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Sister Lois Paha, OP, visits a church during an October 2013 pilgrimage. Preparing liturgy is one of her responsibilities as Director of Pastoral Services for the Diocese of Tucson. Photo Courtesy of Sister Lois Paha
October 19, 2023, Tucson, Arizona – Sister Lois Paha, OP, has been called a pioneer, always ready to try new work. That seems fitting for a Chicago native who has ministered for nearly 40 years in the Southwest. Those years have involved parish ministry, adult faith formation, formation of deacons and lay ecclesial ministers, and liturgical ministry.
Sister Lois Paha, OP, (middle row, third from right) with other members of the Diocese of Tucson’s Common Formation Team. Photo Courtesy of Sister Lois Paha, OP
Sister Lois has spent 18 years in ministry as Director of Pastoral Services at the Diocese of Tucson, Arizona. She began ministering in the diocese in 2005 as Director of Formation. In 2008, Bishop Gerald. F. Kicanas combined several pastoral offices and asked Sister Lois to oversee them as Director of Pastoral Services. “We had seven employees and five offices until COVID, when we had to close offices,” Sister Lois said.
Currently, Sister Lois directs the Common Formation Program for permanent deacon and lay ecclesial minister candidates; oversees diocesan liturgies; supports parishes in their liturgical ministries; serves on the Executive Committee for the current bishop, Bishop Edward J. Weisenburger; and responds to other needs that might serve the pastoral ministry of the diocese.
Her formation work has been one of the highlights of her ministry at the Diocese of Tucson. Through the Common Formation Program, she has been involved in the ordination of 101 permanent deacons and the certification of 75 lay ecclesial ministers. “Those ministers are still involved in the diocese in some way,” she said. “In doing the formation programs, I was always conscious that what they learn and what they carry out is going to touch many more lives. Seeing people grow in their faith, their spiritual life, and discovering their gifts for ministry have always been the highlight for me.” She is now in the midst of the four-year formation of her fifth cohort, scheduled to be completed in 2026.
In her focus on liturgy, Sister Lois works with Bishop Weisenburger on diocesan liturgies such as the Chrism Mass, involving the blessing of the oils, usually on the morning of Holy Thursday; the Red Mass for Catholic lawyers; the special Mass for Catholic doctors; and other Masses in which the bishop is involved. “Liturgy planning is my strength,” Sister Lois said, explaining that it involves everything from working with the bishop on the planning document to creating the worship aid and securing ministers for the liturgy.
“My ministry is really event-driven, so no day is really typical,” Sister Lois explained. “My day begins with a review of the emails and issues that are on the table. Depending on the events at hand, the day can be a short one or a long one.” For example, the formation program involves 12 hours of in-person instruction on the weekends and preparation of the materials beforehand.
Sister Lois occasionally travels around the expansive diocese, which stretches from Yuma, Arizona, to California and as far south as the Mexican border. These trips are usually to lead a workshop on liturgy at one of the diocese’s 78 parishes or to lay ministers in rural parishes on how to conduct Communion services in the absence of a priest.
Sister Lois’s ministries have not been what she expected when, in 1970, she earned a bachelor of science degree from Siena Heights College (University). “I thought I wanted to be a math and science teacher, and those were my strengths during the elementary teaching years,” she noted.
However, when she worked with junior high students who were being formed in their faith through the perspective of Vatican II, she noticed that their parents were still focused on the 100 questions from the Baltimore Catechism that they had memorized as children. “I wanted to find a way to teach adults,” she said. “Without Vatican II, that wouldn’t have been an invitation.”
Sister Lois served in Initial Formation for the Adrian Dominican Sisters from 1978 to 1980. During that time, she earned her Master of Arts in Teaching Religion from St. Michael’s College in Winooski, Vermont, in 1980. “It was designed for high school religion teachers but had all the basic current theology I needed to feel confident in parish work.”
Sister Lois served five years at St. Augustine Parish in Phoenix, Arizona. Those years “taught me almost everything I needed to know when I got into diocesan work,” she said. “Flexibility, survival, creativity: all those skills for ministry surfaced as needed.” These skills prepared her for her 16 years as full-time Director of Liturgy for the Diocese of Austin, Texas.
At the end of her time in Austin, Sister Lois was looking for a new “pioneer job.” She began a Doctorate in Ministry in the Supervision Program at the Oblate School of Theology, San Antonio, Texas, where Adrian Dominican Sister Sarah Sharkey, OP, taught.
After attending classes in June and January for four years, Sister Lois worked on her doctoral project: a curriculum of 24 clock hours – eight three-hour sessions – on topics that wives of permanent deacon candidates would need to accept their new role as the spouse of an ordained minister.
By now, Sister Lois was ministering in the Diocese of Tucson. “I actually used the sessions as practice” in the Common Formation Program and implemented the curriculum in the studies of the Classes of 2017 and 2021, she said. “As I look back on it, one thing did lead to another and prepared me for the next step.”
Sister Lois’s years of ministry have given her a broader perspective of the Church. “Working in diocesan ministry for 30 years has kept me in touch with at least the U.S. Church,” she said. “My work in the diocese has continued to keep me open to the great diversity of our Church. In the Diocese of Tucson, you don’t just live it one way.”
Through her work overseeing the diocesan process to prepare for the Catholic Church’s global Synod on Synodality, Sister Lois confirmed that the people of the Diocese of Tucson experience “different areas, different communities, different prayer interests, and devotional life. The biggest thing is we’re a big Church, and there’s a lot of diversity out there.”
Mary Ellen Leciejewski, OP
System Vice President for Environmental Sustainability
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.
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.
• 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?
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.
“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 email@example.com; or visit https://springbankretreat.org.