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Sister Mary Ellen Liciejewski, OP

Mary Ellen Leciejewski, OP
System Vice President for Environmental Sustainability
CommonSpirit Health

I am ministering in environmental sustainability at CommonSpirit Health, a national healthcare organization of more than 140 hospitals serving 20 million patients in big cities and small towns across the United States. 

The roots of our work in sustainability at CommonSpirit run deep. Looking back, it’s hard to tell where the starting line was. In the mid-1990s, we were dipping our toes into sustainability. We were becoming aware of how health care negatively impacted the health and well-being of people and the environment. These included toxic chemicals in cleaners, contributing to asthma in our healthcare workers, plastic devices harming patients and affecting water quality, and waste practices that contaminated the communities we were committed to serving. 

As we learned about the impacts these practices had on our health and the health of our planet, we felt compelled to address them by choosing healthier building materials; serving nutritious and sustainably grown food to our patients and staff; procuring products containing safer chemicals; redesigning the system to eliminate waste; paying attention to the products we purchase, who made them and under what conditions and how we disposed of them; and publicly reporting on our environmental health activities.

I work with colleagues to ensure that sustainability in all the system’s dimensions is embedded in our day-to-day operations. That means reaching beyond the four walls of our hospitals to improve people’s well-being, wherever they live, work, play, or pray; building partnerships to meet basic human needs; supporting long-term economic growth in communities by increasing spending with minority and women-owned business enterprises; and building community wealth. It means moving upstream to address the conditions that are making people sick in the first place.

Climate change is challenging our ability to deliver care and harming the health of the communities we serve, especially those most vulnerable who are hit first and worst. Every day in our emergency departments, we see first-hand the consequences of weather-related events, poor nutrition, unhealthy water, high-heat days, and the psychological impacts of these stressors.  

We’ve developed a Climate Action Plan, a framework for reducing our emission of greenhouse gas (GHG), those gases in Earth’s atmosphere that trap heat and contribute to climate change. We focus on reducing carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels: coal, oil, and natural gas. We are committed to reaching net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2040: removing as much CO2 from the atmosphere as we put in. Addressing climate change will be the most significant public health opportunity of the 21st century.

We’ve been collaborating with local and global partners who also embrace a vision of community and planetary health. I see these deep partnerships as a sign of grace in our work. 

In his Laudato Si’ Action Platform, Pope Francis challenges Catholics and all people of good will to hear the cry of Earth and the poor and become fully sustainable within seven years. His call to change how we think and act in relationship with one another and our fragile Earth aligns with CommonSpirit’s mission to reveal God’s healing presence. We are developing a plan to deepen our understanding of what ecological conversion demands of us and to promote a culture of caring for all of creation.

Why Am I Doing This?

My passion for sustainability and climate work is rooted in a deep respect and astonishment for this place I call home: the place where we all belong, the place that’s been taking care of us for billions of years, where I get to glimpse Divinity in everyone and everything. Earth is a sacred gift deserving of our reverence and protection for present and future generations. 

Health care can play a leading role in addressing our growing climate crisis and driving us toward solutions that make our hospitals and care centers climate-resilient while addressing the needs of the most vulnerable people we serve. We can manage the climate crisis by reducing our reliance on fossil fuels and toxic chemicals, educating the public about the health consequences of the climate crisis, calling our elected leaders to account, and becoming advocates for meaningful policies that will improve the health and resilience of our communities. 

The vibrant charisms of all our sponsoring congregations at CommonSpirit are a source of vitality, inspiration, and motivation. Looking through the lens of the Dominican Charism, I feel called to respond to the signs of the times, hear the world’s emergency sirens wailing all around us, and work together with agents of healing. 

Dominicans have traditionally had a democratic government, a collaborative mindset that supports us in taking risks, making bold decisions, and staying focused on our vision. Preaching about CommonSpirit efforts to confront racism and health inequities can bring change and transformation. We call upon the audacity of Catherine and the passion of Dominic as we care for our beautiful, fragile, interdependent home. We have nothing to lose.

For Your Reflection

• What’s your responsibility, from a faith perspective, to care for all of God’s creation?

• How might you respond to this extraordinary crisis in our moment in history?

• What is your picture of a sustainable lifestyle?

• How can we empower each other to live sustainably?


From left, Sisters Trina McCormick, OP, Founding Director; Anita Braganza, IBVM, Executive Director; and Mary Priniski, OP, Chapter Prioress, celebrate Sister Trina’s 36 years of ministry at Springbank Retreat Center.

