The Transformative Power of a Smile

Blog by Associate Mary Ellen George, OPA

Have you ever caught yourself smiling when asking others to smile while taking a photo?

I have a yellow bowl with a smiley face sitting on my desk and sitting on top of the bowl is a stuffed smiley face figure. When I need a ‘lift-up,’ I look at these inanimate objects, and magically, I catch myself happier and able to reciprocate this smile toward others.

A simple smile has such transformative powers, changing how we feel about ourselves and how we see others.  When we visualize smiling from within and share this positive energy with others, we create a welcoming and accepting atmosphere around us.   A smile directed to others can spread like wildfire and light a path of joy and peace among its recipients.  This kind of power is life-giving and can be far-reaching.  Just imagine how the spark of a simple smile has the power to ignite a glow of positive feelings.

Think of the people who bring smiles to your face.  What characteristics exude from them when they smile? Cheerfulness?  Warmth?  Calmness?  Optimism?  How do you feel when someone smiles at you?  Special?  Recognized? Affirmed? Hopeful?   Smiles have a way of connecting us to each other, whether we are exchanging or giving a smile to a familiar acquaintance or a stranger.   If we all smiled more, we might be able to keep the spirit of peace, hope, and happiness lingering longer.

There are many benefits to smiling.  Smiling is contagious and can lower your blood pressure, relieve stress, and strengthen your immune system.  Even in perilous times, smiling can lessen the pain of suffering and give you strength to deal with whatever ails you.

In Proverbs 15: 13, we are told that “A glad heart lights up the face, but an anguished heart breaks the spirit.”  While life can be filled with moments of sorrow and sadness, we can begin to find relief by striving for a cheerful disposition.  In Proverbs 17:22, we are cautioned to recognize that “A joyful heart is the health of the body, but a depressed spirit dries up the bones.”  Although circumstances can cause us to despair, our faith teaches us to have hope and to believe that God smiles upon us.  We can smile back in gratitude for how our God carries us through the good and the difficult times of our lives.

If we start each morning with a smile, we might experience more fulfillment in what we do and how we see things throughout the day.  So, every day, think of the people, places, and things that make you smile.  Then, light up your surroundings with your smile and watch how you and others are transported to a happy place by this simple, powerful and meaningful gesture.

One of my friends’ Skype greeting is this quote by Lawrence G. Lovasik, “Nobody needs a smile so much as the one who has none to give. So get used to smiling heart-warming smiles, and you will spread sunshine in a sometimes dreary world.” How true! A good reminder of God’s call to share God’s love and smile.

Are you ready to share your smile with God’s people and to bring hope, peace, and love to others as a religious sister?  If so, I invite you to contact one of our Vocation Ministers.

Posted in God Calling?, News

St. Agnes Student Brings Peace to the Refugee

St. Agnes Academy Senior Gracie Fogarty served at a Texas refugee center this summer.
The book of Proverbs says “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.”


We see this verse in action as the students of the founded educational ministries of the Dominican Sisters of Peace build peace in their communities every day. Gracie Fogarty, a student at our St. Agnes Academy in Memphis, TN, learned to build peace at a refugee center in Texas. She tells her story here.

Tic-Tac-Toe — a game loved by children everywhere — will now forever hold a special place in my heart. I know that it may seem a little peculiar that such a simple game could hold such importance; however, once you hear why this game changed my life, it may hold a new meaning for you, too.

On June 30, I was asked by the Religious Education Director at my school, St. Agnes Academy, if I would be interested in joining the Catholic Charities of West Tennessee team on a mission trip to Texas. She told me that we would be working at a respite center that welcomed refugees who are entering the United States for better living conditions and that we would leave in four days.

All I could say was, “Wow. Why me?” My heart was saying, “Yes! Yes! Yes!” But my mind was hesitant. It all felt too sudden. I then remembered a quote that has been my motto for a while now: “Let your faith be bigger than your fear.” I like to believe God was the one telling me, “yes,” and after this experience, I know full well that God was the one calling me and tapping on my heart. God was calling me to help God’s people, to do God’s work, and to spread God’s love. I knew I had to go and do God’s work and bring others closer to God as I shared God’s love.

