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May 10, 2018, Adrian, Michigan – Sunday afternoons and classical concerts seem to go together so well – and thanks to Sister Magdalena Ezoe, OP, the Sisters at the Adrian Dominican Motherhouse enjoy this beautiful and uplifting combination once every month.
Since 2011, Sister Magdalena has offered a concert in St. Catherine Chapel at 1:30 p.m. on the first Sunday of the month – with the exception of April 2018, when she “let Easter and April Fool’s Day take precedence” and rescheduled her concert for Sunday, April 8.
The idea for the First Sunday concert series grew out of Sister Magdalena’s more than 30 years as Professor of Music at Siena Heights University in Adrian. “At Siena I offered the First Sunday series from 1985 to 1995,” she recalled. Her concerts involved samples of classical works, which she used to teach a lesson about music. “One student asked why I never played the entire piece,” she recalled. “He inspired me to do a complete concert.”
She began the monthly program at the Motherhouse with a series called “Do you Hear What I Hear,” offered from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. on Fridays. “I started teaching the Sisters on campus,” she said. “Music is a structure,” which tells the musician the tempo, how loudly or softly to play, as well as the notes to be played, Sister Magdalena explained. In that series, she taught musical concepts such as two-part music, in which one theme, A, is contrasted with another theme, B. “When A is repeated, you call it three-part form,” she explained. “Very satisfying because when A is repeated, people recognize that they have heard it before.”
Sister Magdalena hopes her current concert series will help the Sisters to appreciate and enjoy classical music. “American culture doesn’t know classical music,” she said. People need to hear a particular musical piece often before they can even judge whether they like it, she explained. “You can’t tell until you’ve heard it several times. The reason people like Beethoven’s work is that people hear it so often.”
Her concert ministry involves more than showing up at the chapel at 1:30 p.m. on the first Sundays of the month. Sister Magdalena selects the music and theme for each concert and devotes hours to practicing for it.
Sister Magdalena grew up in her native Japan during World War II, enduring the bombs and other hardships of life during war. As a child, she was surrounded by music in a musical family; one uncle ran a music conservatory, and Sister Magdalena herself was a pianist for the Yoyogi American School in Japan.
Sister Magdalena also inherited from her family a love for travel. Her grandfather, Ezoe Renzo, used his English skills in 1876 to serve as the interpreter for a Japanese porcelain company taking part in the Philadelphia Expo. He returned to the United States to study commerce in New York, and in 1908 sent his son, Sister Magdalena’s father, to a military school in Manlius, New York, near Syracuse.
Sister Magdalena in turn traveled to Miami, Florida, at the age of 20, to study at Barry College, now University, sponsored by the Adrian Dominican Sisters. “A year later, I took the next step in my adventure and entered the Adrian Dominican Congregation,” she said.
As an Adrian Dominican Sister, she taught music for 11 years at Dominican High School in Detroit and for a short time at St. Dominic College in St. Charles, Illinois. Her next stop was Siena Heights, where she taught for 37 years.
Through the years, Sister Magdalena has also composed Mass parts, responsorial psalms, and hymns, as well as chamber music and music for the organ and the piano.
Sister Magdalena’s talents as a musician and a composer have not gone unnoticed. In 2012, the Dominican Institute for the Arts bestowed on her the Fra Angelico Award for her gifts as a musician and composer. The highest honor that the DIA can bestow on a member, the award is named for the great Dominican artist.
Sister Magdalena’s hope for her current ministry is that the Sisters will continue to enjoy and appreciate the music that she offers them on the First Sundays of each month.
March 8, 2018, Adrian, Michigan – As an Adrian Dominican Sister, Sister Sarajane Seaver, OP, was involved in typical ministry, teaching as an elementary and junior high school teacher in Michigan and California. But she later found her identity as an artist and a weaver – creating prayer shawls and other items that have brought beauty and joy to other people’s lives.
The youngest of four children of Glenn and Helen (Springer) Seaver, Sarajane was born in Adrian but later moved to Ypsilanti, Michigan. There, she was taught by the Adrian Dominican Sisters for 12 years at St. John the Baptist School and was personally inspired by them.
Woven into Sister Sarajane’s life were health issues that could have been obstacles but only made her stronger. “I was sick a lot as a first grader, and Sister Victoria used to stay after school to help me catch up,” she recalled. “I always said I wanted to be like Sister Victoria when I grew up.”
Sister Sarajane also struggled with polio as a child. When she and her siblings went to get the first of three polio vaccines, Sister Sarajane she couldn’t receive it because she had a cold. After finally receiving the innoculation, she and two other children contracted the disease.
“I left the hospital in braces and cuff crutches,” Sister Sarajane said. “I decided I was not going to live my life like that.” Inspired by a picture of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, she daily practiced walking on crutches without the braces. At her eighth-grade graduation, she turned her crutches over to her brother and walked without them.
But medical issues were not all that was woven into Sister Sarajane’s life – so was art. “Even as a kid I used to embroider,” she said. She started with store-bought squares that featured nursery rhymes and embellished them. By the time she had embroidered about 100 squares, she decided to make a quilt with her mother’s help.
She returned to art after serving as pastoral associate at St. Joseph Parish in Winslow, Arizona. While serving from 1984 to 1987 as Director of Creative Activities at Weber Center, Sister Sarajane discovered three looms in the Motherhouse laundry room and began to work with them. That led her to pursue a Bachelor of Fine Arts in weaving and fiber design at the College for Creative Studies (CCS) in Detroit and, after her 1993 graduation, spent 10 years as a financial aid officer at CCS.
