served as Chief Student Life Officer from 1969 to 1978, was the founding Dean of the School of Professional and Career Education (PACE) from 1982 to 1986, and Associate Vice President of Academic Affairs. She returned in 2004 to begin her 15-year tenure as President of Barry University.
Now, after her 2019 retirement from the presidency, Sister Linda is again serving the institution she has loved for so many years. As Founding Director of the Adrian Dominican Institute for Mission and Leadership (ADIML), her role is to help the Barry community understand and appreciate the heritage of the Adrian Dominican Sisters – Barry’s founders and sponsors – and Barry’s identity as a Catholic institution. She also works to instill a sense of the University’s Mission and Core Commitments and to foster an informed and committed lay leadership among Barry University’s faculty and staff.
The Barry University Board of Trustees created the Institute in June 2019 in honor of Sister Linda and her five predecessors, all Adrian Dominican Sisters: Mother M. Gerald Barry, OP (1940-1961); Mother M. Genevieve Weber, OP (1962-1963); Sister Dorothy Browne, OP (1963-1974); Sister M. Trinita Flood, OP (1974-1981); and Sister Jeanne O’Laughlin, OP (1981-2004).
“With the engagement of Barry’s committed faculty, staff, administrators, and students, I trust that we will diligently ensure continuous infusion of Barry’s Mission and Core Commitments – Knowledge and Truth, Inclusive Community, Social Justice, and Collaborative Service – into all aspects of the University’s life,” Sister Linda said.
While she will work toward very idealistic goals, Sister Linda’s initial responsibilities were very practical and down-to-Earth: to create the Institute’s physical space with the help of the University’s interior designer/decorator and a team of staff members. The goal, Sister Linda said, was to “ensure that the space would be warm and welcoming, that it would include the necessary physical and technological resources to support individual and collective study and dialogue.”
Sister Linda’s plans for the ministry were changed with the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic. She arrived at the Institute in January 2020 to set up her office and to take part in the official ribbon-cutting and blessing in late February. The next week – March 2-6, 2020 – was Spring Break.
“Within a week of returning, on March 13, the University closed completely,” Sister Linda recalled. “We all started working from home on the 16th and classes went virtual a week later. So, my hopes to showcase the new space, host in-person gatherings, conversations, and study groups went the way of COVID.”
Now that the Barry community is open to in-person gatherings, Sister Linda welcomes various groups into the Institute’s space. “There is no typical day,” she said. “I welcome each day as it comes.”
Sister Linda’s days are indeed varied. She met with members of the women’s volleyball team to discuss women in leadership, her life as a Barry undergraduate and ministerial experiences, and met with the new Dean of the Andreas School of Business. She participates in the orientation of new faculty and staff members, speaking about the Adrian Dominican Congregation and its influence on Barry University’s Mission and Core Commitments.
On the first Friday of nearly every month, Sister Linda participates in a virtual coffee hour planned by Adrian Dominican Associates from Barry University. Because of the Institute’s location, Sister Linda is in daily contact with staff and students in the Office of Mission Engagement. “I am happy to support their student-focused mission integration and initiatives,” she said.
Sister Linda said her long history with Barry University well equips her to respond to written requests for information on the founding of the University and to serve as a resource for the Office of Alumni Affairs as it plans special events. “Most recently, I contacted women who graduated in 1971 and 1972, when I was Dean of Students, to ascertain their willingness to attend a Barry-sponsored event to commemorate their Golden Anniversary.”
Her years of involvement with Barry University also allow Sister Linda to serve as a connector within the University and in the local community. “Because I know the Barry community and Miami, I am also a resource for making connections to people and organizations,” she said. “I know to whom I can share information about resources or opportunities for financial assistance to further Barry’s impact.”
With all of her activities, Sister Linda still has her eye on the ultimate purpose of the Institute. “Whatever we do, as individuals or as an educational community, to foster and endow Mission education and integration has the potential to transform the University and ourselves,” she said. “Doing so will help ensure that Barry’s identity as a Catholic, Dominican university perdures, even amid a flowing stream of challenges to our well-being.”
