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October 24, 2019, Adrian, Michigan – Sister Rose Ann Schlitt has spent 50 of her 65 years of religious life as a missioner, serving in the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico and in six other countries: the Dominican Republic, Peru, Nicaragua, Mexico, Italy, and the Philippines.
A native of Vero Beach, Florida, Sister Rose Ann entered the Congregation in 1954 after being taught by Adrian Dominican Sisters in elementary and high school. “I felt called to that way of life,” she said. But she said she didn’t enter the Congregation planning to be a missioner, “not even thinking to be a teacher.”
Sister Rose Ann’s first assignment took her to Puerto Rico to teach in Guayama. She was then sent to teach in San Juan de la Maguana in the Dominican Republic. After teaching for two years in the United States – in Georgia and Florida – Sister Rose Ann returned to the Dominican Republic in 1966 to teach at Colegio Santo Domingo, sponsored by the Congregation and again in Santo Domingo and Haina in subsequent years.
From then on, Sister Rose Ann continued to serve in foreign lands: Peru from 1969 to 1978 and in Nicaragua, interspersed with ministries in Congregational leadership: on the General Council from 1982 to 1986 and as Chapter Prioress of the Rosa de Lima Mission Chapter, which included the Congregation’s Sisters serving overseas. In subsequent years, she served in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, 2003 to 2005; Santa Sabina, Rome, to coordinate the mission work of Dominican Volunteers International, 2005 to 2010; and in San Fernando, Pampanga, the Philippines, to accompany the Sisters of the Dominican Congregation of Our Lady of Remedies as they prepared for their merger with the Adrian Dominican Sisters.
Her work as a missioner included education and pastoral ministry, as well as less formal roles. “I was living among the people and helping them to accomplish what they needed to accomplish,” she said. “I’ve taught women income-generating skills that they needed to support their families.” In Nicaragua, this involved helping the women to develop a sewing cooperative.
She has also helped people to build their own faith through Basic Christian Communities, which she coordinated in Peru. “We interpreted Scripture together,” she recalled. “We looked at our reality and response together. That model was a real joy for me.”
Sister Rose Ann clarified that, over the years, she has come to see herself as a missioner rather than a missionary. “Missionary has been updated to be more inclusive of all kinds of presence” rather than the traditional role of missionaries as evangelists. “I have learned to be with the people in very different ways for the purpose of befriending them, of living among them, of forming solidarity – forming a “we” – and not necessarily doing what I knew how to do, but what they needed me to do,” Sister Rose Ann said.
Being a missioner “is very different from one who goes as an expert and teaches from expertise,” Sister Rose Ann explained. “It’s going out of your own poverty really, but open to what is there, who is there.”
Sister Rose Ann said being a missioner has been “a call within a call. Within the call to be in religious life and mission, the second call came to be in mission more closely with the poor and live as they lived – coming down from status, letting go of recognition. It was like going down the ladder to be free, to be with others.”
“You come as a stranger and a foreigner and you have to get beyond that and reach out in a human and friendly way,” she explained. “You have to befriend them, and then anything can happen.” Missioners also have to learn the language of the people and let go of a sense of control.
Another challenge, Sister Rose Ann said, is adjusting to a new culture and customs, even to different foods. “There are some cultural differences that you don’t understand right away, or maybe you never understand,” she said. The key is to be open and suspend judgment.
Finally, Sister Rose Ann said, missioners face the challenge of leaving the people they have come to love. “It’s always a challenge to love people and then leave, but that’s a part of it, because if you love enough you don’t just stay,” she said.
Sister Rose Ann found joy in the people she came to know in her missions, but also in her work with Dominican Volunteers International. “That was a real joy, to be at Santa Sabina [in Rome], to live in an inter-Dominican community of Sisters and to prepare lay people from different parts of the world – to help them prepare, look at their objectives, look at missionary attitudes, and help them prepare for their service.”
In working with the Dominican Volunteers, Sister Rose Ann looked for certain qualities that point to those who are well matched to life as a missioner. She looked for “someone who knows it’s not going to be about them – a certain simplicity and sensitivity to the other.” She saw a good disposition in most volunteers. “None of them really were sent and thought they were going to be the experts,” she said. “All of them felt they had a lot to learn.”
