Blog by Associate Marybeth Irvine

The days of COVID-19, with its related “Stay Healthy at Home” directives, have left me with time to reflect, read, and pray differently. Mostly, the time is bringing me to questions and few, if any, answers.

In the early days, God presented me with an image of a disco ball. My dialogue went something like: “really a disco ball! — a reminder of flashing lights, dance floors, social gatherings. We are in the midst of a pandemic when all of those fun things are not options.” I prayed that the image would just dissolve, but it hasn’t.

This past week, I visited Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest (in Clermont, KY) and spent time with Nis (one of the Bernheim Forest giants built using recycled wood from the region).  Nis sits at the edge of a pond and is glancing in, seeing his image reflected for the first time. I finally got it! Nis sees himself and only himself and that image is the same one he sees every time he looks (barring changes in the water). My disco ball also presents a self-reflection; but rather than one, it provides many every changing ones.

So what does this have to do with anything? To me, it feels like the journey. I, like many other white-skinned people, have begun again in the last few months as issues of police brutality have light shown on them; as the deaths and significant illness related to COVID-19 reflect disparities based on skin color; as the education system as we have known it comes to an abrupt stop with its replacement form, impacting the poor and — most often — students of color significantly. For me, it means looking at all the facets of the disco ball and seeing all of me.

The first thing I needed to confront is my arrogance. I was in high school and college when the last “big” civil rights movement took place so I thought I understood race relations and equality of all persons. I have a biracial cousin so I thought I accepted blackness in my family circle. Professionally, I often chose to work in the black sections of town, meaning I drove down streets that often made the news because of the violence that occurred on them the night before. I go to lunch with my black co-workers not really thinking about them as different from me. I worship with a community that is the most culturally diverse in the city.  I am arrogant — I think I understand what it is like to live in skin that is not white.

My one-dimensional view really has been unraveling for a couple of years, starting with an innocent comment I made to a woman of color: “I really don’t see color.” The response I received was: “Then you don’t see me.” This short interaction became the first of many facets in my disco ball reflection. Most importantly, it freed me to ask questions and seek insight.

I hear myself asking: How did I not know that the private school education I received was any different from that others were receiving in the public schools down the street? How did I not know that the all-white pool I spent my summers in was that way because others were not allowed in? How did I not know that my all white neighborhood was not that way only because people of the same ethnic background like to live close to each other? Have I ever wondered what my cousin experienced being black in an all white family?

My father is from Virginia, so I have spent endless hours touring plantations and battlefields, seeing the monuments to heroes of the confederate south. Names like Stonewall Jackson, Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee have been part of my vocabulary from a very young age — how did I not know that the Civil War was about more than a dispute between states?

I still struggle with my understanding of slavery. My family’s immigration history starts in the 1900s, so we don’t have direct experience with it. This, coupled with my seeing  “black help” being much loved when I moved south, prevented me from seeing the pain still being inflicted in current times.

Why did I never wonder what it was like to live in black skin? What was it like when they went home? How do I understand my feelings, as I sat with a group of high school girls as they processed the death of a friend and I could not understand their vocabulary or speech patterns?  How do I say to them: “Can you tell me more so I can understand?”

The world of education has been my professional focus — I wonder what the impact has been of my school system’s middle school for students of color with its Afrocentric curriculum? — when/how will the rest of the students get a different view of history?

And I ask myself would I rather be called racist or privileged? Can I acknowledge the fear I experience when I am in loud, seemingly disorganized gatherings of mostly folks who don’t look like me? When I am sharing my financial resources, am I willing to risk and trust that they will be used for good? Can I be vocal enough to say publicly that my white standards are not the only ones that are appropriate? Can I keep risking to ask questions like what is a Green Book or what does a reference to a watermelon imply? Can I risk knowing I don’t know? Can I live with the discomfort of shifting my beliefs?

In the midst of the unrest in the country, I often find myself saying: “Just tell me what you want me to do.” Slowly, I am understanding that would be the easy way out; it would not change my heart.

But I still have more questions: If George Floyd’s painful death had not been played and replayed so often, would Breonna Taylor’s name ever been a part of the conversation? I wonder: is the nation’s outrage about the brutality allowing us to forget the other areas where suffering occurs? Is access to health care, education, employment, just and equal wages being forgotten. How do I keep asking myself the hard questions and be willing to sit with the discomfort?

My disco ball keeps spinning. It keeps asking me to see me in every changing reflection. It keeps challenging me to seek to understand and to ask myself in the words of Resmaa Menakem : “Can I commit myself to the long road ahead?”

Posted in Associate Blog

REFLECTION FOR VESPERS — Sunday July 12, 2020

Reflection by Sr. Rosemary Hoppe, OP

This is my second attempt at a reflection based on the Gospel passage for this Sunday – in the light of the racial tensions in our country.
The seed falls into the darkness of the earth – into the soil—and if the soil is good the seed will sprout forth – the plant will either blossom or bear things good to eat.

The other image that keeps coming to me over these weeks and months is a little different. Small children are seen as having a fear of the dark – not wanting to sleep in a dark room, being afraid of the dark. I keep thinking of this as a very deep rooted fear – perhaps rooted in primitive humanity. I remember walking with one of our sisters who was legally blind. She had recently returned from a workshop where she learned to use a white cane and also to read brail. Where we were walking was wooded and uneven ground – it was dusk so I asked her to lead the way with her cane because she could “see” better than I could.

As we have reflected on racism and the terrible events, the killings of dark skinned people I keep thinking that white privilege and the hatred white people show of people of color – I keep wondering — is it rooted in our primitive fear of the dark? Even our images of Jesus and Mary have been of white skinned humans. Only in more recent times have artists depicted Jesus as a member of other ethnic groups – Black, Native American, etc. This was brought home to me for the first time in the 1950’s. D.H.Holmes department store on Canal St. in New Orleans would sometimes sponsor art exhibits. One I will never forget was of paintings of Jesus, Mary, and the Apostles – all as Jewish people – neither black or white – more like a blending of the two. Of course you may think of the appearances of Mary in the various places as a native of that place. She appeared as one of the people.