One way I made known God’s love was through the simple and well-loved game of Tic-Tac-Toe. I know it sounds farfetched, but I uniquely discovered it to be a gateway for new friendships. While I created many friendships through my mission trip in Texas, three stand out, and they all began with this child’s game.

First, I met a nine-year-old girl who spent a lot of time talking with me. I came up with the idea to teach her how to play Tic-Tac-Toe, and she thought it was the best thing ever! I asked her if she had any favorite games, and she replied, “This game!” It made my heart so happy that I had brought her some joy. I was intrigued that something so simple could bring so much joy to a person.

  The next day, some of the other Memphis group members were talking with a young man when I walked into the room and they introduced me. He asked me to play Tic-Tac-Toe with him. He was a remarkable man. We all got to know him really well that day. He told us that he would never forget us and that we were his best and first friends here in the USA. He even drew a heart on a piece of paper and began to write something inside it. Once he finished, we saw that he had written “amigos” on the paper inside the heart. He told us that we have created that meant so much to him.

The third day of our mission trip, I met a little girl with the sweetest smile and most beautiful heart. Again, we got to know each other through a game of Tic-Tac-Toe! She taught me so many things in the few hours I had with her. She taught me what it means to be a friend, and how important it is to make others feel beautiful and loved. This little girl has a huge piece of my heart, as do all of the other refugees that I had the privilege of meeting. Saying goodbye has never been easy for me, and saying goodbye to this little girl was no exception. Before I left she said: “Please don’t forget about me. I love you with all my heart.” It was so hard to say goodbye to each of these people that I met. However, how lucky am I that I was able to have such an experience and meet so many new people that made saying goodbye so hard? God truly blessed me through this mission trip. He blessed me with new friends, a new view on humanity, and He grew my heart to love service even more.

My week in Texas was an experience unlike any other. I got a real glimpse into the “uproar” that our country has been focused on. I have come to realize that this is more a human issue than a political issue. These people were living in terrible conditions. They need only to feel loved, accepted and cared for. These people are some of the sincerest, kindest, gentlest, and most grateful people I have ever met. These people are so special to me, and they have taught me so much about how to be a genuine person. They deserve to have their dignity restored, and I pray that I was able to play a role in that. The mission I was on was about welcoming these people with open arms and offering them peace, which they so richly deserve. Who knew that part of bringing them peace would begin by playing a simple game? All, I know is that I give all the glory to God.

The Dominican Sisters of Peace build peace at our ministries across the country and around the world. To support our work to bring peace to the marginalized, please click here.
Posted in News

So Much More That Must Be Done: Part 2

Blog by Sr. Anne Lythgoe, OP

Last month, in my previous blog, I suggested that nothing less than a Reformation of the Priesthood was needed to begin a path toward restoring credibility in the Catholic hierarchy. Since then, much more has happened with the resignation of Cardinal Wuerl of Washington, DC and Pope Francis’s indication that he is investigating the case of Theodore McCarrick’s past behavior — who knew what and when. Not to mention what is happening throughout the Catholic world on the subject of sexual abuse of minors by clerics.

I have struggled to offer anything constructive on how we might recover from this devastating cancer. We laity have very little voice and almost no influence over what the bishops will do to correct their course going forward.  But there is so much more that needs to be done, that I wonder what would happen if we all wrote to our local bishops and offered some serious feedback about would help us as laity to feel there was any hope of recovery from this sin in our Church.

So here are a few seriously considered recommendations you could make to our bishops:

Stop blaming the gay community. This is the most blatant scapegoating and it is cheap and disrespectful of people who have nothing to do with the problem of pedophilia. Rather, recommend that your bishop focus on some serious revisions to his own understanding and Catholic understanding in general of human sexuality. It might be a bridge too far for many bishops to think that homosexuality is simply a particular place on the spectrum of human personality, but he could at least not blame gay people for this pedophilia problem.

