Answering God’s Call – Virus pauses sister’s ministry to Columbus ‘street family’

By Tim Puet, Catholic Times Reporter


Sr. Nadine Buchanan, OP

Sister Nadine Buchanan, OP, can’t wait until she can hug people once more.

For the past 11 years, Sister Nadine has ministered in the Franklinton and Hilltop areas of Columbus’ west side to the homeless and to people exploited by human traffickers, bringing them bags filled with two days’ worth of sandwiches, sweets, water and juice.

She has been making the 10-mile drive to the west side from the motherhouse of the Dominican Sisters of Peace on the city’s east side three or four times a week and has distributed tens of thousands of the bags during the years. In 2019 alone, she estimates that she handed out 2,500 bags, containing items she purchased or were donated. The sisters pay for her car and gas.

But because of the coronavirus pandemic, she hasn’t visited members of what she calls her “street family” since March. She has kept in touch with some of them through the agencies that serve them, but it’s not the same as looking them in the eyes and telling them God loves and cares for them.

“I talk with Ben Sears of the Mount Carmel Medicine Street outreach program and with the staff of Sanctuary Night and they tell me people are asking all the time, ‘Where’s Sister?’” she said. “I love being on the streets, giving and receiving hugs and listening to what people need to talk about. I long so much to be able to do that again once enough people are vaccinated against the virus that I can resume my ministry.

“There are so many good people on the streets who have been so traumatized because of drug use or human trafficking. I’ve gotten to know wonderful men and wonderful women who have been trapped by the circumstances of their lives and tell me, ‘I didn’t know I was good enough.’

“What they need most is to talk to people and be able to trust them. They don’t need preached to. They need love, compassion, care and non-judgment. I tell them, ‘I love you because I love you. You’re made in the image of God.’ Some haven’t heard anyone tell them that for a long time, and it brings reassurance,” Sister Nadine said.

Although she can’t currently visit the people she serves, she is putting together holiday bags to be distributed with the help of the Mount Carmel street outreach, Integrated Services and Sanctuary on Sullivant Avenue. The bags will include candy, peanut butter crackers, fruit snacks, socks, lip balm and McDonald’s gift certificates.

Sister Nadine’s street ministry began in 2009 while she was recovering from surgery. “During my recovery, I read a story online about people trying to help trafficking survivors and said, ‘I have to get involved with that,’” she said.

After receiving training in anti-human-trafficking programs from the Salvation Army in Columbus, she began working with Freedom a la Cart, a catering and meals-at-home company that trains human trafficking survivors for jobs in the food service industry, and with the Franklin County CATCH (Changing Actions to Change Habits) Court, a specialized court founded by retired Franklin County Municipal Judge Paul Herbert in 2009. Its purpose is to help trafficking survivors recover through trauma-based counseling and drug and alcohol treatment. She continues to volunteer with Freedom a la Cart and is a member of the Columbus Coalition for the Homeless.

Sister Nadine and Freedom a la Cart staff member April Thacker, who died in May, got the Hyatt Regency Columbus hotel to donate sandwiches for holiday meals, which they delivered in 2009 to people on the west-

Sister Nadine Buchanan packs bags of food and supplies.

side streets. That spurred Sister Nadine to more action. “I realized those people are hungry every day,” she said. “So I began going out on my own to help them and just kept doing it.

“Even as a child, I always wanted to do something for God,” she said. “I was always attracted to helping the poor and those in need, especially people who had to beg for the necessities of life.”

Sister Nadine, 70, the youngest of four children, two of them deceased, spent the early years of her life on a small farm in Muskingum County before her family moved to Zanesville in 1955. “We moved because there was still anti-Catholic prejudice at that time,” she said. “The Ku Klux Klan wouldn’t let us ride a school bus. We moved to town so we could walk or take a city bus to school.

She attended Zanesville St. Thomas Aquinas School and Rosecrans High School, from which she graduated in 1968. When she was in fifth grade, her father, an Armco Steel employee for 40 years, suffered a massive heart attack and stroke and couldn’t go back to his job, so she began working as a baby sitter, serving as many as 15 families, and doing housekeeping chores.

At age 18, she worked for a year at the former Essex Wire Co. plant in Zanesville, making backup lights for Ford vehicles. “I was part of an all-woman crew with male supervisors,” she said. “These were the working poor. They had to work because they had kids to support.

Every day, I carried a crucifix in my pocket to help give me courage.