March 2, 2022, St. Louis, Missouri – Sister Sara Fairbanks, OP, PhD, has made a home for herself as Associate Professor of Theology and Preaching at the Dominican graduate school, Aquinas Institute of Theology. Her wide-ranging ministry involves teaching at the master’s and doctorate level; teaching deacon candidates from the Diocese of Tallahassee-Pensacola, Florida; working with doctoral candidates on their thesis projects; serving as a reader for master’s level theses; and working on committees.
Sister Sara has been teaching at Aquinas for four years but experienced the college earlier as a master’s student. Since then, she earned her PhD at St. Michael’s College, University of Toronto, and taught for 20 years at Barry University in Miami – sponsored by the Adrian Dominican Sisters – before returning to Aquinas.
As Associate Professor of Theology, Sister Sara teaches a number of courses, including Foundations of Preaching, Ecclesiology, Christology, Theology of Preaching, and Core Homiletic Seminars. She also teaches one-credit courses for the Diaconate Program.
Much of Sister Sara’s time is spent in the Doctor of Ministry (DMin) in Preaching Program, directed by Father Gregory Heille, OP, DMin. The two work closely with the doctoral candidates, teaching the courses – often team-teaching – and dividing the thesis projects. They guide the doctoral students through the process of writing the proposal, defending it, and writing it.
The current 47 DMin students are unique and diverse. Many are seasoned ministers – Catholic priests and deacons, Protestant minsters, lay women, and lay ecclesial ministers, Sister Sara said. Because of their full-time ministries, the DMin students typically take online courses, often with a week in residence at Aquinas.
“Right now, we have 25 who are actively in course with us and a number that are at a different phase,” Sister Sara explained. DMin students at Aquinas are required to take two courses at a different institution on topics related to their thesis project, such as psychology, human development, racism or feminism, she said.
Sister Sara finds diversity not only in the programs she ministers in but in the types of courses she teaches. “When you’re teaching systematic theology, it’s a lot of theoretical research to prepare for the classes,” she explained. “When you’re teaching preaching, you are more involved in teaching effective homiletical practices and coaching students to learn by doing.”
Still, she added, preaching requires solid, practical theology. “Good theology does strengthen your preaching, but it has to be more than theology,” she said. “It’s knowing Scripture and theology but also knowing your audience and trying to connect the Gospel message to people’s lives.”
Through it all, Sister Sara brings her love for God, her students, the Dominican family, and learning. “I really enjoy the students,” she said. She finds joy in “working with committed ministers who want to know more about the faith so they can give it to others. I love working with preachers in making their preaching more effective and more alive and connected to people’s lives. …I love the process, both at the doctorate and the master’s level, and I really enjoy directing all these theses because I learn so much from them.”
Although her ministry is demanding and varied, Sister Sara leads a balanced life. She lives in an apartment building shared by six Sisters of Mercy, who form community with her. Every Sunday they have prayer and dinner together. Also, on Sundays, her day off, she typically spends a couple of hours at Forest Park in St. Louis.
Sister Sara was drawn to theology through her love for God. She fell in love with God before entering the Adrian Dominican Congregation. “I wanted to develop my relationship with God, and studying theology is part of that for me, but I’m also a teacher by temperament,” she said. She had served in other ministries – campus ministry, elementary education, and social work, as well as vocations ministry for the Adrian Dominican Sisters. “But I knew that teaching really is what I enjoy doing and what I have the gifts and talents to do.”
She encouraged others who are considering a call to listen to their hearts. “Love what you do,” she said. “If you love what you do, you’ll do it well. It’ll nurture you and renew you.”
For her part, Sister Sara has found a good sense of community at Aquinas Institute. “There’s a good morale in terms of faculty and staff getting along well and working together,” she said. “If you enjoy learning, it’s fun to be part of a learning community and to support students in their educational development.” Through my ministry at Aquinas, I continue to challenge our Church to recognize the importance of the role of women in every aspect of Church life and ministry, including every dimension of the Church’s preaching ministry.