Stop blaming celibacy. It is not for everyone, clearly, but you could point out that it is possible to live a healthy and productive celibate life, with the right support and committed community of friends.  The best way to choose a celibate life is to have great men and women who are examples of healthy and happy celibate lives as inspiration. Learn by good example. Celibacy is not for everyone so can we at least begin to talk about an option for a married priesthood? Bishops don’t seem to mind admitting formerly Anglican married priests into the Church. A serious examination of the double message of this practice is in order and an honest explanation is needed of why it’s okay for some priests to be married and other not.

While we are on the topic, maybe we should think twice about clerics teaching people about marriage and have couples with a successful marriage do that part for us.  Surely there are plenty of qualified and educated laity around. Teaching by example and lived experience is inspiring.

Stop talking and start listening. The time for empty words and a pledge to do better is over. To be honest, I don’t appreciate being invited by the hierarchy to join in a common prayer for healing and forgiveness. It seems pretty strange that a bishop would invite me to pray for forgiveness when he needs to be asking the laity for forgiveness.  I’m having a hard time taking bishops seriously who have no accountability for covering up pedophilia. Ask your bishop to listen to the pain and suffering this has caused victims and the rest of the laity as well. Can he stay at the table long enough to know their hurt at a deep and transformative level?

Stop thinking that present seminary education and priestly formation is adequate. A fearless and honest look at how priests are trained is essential. Ask your bishop to tell you how their men are being equipped for lifelong development of their own spirituality, pastoral skills, and how they can maintain a community of personal support. What is he doing to be a brother to his priests who are struggling or lonely or poorly suited to a ministry?

Finally, my last suggestion is that the hierarchy follow the traditional steps for the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

  1. Examine your conscience. What sins of omission or commission do you need to own in order to make a good confession? Ask the Holy Spirit for help.
  2. Publicly admit the exact nature of your wrongs to the people of your diocese. Being able to admit wrong takes humility and a willingness to accept the consequences of your actions. Losing power can be scary, but it is not the end of the world. We, the laity, are very capable of forgiving, but not very tolerant of covering up sin.
  3. Express your remorse and contrition for offending God and the people whom you serve.
  4. Ask for the forgiveness of those who were abused, be willing to make amends to them, without a lawyer present, no matter how long ago the abuse took place.
  5. Do public penance and meaningful acts of contrition that demonstrate a sincere desire and openness to reform. Then follow that with action that begins to rebuild some credibility.

Reconciliation is possible, because in the very long haul, the people of God have been sustained by their faith in good times and in bad, during great trials and suffering. I believe that we have the potential for a new Church, a renewed, more humble Church.  But I think this one will take a very long time.

Posted in News, Weekly Word

Sister Margaret Therese Baranek, OP

Margaret Therese Baranek, OP

Dominican Sister of Peace Margaret Therese Baranek, OP, (87) died at the Lourdes Senior Community in Oxford, MI, on October 7, 2018. A native of Chicago, IL, she was born in 1931 to Louise Kavac and Joseph Baranek. She entered Dominican Sisters of Oxford, now the Dominican Sisters of Peace, in 1950.

One of seven children, Sr. Margaret Therese – or M.T., as she was known by her Dominican Sisters – came from a musical family. That love of music stayed with her for her entire life.

A true Dominican, Sr. M.T. also loved to learn and to teach. She attended the College of St. Francis in Joliet, the University of Detroit, and Siena Heights College, where she earned her Bachelor of Science in Biology with minors in chemistry and math. She continued her studies at Marquette University and Webster College in Missouri, earning a Masters of Theology in Religious Studies.


Sister Margaret Therese ministered in Wisconsin and Michigan, teaching science, math, religion, and music to students in grades 2-12. For more than 40 years, she delighted in sharing her love of learning, using unique methods like music and puppet shows to pique the interest of her younger students.