“When I left the plant, all the women on that crew gave me cards and presents. One of them told me, ‘It’s rare when someone comes into this job and walks out better than when she came in.’ I’ll never forget that,” she said.

She then attended Muskingum Area Technical College for two years, earning an associate degree in early childhood education. She had wanted since childhood to be a Dominican sister because she was taught by Dominicans in grade school, and in 1971, she entered the congregation of the Dominican Sisters of St. Mary of the Springs, now the Dominican Sisters of Peace.

She made her first profession of vows in 1975 and her final profession in 1980, earning a Bachelor of Science degree in early and middle school education from Ohio Dominican College (now University). She later earned a master’s degree in educational theory and practice from Ohio State University and a chaplaincy certificate from the National Association of Catholic Chaplains.

Her first assignment as a sister was teaching 3- to 5-year-olds at the former St. Mary of the Springs Montessori School. In the Diocese of Columbus, she also taught at Columbus Holy Name School and Columbus Our Lady of Peace School. Her last teaching assignment was at Lancaster St. Mary School. Her career in education also included periods at schools in the Diocese of Steubenville and in Pennsylvania, New York and Connecticut.

She has lived in Columbus since 1997, serving as a transcript evaluator at Ohio Dominican, in pastoral ministry at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, in hospice ministry with Mount Carmel Health and as a tutor at the Dominican Learning Center.

“One of my longest assignments as a teacher was at a school in Rye, New York,” Sister Nadine said. “Rye is one of the nation’s wealthiest communities, and when I started a Christmas collection asking the children if they could bring in some of their clothes and toys to give to the poor, it was a real challenge. The parents didn’t want their children to know about poor people.

“But after a while, things started to change. Parents started to realize that it was important for their children to appreciate how fortunate they were and to know how they could use their wealth to help others. When I left Rye, many parents thanked me for educating both them and their children about poverty. That meant a lot.”

Sister Nadine recognizes that she works in an area of Columbus where many people wouldn’t venture but says that doesn’t bother her.

“I don’t go out there with blinders on. I know the situations I could be walking into, but God in his grace has given me the ability to do this work,” she said. “I don’t feel afraid when I’m on the streets. People sense this, and that’s one reason they’re able to trust me, and I can form a bond with them. I hope I’ll be able to continue with this ministry for as long as I’m capable of doing the work.”

To read more about Sr. Nadine’s work, click the links below:

Gannett Newspapers, 2018

Side Effects Public Media 

To support the work of the Dominican Sisters of Peace, please click here.

Posted in News

LiveWell, Finney County, KS, Establishes Sister Janice Thome Award

Dominican Sister of Peace Janice Thome Presented with First Annual Award created in her honor during LiveWell’s  20th Anniversary Event

Dominican Sister of Peace Janice Thome

GARDEN CITY, KS – LiveWell Finney County, a coalition of professionals from health, social service, education, and the broader community has established the “Sister Janice Thome” award in honor of Dominican Sister of Peace Sister Janice Thome, Garden City, KS. The creation of this award acknowledges Sr. Janice’s vast contributions to the community to elevate access to healthcare for families and individuals who need it most.

The award, which was presented recently at LiveWell’s virtual annual meeting and celebration of the organization’s 20th anniversary, will be given annually to an individual that exemplifies the group’s charter to improve the health, well-being, and safety of the people of Finney County by collaborating to build a better community.

“We are pleased to present this award to Sister Janice, as she has been instrumental in the founding and success of LiveWell Finney County and by her efforts, has helped those in need gain access to care and health equity, while also educating community members about how to live active and healthy lives,” said Callie Dyer, executive director of LiveWell Finney County. “We are grateful for all Sister Janice does within the community and look forward to presenting the award next year to someone that is committed to furthering her legacy for the people of Finney County.”

Dominican Sister of Peace Janice Thome serves with the Dominican Sisters Ministry of Presence in Garden City and as the Teen Parent Educator for Parents as Teachers for the School District.

In an interview with the Southwest Kansas Catholic, Sr. Janice shared a little about her life as a vowed Dominican:

“I was taught by Dominican Sisters in grade school at St. Peter, Schulte, and I had cousins who were members of the religious communities in Wichita that I visited at their motherhouses.  In eighth grade, the seven girls in our class went to the Dominican Motherhouse in Great Bend for a vocation day.