Returning again to the fear of the dark — and fear turned to hatred of dark skinned humans. Our Liturgy – our Liturgical life is built on symbols. What if all who are pale skinned could begin to see dark skinned people as symbols of good soil? As that without which good cannot come to be rather than darkness to be feared and hated.

Posted in News

Martin de Porres Center Offers Love at a Distance

Martin de Porres Center Provides Food and Assistance to Central Ohio Families;Bishop Robert Brennan Visits Community Assistance Program

Columbus, OH – How do you show love? For the Latinx young people and families who are part of the peace initiative of the Martin de Porres Center (MDP) in Columbus, love is expressed through a helping hand with homework, with a hug as young people arrive for summer camps, or with joy as new accomplishments are celebrated.

Dominican Sisters of Peace Christine McManus (left) and Michelle Sherliza (right) repackage rice for take-home food bags.

However, in the age of social distancing, when hugs and touching are not acceptable, how do we show love to each other?

For Yahaira Rose, MDP Director, it means stepping up to fill the new needs of those she serves. With Mayra Betances, Rising Youth Program Coordinator, Denise Hilliard, Director, Dominican Learning Center and Laura Baird, MDP Assistant Director, Yahaira found a way to respond to the needs of young people and their families.

“Many Latinx families do not speak English well, so they were confused by the constant and ever-changing flow of news during this pandemic,” Yahaira says. “Many of the parents also lost their employment and were uncertain how to access benefits to keep their families afloat. Other families are working towards citizenship and had no opportunity for assistance from the government, but they needed help with home schooling, food and supplies.”

Feeding 100 families, more than 450 people, every week during this pandemic has been no small task. CommonSpirit Health, a national Catholic health care ministry, funded the purchase of food, personal supplies, and gift cards for gasoline and groceries.

Dominican Sisters of Peace, who sponsor the Martin de Porres Center, make nearly 200 peanut butter sandwiches each week, assemble bags of rice, beans, pasta and tortillas, and write personal notes of encouragement and love to each family.  The Sisters also sewed over 300 masks, which were distributed to families in March.

Bishop Robert Brennen offered his support for the program in a visit to Martin de Porres Center on May 20, 2020.

Other community partners also stepped forward. Local small businesses provided over 210 bags of food and Columbus Fit Life, a local corporate fitness provider, funded the purchase of additional food and supplies.  The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center provided community care kits. In all, over 30 community members partnered to help.

Each Thursday and Friday, families safely pick up food bags. The families are participants in the Center’s Community Outreach programs including Proyecto Mariposas, Kids for Peace, and Rising Youth.  Dominican Learning Center adult learners also take part in the program.

To feed the minds and spirits of the children, the Martin de Porres Center is also providing boxes of activities and craft materials to spark creative thinking and continue education activities over the summer months.

The United Way of Central Ohio has awarded MDP a grant to assist families suffering from housing insecurity by helping pay rent for those in danger of eviction. As schools migrated to online learning, they also supplied computers to students who needed,

“A family being evicted during this time of quarantine is a double tragedy,” Yahaira explained. “Not only have they lost their home, their emotional and physical security, but a family on the street is significantly more susceptible to contracting and spreading COVID-19. Assisting these families with housing is an urgent public health concern.”

MDP will continue to support the families in their programs. This is a partnership with the Dominican Sisters of Peace, the Dominican Learning Center, and Shepherd’s Corner Ecology Center in Blacklick, OH.

Posted in News

God Waits for Us

I have been thinking about the gospel for the second Sunday of Easter for quite some time now.

I know it has been a while, but I keep going over this reading repeatedly in my mind.  The reading is from John 20:19-31 – which just  happens to be one of my favorite gospel passages.

In this gospel, John tells the story of Thomas. When Jesus first appears to the disciples after his Resurrection, Thomas was not present.  In their excitement, the disciples told Thomas about Jesus’ appearance, perhaps silently thinking you should have been here.

Thomas is not only doubtful, but wants proof. He says, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nail marks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

I can just hear the other apostles gasping! I, myself, would be thinking: I want proof too.

We all know what comes next.  Jesus appears a week later and calls out to his disciples, “Peace be with you.” He very pointedly turns to Thomas and says, “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.” Thomas devoutly replies, “My Lord and my God.”

Jesus then says, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me?  Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”

Jesus’ words pierce my heart, knowing what I hold deeply in my heart.  Blind faith is a struggle for me.  Jesus knows this but I can’t help thinking I wish I had been there. Logically, I know that wishing something were so doesn’t make it happen.

What does bring me hope are the beliefs I hold about God.  I know that God loves me. I know that God is patient, forgiving and merciful.  Jesus gently chastises Thomas for his lack of faith and allows him time to come to grips with his Resurrection. I know, too, that God waits for us.

-Associate Patti Herrick

Posted in Just Reflecting

Race is a Made-Up Label

Blog by Associate Colette Parker

I need to say this:

Race has been used to divide and separate people for millennia, but the concept of race has no genetic or scientific basis.

We are one human race. Our species, Homo sapiens, evolved in Africa.

Although the concept of race science – this idea that humankind is divided into separate and unequal  races – has been debunked, race still determines people’s perceptions, opportunities, and experiences.

Race is a human construct, used to perpetuate the notion that white people (who descended from Africa) are somehow superior.

Since we made up racial categories, maybe we can make up new categories that function better. Or, maybe we can just embrace each other as human beings.


Posted in Associate Blog