July 7, 2023, Kingstree, South Carolina – For 36 years, Sister Trina McCormick, OP, has had a profound, often transformational, effect on countless women religious and other spiritual seekers through the sabbatical programs she organized at Springbank Retreat: for Eco-Spirituality and the Arts

She recently stepped down from the position of Executive Director and bears the title of Founding Director, granted by the board. In May, she was honored by family members, friends, staff, and board members, who feted her with an afternoon of tributes, gratitude, and music to celebrate Sister Trina and her ministry.

Sister Mary Trina McCormick, OP

“It’s been a very good 36 years,” Sister Trina said. “I felt so honored and so appreciated, and it made me grateful for the privilege of being here and serving here. It tapped into all of my talents.”

Reflecting on her years at Springbank, Sister Trina noted that she has always kept the center’s Dominican roots. The center was given to Dominican Friars and established in 1961 and, in the 1970s, was involved in outreach to the local community, especially to the African American community. It closed in 1978 but reopened with the arrival of Adrian Dominican Sister Betty Condon, OP, and a group of Dominican Friars and Sisters. 

Sister Trina and the late Sister Ursula Ording, OP (1934-2013), were living out their own dream of running a retreat center in Cohasset, Massachusetts, when their Chapter Prioress, Sister Ellen Robertson, OP, told them of the need for help at Springbank. “I didn’t want to leave Massachusetts, but we decided to look,” Sister Trina recalled. They began their new ministry at Springbank in 1986.

Sister Trina’s first role was to establish Springbank as a center for spirituality and the arts. “It was very important to me that it be a place of awareness of what’s happening to the planet and for people also to realize the vastness of the universe and the planet, and what brought us to today … It took 13.7 billion years for it to come into being.”

Sister Trina also served as Springbank’s Aesthetics Director, “designing the grounds and buildings, creating the schedule, creating the brochures,” and blazing trails in the woods. In addition, she taught painting and – after Sister Ursula’s death – took on teaching pottery and leading yoga and breathing practices. “My creative work was Springbank – Springbank was my canvas and my palette. [It] offers 80 acres of quiet beauty and warm hospitality.” 

But while transforming the grounds of Springbank was important to Sister Trina, she was especially gratified by the transformation that took place in the Sisters who attended the sabbatical program over the years. “After the one-, two-, or three-month program, you see visible changes in women’s health and well-being,” she said. “People who are so worn out and tired from leadership [change] with movement, dance, and doing beautiful pottery.” A quote from one of the participants speaks to this transformation: “I came a broken sparrow and I’m leaving a soaring eagle.”

The sabbatical program includes a variety of speakers – in person or via Zoom – on topics such as the new cosmology, the relationship between art and spirituality, and dreams. In addition, participants have the opportunity to practice various forms of art, such as pottery, painting, and weaving and to participate in short retreats or times of reflection. Many of these programs are offered simultaneously to people from outside the sabbatical program. 

Over the years, Sister Trina hired many of the Sisters who participated in the sabbatical program, since their time at Springbank allowed her to get to know them. Among them is Sister Anita, the current Executive Director. Sister Anita, who came from India, served for six years on the leadership team for her community, the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary (IBVM), also known as the Loreto Sisters. 

While Sister Trina sees her years at Springbank as a blessed time, she also spoke of some of the challenges she faced. “Probably the greatest challenge is the financial one, because you can’t charge [guests] what it takes to run this place – people wouldn’t be able to afford it,” she said. “You need to get grants and [send out] a bi-annual funding letter.” 

She has also been challenged by hurricanes and ice storms. A 2016 hurricane was particularly devastating, breaking through a dam and flooding the wetlands. Through a grant from the Adrian Dominican Sisters Ministry Trust and from the Wheaton Franciscans, Springbank will begin the process of reclaiming the wetlands sanctuary and adding a gazebo. 

Her years ministering at Springbank have taught Sister Trina never to lose heart or hope. She said she has also learned much from the speakers who were featured over the years. “I’ve learned that nothing beautiful ever hurries,” she said. “You can’t hurry it. You just nurture it along.” 

“Things seem to come when we need it,” Sister Trina added. “I’ve always felt protected and guided by the Spirit, even when we’re going through these difficult times, and I’ve come to a place where I consult the Spirit at every moment.”