“The lightness and openness of the motherhouse impressed me.  My seventh and eighth-grade teacher, Sister Rosalia, was a happy woman, as were my cousins. I wanted to be that kind of a person if I was a religious.”

“I entered religious life because of the attraction it held as a very different lifestyle.  There was a curiosity as to how the Sisters I knew could be happy in such a life.  There was a sense that God might be calling me to this life, and I had to try it out in order to know if it was a fit for me.”

Sr. Janice entered religious life in 1961. She ministered as an educator for 26 years and served her Dominican community as a Council Member for eight years. She became part of the Dominican Sisters Ministry of Presence, a direct ministry with the economic poor, in Garden City in the fall of 1996, and has served in that capacity since then.

Posted in News

Joy and the Covid Vaccine

Blog by Jaime Berry, OPA

In these difficult times, weeping may stay the night, but Joy comes in the morning. (Ps 30:5)  For me, the Joy was the announcement of two Covid mRNA vaccines now being distributed and given to frontline healthcare workers that include doctors, nurses, technologists, technicians, EMTs, and environmental service workers – the whole shebang – and last but not the least, our elderly, after 10 months of much sadness, loneliness, isolation and darkness.

On Thursday, December 23, with sheer Joy in my heart, I received the first dose of the vaccine to protect me and those I care for from Covid-19. You see, I am a clinical microbiologist. My staff and I work with clinical respiratory samples all day, never knowing who has the virus until the test flags and results are interpreted as positive. Yes, we take all of the precautions – masking, gowning, gloving, washing hands, working in biological safety cabinets, and physical distancing in our own workspace.  We no longer dine together for dinner.  Most meetings are via Zoom.  If our senior team happens to meet in person – no more than 6 people in the room as we literally talk in raised voices spread apart.

Over the past few weeks our institution has prepped us for what might be coming.  There were lots of communications, a video of a panel discussion which included our head of infectious diseases, a pharmacist, director of nursing nurse, and even our CEO.  I also discussed the vaccine with three of my directors – all gifted women scientists. I didn’t think we’d get the vaccine so quickly being a children’s hospital. A physician from another hospital wrote a recent blog commenting that it felt like he and his colleagues were waiting to get into a Bruce Springsteen concert, all eagerly leaning and straining toward the entrance. Imagine a Bruce Springsteen concert full of glad tidings.

When my turn came, I slowly walked with some sadness and trepidation to the vaccination site with my daddy on my mind. He succumbed to Covid-19 on September 15, death certificate stating cause of death as acute respiratory failure due to bilateral Covid-19 pneumonia. If only he could have held out three more months and one week; he would have received this vaccine. I, too, had Covid-19, a moderate eventful case, leading to the emergency room and overnight hospitalization – I couldn’t breathe. “How can this be?” I wondered. “I’m in the emergency room on oxygen, steroids and pain killer because it hurt to breathe and my 86-year-old dad is upstairs in intensive care struggling to breathe, struggling to live.”

Ready for the vaccine, I walked into the auditorium, smooth jazz music playing overhead while I was escorted to seat number 6. My vaccinator, a hospital pharmacist asked how I felt, and we chit chatted for a few moments. He asked, “which arm?” I said “left.” I’m right-handed, and if anything should go awry, I’d still have my good hand/arm to use.  It’s crazy what wafts through your mind.

I received the first dose and almost cried due to my sense of relief, hope, JOY, and gratitude. I thanked my vaccinator and moved to another staged area so I could be observed for 15-20 minutes by other medical professionals for any life-threatening side effects. I sat there and said a prayer of thanks to God. God’s hands and providence touched the minds of countless scientists to find a way, to make a vaccine so that many others will be able to continue to live and to spread Good News of JOY and hope.  Yes, your arm will be very sore a day or two later after receiving the vaccine with varying symptoms for many ranging from mild to severe.

As a Dominican Associate, I received the vaccine for me, for my colleagues, for patients, for families, for friends, for our communities, for our nation, for the world. I did this for those hundreds of thousands who have died, many due to lack of access to care or due to the ignorance, or fear and obstinacy of those in power.   As an African American woman, I especially encourage my black brothers and sisters to get the vaccine; the virus is killing us!  I know the history of what happened to our ancestors and elders, but today is a new day, another journey that brings hope. We are a people of hope!  Everyone will eventually have a choice to receive this miracle in 2021. Let’s hope that all will be open to it, for Joy comes in the morning.

Posted in Associate Blog