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By Claire Henry
Communications Manager, Dominican Hospital

Below is an excerpt of an article in Focus on Health, a publication of Dominican Hospital in Santa Cruz. Claire Henry, Editor, reflects on her recent visit to the Adrian Dominican Motherhouse and what it taught her about the mission of the Congregation and Dominican Hospital.

May 15, 2018, Santa Cruz, California – As editor of Dominican Hospital’s magazine Focus on Health, I’ve had several opportunities to write about our Sister sponsors. I’ve delved into the history of the Adrian Dominican Congregation and can trace the line that connects their earliest beginnings in medieval Germany to our present-day health care institution in Santa Cruz, California.

As such, I considered myself fairly well-educated about the Sisters and their Mission I realize now how wrong I was. I was honored with an invitation to visit the Adrian Dominican Motherhouse in Adrian, Michigan, last November so that I might better understand the vision and values that drive the work we do at the hospital.

I was apprehensive. I had no idea what to expect but, as a lifelong resident of Santa Cruz County and having no familiarity with Catholicism, I was sure I’d feel wildly out of place.

When Dominican Sisters first came to America, one of the primary needs identified was education. At one time in America, Catholics were looked down upon and mistreated. The Sisters provided children from Catholic homes with an education when they couldn’t get one elsewhere.

That passion for educating continues at Dominican Hospital with Sister Adrienne Piennette, OP. Sister Adrienne coordinates the Health Careers Academy and Scholarship Program in partnership with Cabrillo College, for students on track to have careers in health care. Students benefit from weekly presentations by health care professionals about their jobs, and also volunteer 120 hours in departments throughout the hospital during the term. Every student who completes the academy is granted a $3,000 scholarship for further studies, compliments of the Dominican medical staff’s Pteron Society.

Adrian Dominican Sisters who serve at Dominican Hospital join Bishop Richard Garcia, of the Diocese of Monterey, during a celebration of the hospital’s 75th anniversary in 2016. From left are Sisters Beth Butler, OP, Judy Silva, OP, Michaella Siplak, OP, and Veronica Kelley, OP; Bishop Richard Garcia; and Sisters Adrienne Piennette, OP, Rita Eileen Dean, OP, and Mary Ellen Leciejewski, OP.

Another important thing I learned: These Sisters pride themselves on seeking out truth and justice.

We spoke with Sister Attracta Kelly, OP, who happens to be an immigration lawyer. She is a fierce advocate for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy and the Dream Act. At no cost, she provides legal counsel to many of the community’s immigrant workers. This progressive-mindedness often puts her and other Sisters at odds with the beliefs of the locals, many of whom are deeply conservative, but that doesn’t stop her.

That spirit is alive here at Dominican as well. One example is Sister Michaella Siplak, OP, RN, who established and directs the Mobile Wellness Clinic. The clinic provides health care to uninsured and underinsured populations, including migrant workers throughout Santa Cruz County. The clinic operates five days a week, reaching 10 locations across Santa Cruz County and has served more than 2,500 patients in the past year.

Another example is Sister Judy Silva, OP. The hospitality coordinator at Dominican, she leads a dedicated band of volunteers in serving dinner to homeless men, women, and children in Santa Cruz each month. Pets are often welcomed.

Before serving as Dominican Hospital’s Patient Satisfaction Coordinator, Sister Beth Butler, OP, was a volunteer chaplain at the Miami Police Department. Today, she supports departments throughout the hospital in delivering patient care, and each year organizes the “Count your Blessings” holiday program, during which hospital staff buy gifts for less fortunate local families. 

The Adrian Dominicans revere life, and I learned that this reverence extends to our planet. Their social justice ministry acknowledges the reality of climate change and the urgency of addressing this issue for “the whole Earth community.” They actively participate in campaigns to educate the public on the inherent right of all creation to thrive, not just to serve as a material resource for human beings.

This philosophy has deeply informed the corporate responsibility and sustainability programs at Dominican Hospital and across the Dignity Health system, which are managed by Sister Mary Ellen Leciejewski, OP, Vice President of Corporate Responsibility for Dignity Health. 

Sister Rita Dean, OP, Vice President of Mission Integration at Dominican Hospital, organizes these trips to the Adrian Dominican Motherhouse each year for a good reason. The population of Adrian Dominican Sisters is dwindling, and these visits are helping to ensure that their legacy, history, and mission live on. 

I’m proud to say that I see so much of the Sisters’ spirit in Dominican Hospital. The reverence we have for each life in our care. The determination with which we work to get our patients well. The compassion we show to anyone who walks through our door, regardless of their ability to pay. The joy and sense of humor we bring to the workplace. All of these are reflected in the Mission of the Adrian Dominican Sisters and that of our hospital leadership.

For me, the hospital was a profoundly moving experience. These days, it’s so easy to look at the actions of others and automatically question their motives. It can be hard to believe that anyone does anything solely because it is the good and right thing to do. But the purity of behavior is exactly what I witnessed from the Sisters. They do what they do without any expectation of personal gain. 

These many months later, I still can’t talk about the experience without my voice catching in my throat and tears springing to my eyes. The Sisters restored my faith in humanity. That is a gift I can never repay.


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