Sister Rose Ann also offers this wise counsel on serving in the missions, attributed to Lao Tsu, a Chinese philosopher who founded the school of Taoism in the sixth century before Christ:
“Go to the people, live with them, learn from them, love them. Start with what they know, build with what they have. But with the best leaders, when the work is done, the task accomplished, the people will say, ‘We have done this ourselves.’”
Feature photo (top): Sister Rose Ann Schlitt, OP, introduces herself to neighbors in Barrio Acahualinca, Managua, Nicaragua Circa 1979.
July 30, 2019, Adrian, Michigan – Four years ago, Sister Sharon Spanbauer, OP, Nurse Practitioner, made a significant move – not in miles but in patients. She changed her ministry from treating retired Adrian Dominican Sisters at the Dominican Life Center (DLC) in Adrian to treating students in their late teens and early 20s at the neighboring Siena Heights University.
But whether treating retired Sisters with often complex medical conditions or young students with headaches or colds, Sister Sharon remains the caring nurse who focuses on healing her patients holistically. “Each person to whom I minister is the face of God,” she said.
Sister Sharon has been the Director of Health Services at Siena Heights University since 2015. During the school year, she runs a free, one-woman health clinic for the students, faculty, and staff members. “I’m here Monday to Friday, no appointment needed,” she said. “They come in and I assess them in the exam room and diagnose, and a lot of times I can treat them here with over-the-counter medications.” If a patient has a more complicated or a chronic illness, she said, she gives them “stop-gap care” and recommends that they have a primary health care provider in town.
Sister Sharon also gives TB tests for nursing students who must be tested before they begin clinical rotations, free flu shots, speaks to classes about health issues, and serves on Siena Heights University committees.
Sister Sharon said the most common complaints of her young patients are respiratory problems like colds or gastro-intestinal illnesses, but she has seen a wide variety of illnesses, including some cancer patients. She diagnosed one student with lymphoma. She also has surprising cases – such as the young man who had accidentally cut off the tip of his finger on the razor blade in his personal items kit. “I told him it would grow back and it did,” Sister Sharon recalled. “The human body is amazing.”
On a busy day, Sister Sharon said, she might see 10 patients. This gives her enough time to be thorough in her examinations. “I believe in examining and listening and really asking good questions, trying to understand who they are, what they’re studying, what their home life is like,” she said.
In addition, Sister Sharon gives her patients a listening ear, compassion, and healing, along with “a lot of information, some guidance, a lot of teaching,” she said. “Nobody comes here and sees me without coming out with some teaching. It’s the teacher in me.”
Sister Sharon enjoys her work with the students and finds them to be “very kind and thoughtful.” She added that she is “proud to work for a university that works so diligently to provide an education to those who might not otherwise have one. And I love the students. It’s just a joy, working with them and being able to use my skills in a really satisfying way.”
Sister Sharon said she also loved her ministry – from 2001 to 2014 – as a Nurse Practitioner with the Sisters at the Dominican Life Center. Typically, she said, the Sisters had “multiple diagnoses, multiple medications were far more complex, and required a level of rigor in my care of them,” she said. The clinic at Siena Heights University “is more relaxed – most of [the illnesses] are handled very simply.”
Like most Sisters, Sister Sharon began as a teacher. “I loved teaching and I loved my students, but I always wondered what in their life was happening that I knew nothing about,” she said. She yearned for a one-on-one ministry. In her search, Sister Sharon considered becoming a physician or a physical therapist, then decided to become a nurse practitioner after recalling her experience, while a novice, as a nursing assistant for the Sisters in the infirmary.
In 1989, Sister Sharon left her ministry as a chemistry teacher at Bishop Foley High School in Madison Heights, Michigan, to earn her Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing (BSN) from Wayne State University through its “second career, second degree” program. “Anyone with a degree could get a degree in nursing in 14 months, paid for by Henry Ford Hospital,” she recalled. She completed her clinicals at Henry Ford and worked at that hospital as a registered nurse for three years, from 1990 to 1993. The requirement was two years. She then served as home health care nurse until 1995.
Sister Sharon earned her Nurse Practitioner degree from Michigan State University and went on to minister at Dillon Family Medicine, a large, busy clinic in Dillon, South Carolina, sponsored by the Franciscan Sisters of Mary. Sister Sharon has been pleased with her choice to minister as a nurse practitioner. “I’ve been so fortunate,” she said. “When I went to the DLC I got to shape my role because I was the first nurse practitioner in Adrian. Nobody could figure out what I was.” She helped the hospital and the local physicians to understand that nurse practitioners had the training and certification to write orders, order lab tests, and receive reports about their patients.