Sister Margaret Therese also ministered as DRE at Sacred Heart Parish and played the piano for the adult choir. She also enjoyed sharing her talents by volunteering at the Oxford Motherhouse library and as a music minister.

Sr. Margaret Therese was preceded in death by her parents; Joseph and Louise Kavec Baranek; sisters Mary Baranek and Ann Nylen, and her brothers Joseph, Louis, and Frank Baranek. She is survived by her sister Theresa Baranek and many nieces and nephews.

A Vigil of Remembrance Service was held at the Dominican Sisters of Peace Motherhouse Chapel in Oxford, MI, on Thursday, October 11, 2018. The funeral liturgy was also held at the Dominican Sisters of Peace Motherhouse Oxford Chapel on Friday, October 12, 2018. Sr. Margaret Therese was interred at Our Lady of Sorrows Cemetery, Oxford, MI.

Memorial gifts in Sr. Margaret Therese Baranek’s memory may be sent to the Dominican Sisters of Peace, Office of Mission Advancement, 2320 Airport Dr., Columbus, OH, 43219 or submitted securely at

To download a printable copy of this memorial, please click here.

Posted in Obituaries

Sister Mary Sarita McEneany, OP

Dominican Sister of Peace Mary Sarita (Cecelia) McEneany (88) died at the Mohun Health Care Center in Columbus, OH, on September 28, 2018. She was born in 1930 in Columbus, OH, the daughter of Lucy Reeb and James McEneany. She entered Dominican Sisters of St. Mary of the Springs, now the Dominican Sisters of Peace, in 1950.

Sister Mary Sarita McEneany, OP

Sister Sarita came from a family dedicated to religious service. One of six children, she was one of three of Lucy and James’ daughters that entered religious life. She also had two aunts who were Dominican Sisters. She learned from an early age how to share her gifts and serve others. At the occasion of her own Golden Jubilee, she reflected upon the changes brought about by Vatican II, saying that they made her feel more responsible for the needs and concerns of God’s people, and she served God’s people as a Dominican Sister of Peace for 68 years.

Sr. Sarita earned her Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education from St. Mary of the Springs College, now Ohio Dominican University, and a Master’s of Science in Elementary Administration from the University of Dayton. She shaped many young hearts and minds as an elementary school teacher in Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York, Illinois and Michigan. She also served as Principal at the Blessed Sacrament School in Newark, OH.

But her talents reached far beyond teaching and education. After retiring from teaching in 1980, Sr. Sarita served where she was needed most – in Pastoral Care at St. George Hospital in Cincinnati, OH; as a secretary and cook at Lourdes Rectory and School in Cincinnati; as a tutor, as a secretary for the podiatry office at the Columbus Motherhouse and for the North Broadway Children’s Center in Columbus, and Driver and Receptionist for Mohun Health Care Center. It seems fitting that when Sister entered her final ministry of Prayer and Presence, it was in her hometown of Columbus, in the midst of her friends and Sisters at Mohun.

Sr. Sarita was remembered as a woman whose life centered on her God, a woman of great faith, of patience, and of unending gratitude.

Sr. Mary Sarita McEneany was preceded in death by her parents, James and Lucy Reed McEneany; her sisters, Jane McEneany, Patricia Riley, Sister M. Patrick McEneany, OSF, Sister Barbara Ann McEneany, CSC; and a brother, James McEneany, Jr. She is survived by loving nieces and nephews.

A Vigil of Remembrance Service was held at the Dominican Sisters of Peace Motherhouse Chapel, Columbus, OH, on Thursday, October 4, 2018. The funeral liturgy was also held at the Dominican Sisters of Peace Motherhouse Chapel on Friday, October 5, 2018. Sr. Sarita was interred at St. Joseph Cemetery in Columbus, OH.

Memorial gifts in Sr. Mary Sarita’s memory may be sent to the Dominican Sisters of Peace, Office of Mission Advancement, 2320 Airport Dr., Columbus, OH, 43219 or submitted securely at

To download a printable copy of this memorial, please click here. 

Posted in Obituaries