For information about the Sabbatical Program or programs offered to the public, call 843-382-9777 or 843-372-6311; email; or visit

February 6, 2023, Adrian, Michigan – For Sister Carleen Maly, OP, education and the Adrian Dominican Sisters go hand-in-hand – from being taught by them as an eighth-grader to her past 15 years of ministry as Director of Adrian Rea Literacy Center, located at the Motherhouse.

A native of Detroit, Sister Carleen moved with her family to nearby Clawson, Michigan, when she was going into the eighth grade. “I thought my life had ended,” she said, “but the move to Clawson was one of the most wonderful things that could have happened in my life because that was the first and only time I had Adrian Dominican Sisters [as teachers].” She was struck by the joy of the Sisters and by their obvious love of teaching.

During her high school years, Sister Carleen never forgot the Adrian Dominican Sisters at Guardian Angels School. She frequently stopped in to visit, especially to see Sister Patricia Marie O’Rourke, Principal. 

Her thoughts again turned to the Adrian Dominican Sisters during a retreat in her senior year of high school. “It was during that weekend that I had time for prayer and talks about our life choices,” Sister Carleen recalled. “I really felt a strong urge in that time of prayer to follow through with talking with one of our Sisters about entering the Congregation.” After frequent talks with Sister Patricia Marie, she entered the Adrian Dominican Congregation in September 1959 with two classmates from eighth grade: Kathleen Voss, OP, and the late Gail Singel, OP.

Much to her surprise, Sister Carleen had an early experience of teaching when, in December of her postulant year, she was assigned to teach a fifth- and sixth-grade class at Sacred Heart School in Caro, Michigan, for the second semester. With the help of the other Sisters at the school, Sister Carleen made it through the semester. She learned from this and later experiences that teaching junior high school student was a “good fit” for her.

After profession, Sister Carleen taught at schools in Michigan and in the Dominican Republic. She later returned to the Dominican Republic with four other Sisters to start Centro Educacional de Bonao in the remote area of Bonao. The school was founded by a Canadian mining company to teach the children of the company’s workers. “We had people from 15 countries represented in the school,” with a complete Spanish track and a complete English track, she recalled.

From there, Sister Carleen went on to serve in pastoral ministry at two parishes in the Diocese of Orlando, Florida, and, in 1994, was elected to a six-year term as Chapter Prioress (Provincial) of the Florida Mission Chapter. Returning to Michigan to be closer to her mother, Sister Carleen worked with Sister Marie Damian Schoenlein, OP, Director of the Dominican Literacy Center in Detroit. After serving as Director of Vocation Outreach for three years, Sister Carleen was asked by Sister Marie Damian to help her start the Adrian Rea Literacy Center. Sister Marie Damian served as Director for one year and turned the ministry over to Sister Carleen.

As Director of Adrian Rea, Sister Carleen finds joy daily. “The joys are knowing that we are able to change people’s lives because we give them the gift of being able to read and write and speak in English,” she said. “In the course of our 15 years, we have tutored close to 1,500 learners with 1,200 tutors – all individualized tutoring,” Sister Carleen said. Currently, about 72 pairings come to Adrian Rea each week. About 90 percent of the learners are studying English as a second language.

Sister Carleen and the literacy center’s volunteer tutors work with many people who are at the lowest literacy rate. “They may have had some education in their country of origin,” she said. “A handful would have gone on to high school or college, but many reported that their highest was third grade in their country of origin.” 

Sister Carleen also finds her own joy when seeing the tutors’ joy as they help their learners to meet personal goals: communicating with their children’s teachers and doctors, helping their children with homework, and finding a better job. 

She feels especially blessed when the adult learners become citizens with the help of their tutors – and often with the help of the Congregation’s Immigration Assistance Office, directed by Sister Attracta Kelly, OP, an immigration attorney. 

“Our Congregation has committed to helping people through an onsite place where they can seek a consultation and information about their immigration status to see if there is an opportunity to apply for citizenship,” Sister Carleen explained. “What we do in partnership is ask that the tutors help the learners study the 100 questions involved in the citizenship test.” 

Whatever the learners’ goals might be, Sister Carleen has committed to providing a safe place and a “welcoming environment” in which they can work toward those goals. “It’s difficult enough for adults who are embarrassed, especially for people whose first language is English,” she said. “We welcome everyone and I would say that that’s the atmosphere. It’s a relaxed atmosphere but a place of business, a place of learning.” 



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