She said she would recommend nursing and serving as a nurse practitioner to anybody who is considering it. “I think nursing is the perfect profession for many people – male and female,” Sister Sharon said. “You can do clinical work, research, work in a doctor’s office, in a school, in a prison system – it’s endless what you can do with your specific gift. You can find your place in nursing. If you feel called to help others, nursing is a natural choice.”
May 21, 2019, St. Louis, Missouri – For about a year, Sister Lorraine Réaume, OP, has been engaged in a ministry that has far-reaching consequences for Dominican Sisters based in the United States. She serves as Co-Director of the Collaborative Dominican Novitiate (CDN), along with Dominican Sister of Peace Cathy Arnold, OP, in helping the formation of Dominican novices.
Since August, Sisters Lorraine and Cathy have lived in the novitiate in St. Louis with two novices: Sister Rolande Kahindo Pendeza, of the Maryknoll Sisters of St. Dominic, and Sister Phuong Vu, of the Dominican Sisters of Peace.
When women first enter the Adrian Dominican Congregation, they are considered candidates or postulants and introduced to the life of the community. When they are approved to become novices, they enter into a two-year preparation for full participation in the life of the community.
“I feel called to be part of this [discernment process],” Sister Lorraine said. “I feel that God is saying, ‘There’s something at work here that is leading to the future that we might not yet fully see.’”
As directors, Sisters Lorraine and Cathy conduct a structured program to help the novices in their discernment process through their canonical novitiate year, centered on personal and spiritual growth in preparation for vowed commitment. The novices and directors live together in the Collaborative Dominican Novitiate building.
The schedule includes a half day of ministry, courses on preaching and the vowed life at Aquinas Institute of Theology; classes at the novitiate on the Dominican life, community living, and communication skills; the weekly intercommunity novitiate, in which novices from nine congregations in the St. Louis area gather weekly for presentations on spirituality, psychology, and a number of issues and the opportunity to get to know one another; and a day of reflection every Friday.
In addition, the novices participate in community meetings, including monthly facilitated meetings, and participate in monthly panel discussions on one of the four pillars of Dominican life – prayer, study, community, and ministry – or one of the vows.
During the spring semester, the novices also participate in a Dominican life Seminar on Tuesdays and Thursdays, receiving various inputs on religious life and Dominican life in particular, Sister Lorraine said.
The novices also experience community living with each other and the two directors. “All four of us take turns leading prayer, preaching on Sunday evening, and cooking,” Sister Lorraine said. “We divide up the cleaning of the house – all of that is shared in community.”
In addition, Sisters Lorraine and Cathy each serve as director for one of the two novices, walking with their respective novice and helping her in her discernment of the vowed Dominican life. The two directors also work together to prepare the input sessions for the novices.
The directors also participate in peer supervision. “Cathy and I have different groups with five other novice directors, and we share our experiences.”
The two directors have been formation directors for their respective congregations, and both attended the CDN as novices. “The biggest difference is I was in a group of 12 novices,” Sister Lorraine said. “Now there are two. Because we’re smaller, the presence of the directors is really more critical to form vibrant community. We end up doing more socializing and fun activities together.”
The diversity of cultures and backgrounds has also made community life a rich experience this year, Sister Lorraine said. Sister Rolande is from the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sister Phuong from Vietnam. “I continue to learn the richness of different ways of doing things and perceiving things, especially related to culture, but also personality,” Sister Lorraine said.
Sister Lorraine has also been enriched by her ministry with the novices. “When you walk with people, it always helps you to deepen your own vocation,” she said. “I’ve grown deeper in my appreciation of the vows and community life.”
Through her work with the CDN Board, Sister Lorraine said, she has come to feel “more a part of the larger Dominican family. This is an effort of the Dominican family, so I feel that perspective is even more present in my mind as I look to the future of our life.”
Sister Lorraine noted that fewer novices have been attending the CDN in later years, but that her role is still important. “In prayer I always get the message, ‘This is what I’m asking of you and it’s important.’ It’s about something bigger than the novitiate year. I get a sense that it’s about our future – it’s about our Dominican future.”
Sister Lorraine had some advice for others who might consider a ministry such as hers. “Ask yourself if you find joy in walking with people as they discern, because that’s the primary purpose – walking with women who are discerning this call. And make sure you feel a passion for our life, for our charism and for our vowed life, so you can transmit that passion.”