In those years and beyond, weaving became Sister Sarajane’s vocation. “Being a weaver is not something I do,” she said. “It’s something I am.”
Along with her traditional weaving, Sarajane created a new way to weave prayer shawls, basing their design on the pattern of notes in hymns. “I always felt that weaving looked like written music, so I decided to see if I could weave music,” she explained. As a gift to one of the Congregation’s General Councils, she wove prayer shawls patterned on the music of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy.
Whether prayer shawls or more traditional weavings, Sister Sarajane’s creations have brought joy to others. In January 2018, Sister Sarajane attended an artist’s reception for “Sisterhood,” an art exhibit based on her works and the jewelry of Sister Rita Schiltz, OP at the Adrian Center for the Arts. In viewing her work, Sister Sarajane said she hopes people “see the gifts of God and the beauty of God.”
Left: These are just a few of the sampling of Sister Sarajane’s creations that were on display during the Sisterhood art exhibit. Right: Sister Sarajane Seaver, OP (left) and Sister Nadine Sheehan, OP, examine one of Sister Sarajane’s hangings at the Sisterhood art exhibit at the Adrian Center for the Arts.
February 5, 2018, Adrian, Michigan – For years, Sister Leonor Esnard, OP, has been sharing her love for the Montessori teaching method and for children by training with hundreds of educators in the Montessori teaching method.
The educators are trained in the Montessori Early Childhood Certification Program offered by the Adrian Dominican Montessori Teacher Education Institute (ADMTEI). Sister Leonor has directed the program since 2009.
Developed by Dr. Maria Montessori (1870-1952), the Montessori Method encourages young children to study independently and to foster intellectual curiosity and love of learning for its own sake – not for external awards.
ADMTEI was founded by Sister Anthonita Porta, OP, whom Sister Leonor met while ministering at St. Vincent Ferrer in Cincinnati. Sister Anthonita was completing her studies in Montessori at Xavier University and Sister Leonor often visited her classroom. “I fell in love with Montessori because it was nothing like traditional teaching,” Sister Leonor said. “Xavier had a demonstration class and that’s where Anthonita was in the practicum. She was my mentor.”
The Adrian Dominican Sisters’ General Council in 1971 asked Sister Anthonita to return to the Motherhouse at Adrian and open a Montessori school for children ages 2 ½ to 6 at St. Joseph Academy. Sister Leonor joined Sister Anthonita to work at the St. Joseph Academy and later at ADMTEI. Sister Leonor received her own Montessori credentials through Rosary College, now Dominican University in River Forest, Illinois.
In her current ministry, Sister Leonor administers the ADMTEI program and is among the program’s nine instructors. Classes are held during weekends and are focused on topics such as the philosophy of Montessori, child development, math curriculum, language curriculum, music curriculum, and classroom management.
The program includes the academic coursework and a practicum phase, which students can take concurrently or in different years. Sister Leonor supervises the adult students’ practicum, observes them in their classrooms, and offers feedback. Many of the students already teach in a Montessori school and attend the ADMTEI program to get their credentials.
In addition to her direct ministry with ADMTEI, Sister Leonor travels around the country, giving workshops and talks on the Montessori method, early child development, Montessori education and brain research, development of self-discipline, community building and leadership, and similar topics, often at Montessori schools. In addition, she teaches in summer programs other Montessori teacher education institutes in New England and New York. “I like to be busy and involved,” she said. “I get so much energy out of it.”
Sister Leonor said that the majority of ADMTEI students are women, many of whom have chosen to be Montessori teachers after working in other fields. “My hope is that we will continue to empower the women, which is what we do, to help them believe in themselves and to be competent, and to be able then to be the best that they can be for the children,” she explained.
“This journey is transformative,” Sister Leonor said. At the end of the year, in May, the students have a chance to articulate their experience. “Everyone says something similar about the positive changes that have occurred [within themselves] and the building of community for each particular class. They love the spiritual atmosphere, and that is one of the elements that attracts students to come here from different races, ethnic backgrounds, and religions.”
Sister Leonor said many of the ADMTEI students “are intuitively Montessorians. … They have this harmony with the philosophy whether they know it or not.” The core tenet of the Montessori philosophy is “respect for the children, the teachers, the environment, the animals and plants,” Sister Leonor explained. “There’s a reverence we bring.” Montessori schools provide furniture that fits the size of the children, who are encouraged to work independently, with another student, or in groups. “We afford the children freedom, but freedom with responsibility – no license.”
Children who spend their early years in Montessori do well in traditional classroom settings because of their grounding in intellectual curiosity and freedom and their self-confidence. “The students who go to Montessori are not necessarily smarter but they have a certain curiosity, creativity, and love of learning,” Sister Leonor explained. “They become independent problem-solvers.”
Sister Leonor speaks well of the Montessori teachers who inspire these children. “It takes a great deal of energy and time and effort to be a Montessori teacher,” she said. “There has to be a deep sense of commitment in order to be the kind of teacher that is going to inspire children, that is going to help them learn.”
ADMTEI is taking applications for its 2018-2019 academic year, which will begin on Friday, August 24, 2018. Information can be found on the website, https://admtei.org/.