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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 holding an infant
Sister Carol Gross, OP, shortly after she began her ministry in the Dominican Republic.

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 speaking with a woman in a clinic
Sister Carol Gross, OP, with an assistant at Hope for Haina.

Ministry in 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 with a group of people posing
Sister Carol Gross, OP, with members of the spiritual direction team in Haina, Dominican Republic.

Spiritual Direction

Sister Carol sitting in a chapel with a nun
Sister Carol Gross, left, works with one of 12 contemplative nuns participating in a four-week course, Introduction to Spiritual Companioning, in the Dominican Republic in 2017.

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.

 

Take-aways

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.” 


 

 

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