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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,

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January 23, 2018, Milwaukee, Wisconsin – In the past year, School Sisters of St. Francis and Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi (Lake Franciscans) have been fired up for justice and peace advocacy in such areas as human trafficking, immigration reform, and peace. Encouraging them in their advocacy, is Adrian Dominican Sister Durstyne Farnan, OP.

In June 2016, Sister Durstyne moved to Milwaukee as the justice coordinator for the School Sisters. Since then, she has taken on service one day per week as consultant and animator for the justice work of the Lake Franciscans. Sister Durstyne convenes the quarterly justice committees for both communities, works with the sub-committees, helps the Sisters to establish annual goals and objectives, and helps to organize the various justice and peace actions and presentations of the two Franciscan communities. 

Some of the peace and justice activities coordinated by Sister Durstyne in the past year-and-a-half have included:

  • A phone call campaign among the Lake Franciscans in which the Sisters continue to call their representatives in support of a just and humane immigration reform.
  • Donations of homemade and store-bought snacks by Sisters of both communities for young DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) recipients for their journey to a demonstration in Washington, D.C. 
  • A trip by two busloads of Sisters to Janesville, Wisconsin, for the arrival of NETWORK’s Nuns on the Bus.
  • Sunday morning presentations – between Mass and lunch – on issues such as human trafficking.
Sister Simone Campbell, director of NETWORK, meets the School Sisters of St. Francis during a Nuns on the Bus event in Janesville, Wisconsin. Sister Simone is in the middle row, third from the right. Standing behind her, looking over her shoulder, is Sister Durstyne Farnan, OP.

Sister Durstyne said she enjoys working with the Sisters, and is thrilled by their responses to justice and peace work. “Getting people to make a difference is really so empowering for them,” she said. “For most of them, this is the first time they’ve ever done anything like this.” The Sisters, who are now retired, hadn’t participated in advocacy work, often because of the hectic schedule of their full-time ministries.

Sister Durstyne sees her role as facilitating the Sisters’ desire to remain active and engaged in justice and peace work – supplying them with the information and resources they need. “Once they get the directions, they can go forward,” she said. “My role is to facilitate and animate people. I help get a lot of background [information] for them, but they make the decisions.”

Both congregations have made a difference in Milwaukee for well over a century, Sister Durstyne noted. 

Part of her ministry has involved learning about the issues that Milwaukee faces. Although Milwaukee faces the same issues as the people of Adrian, Michigan, “in Milwaukee, the issues are compounded by size,” she explained. Along with racism, poverty, and immigration reform, the people of Milwaukee face the need for transportation for people who strive to get out of poverty by finding high-paying jobs – which are often an hour’s drive away from Milwaukee; the high re-incarceration rate of former prisoners; and human trafficking, which is prevalent in Milwaukee. 

School Sisters of St. Francis participate in Circle the City with Love.

A clinical social worker by training, Sister Durstyne advocated for adults with severe mental illness and then served for six years in Ghana and Kenya, Africa. When she returned to the United States in 1996, the General Council was seeking a new justice and peace coordinator for the Adrian Dominican Congregation. “It was a position I had to grow into because I didn’t have a lot of experience with multiple issues,” Sister Durstyne said. In this new ministry, she said, she has gained a global perspective and has become involved with Dominican Friars and Sisters worldwide through her work as a North American Justice Promoter for the Dominicans. 

Although she is frequently challenged by the difficulty that constituents sometimes face in contacting their legislators, Sister Durstyne enjoys working with the Sisters in the Franciscan communities as they advocate for justice. “My role is to help facilitate their desire to stay involved,” she said. “It makes me happy when I see them getting involved.”

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October 20, 2017, Juarez, Mexico – In some ways, Sister Maureen Gallagher, OP, might be described as a saleswoman, helping the women from the Las Mujeres de Esperanza y Fe co-op to sell their hand-sewn products to people in the United States. But at a deeper level, Sister Maureen is helping the women to have confidence in their own abilities to earn a living for their families.

Sister Maureen ministers at Centro Santa Catalina in Juarez, Mexico. In a city known for its violence and poverty, Centro Santa Catalina provides residents with a place for spiritual enrichment, leadership programs, homework help, organic gardens, and the women’s sewing cooperative. The center was established in 1996 with the help of Adrian Dominican Sisters Donna Kustusch, OP, and Eleanor Stech, OP.

The services offered help to support and empower families who are economically poor, living in many cases in hand-made shacks in Colonia Panfilo Natera – a section in Juarez where people moved from small villages to find work. Many of the families survive on what the women earn through their sewing co-op. 

In the co-op’s 20 years of existence, women have learned not only how to make clothes and other products, but also how to run the co-op and sell the products themselves. 

Sister Maureen’s role is to set up sites in the United States where the women can sell their products. “We go to parishes and pre-Christmas sales,” Sister Maureen explained. “I ask the pastor if we can sell the products as a social justice outreach program. Most of their responses are very positive.”

Because of the conditions set forth in their visas, the women of the co-op are only permitted to travel within 40 miles of the U.S. border to sell their products. As a result, Sister Maureen said, they have only worked with parishes in portions of New Mexico and Texas. But Sister Maureen also sells the women’s products – shawls, purses, scarves, tablecloths, dolls, pot holders, aprons, bookmarks, and prayer flags – through retreat centers run by women religious – including Weber Center Shop in Adrian. The products are also available online.

Sister Maureen takes great satisfaction from seeing the progress in the women’s confidence and ability to sell their products. One of her special joys is “seeing the women grow. I go to the sales with the women, and in the beginning, I would help sell. Now we bring two women and they run everything. I just help if they need a translator.” 

The women have also taken over the administration of the co-op, serving as its officers and in general running the operation. “I only step in once in a while,” Sister Maureen said. “I mostly do fundraising and bring in volunteers.”

Sister Maureen is working on securing grants to help families get the medical attention they need and to provide scholarships for children to complete their education. Overall, she said, the purpose of Centro Santa Catalina is to build community among the people of the colonia and to help them to live well. “Our focus is to give people the skills they need so they don’t have to migrate,” she explained.



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