Rev. Tim Ahrens, OPA, Senior Minister of the First Congregational Church, United Church of Christ in downtown Columbus, Ohio, visited with Sisters and Associates at the Columbus Motherhouse to read from his new book, “The Genius of Justice.”
In this book. Rev. Ahrens interviewed and had conversations with 53 leaders in social justice to discover what they have learned that must be passed down to continue in this work and struggle. Among those interviewed for their own “justice genius” was Sr. Margaret Ormond, OP.
March is Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month, a time to promote acceptance and inclusion of people with disabilities in all areas of life. Five years ago, I wrote a blog post encouraging readers to join the campaign to stop the dehumanizing “R-word” and to practice person-first language whenever possible. Disability advocates are working hard to get society to embrace another word: inclusion.
Inclusion is not something unfamiliar to most of us. It has been used for decades, encouraging institutions to ensure that everyone has a seat at the table. Diversity-Equity-Inclusion have become staples for any organization seeking to build a more just society. What worries me is that in some cases, the meaning and impact of the word inclusion can get lost even among the most compassionate people.
Far too often we think of inclusion as an attitude (“I am a welcoming person”), a program (“My parish has an elevator”), or a metric (“We have a special needs parent on our board.”) None of these ideas are bad, but they can restrict our vision and limit the radical nature of inclusion. The work of inclusion is never finished.
Inclusion should be thought of as a skill. Something that needs to be learned, practiced, and used. Like any skill, it should continue to grow and be a part of who we are.
So how can we develop the skill of inclusion? Here are some ideas:
Educate Yourself: Learning about developmental disabilities and the challenges that people with disabilities face can help you better understand and appreciate their experiences. (As the parent of two adults with Autism, I have encountered many people whose knowledge about Autism has been shaped by the movie Rain Man or disreputable internet articles.)
Listen and Communicate: Effective communication is key to building relationships and creating inclusive environments. We should listen to people with disabilities and be open to their perspectives, and also communicate clearly and respectfully with them. (Many people and even care providers talk around my son, rather than talking to him as a person.)
Create Accessible Environments: Inclusive environments are physically and socially accessible to people of all abilities and sensory capacities. This means making sure that buildings, transportation, and technology are designed to be accessible, and that social events and activities are designed to be inclusive. (My daughter had to miss school every year during “spirit week” because it caused sensory overload for her.)
Challenge Your Biases: We all have biases and assumptions that can prevent us from seeing people with disabilities as full and equal members of society. By challenging these biases and recognizing our own privilege and power, we can create more inclusive communities.
Inclusion is not only a skill that is important for creating a more just and equitable society, but it is also a fundamental principle of the Catholic faith. We believe that every person is created in the image and likeness of God, and that each person has inherent dignity and worth, regardless of their abilities or disabilities.
In his 2015 encyclical Laudato Si, Pope Francis emphasized the need for an inclusive approach to environmental and social issues. He writes, “We must regain the conviction that we need one another, that we have a shared responsibility for others and the world, and that being good and decent are worth it.”
Inclusion is not a one-time event or a checkbox on a to-do list. It’s an ongoing process that requires continuous learning, reflection, and action – every month of the year!
Restoration is imperative for healing the earth, but reciprocity is imperative for long-lasting, successful restoration…..Here is where our most challenging and most rewarding work lies, in restoring a relationship of respect, responsibility, and reciprocity. And love.”
From BRAIDING SWEETGRASS by Robin Wall Kimmerer
These words are used over and over again in BRAIDING SWEETGRASS. They all lead and are integral to Love. Love is what transforms and transmits all that is necessary for us to have a just sustainable life-giving community, society and world.
This book combines science and the knowledge of indigenous people to instruct and illustrate how it is possible, and even imperative, to live in love and relationship with our earth and each other. We are called to be responsible caretakers of our earth, our communities, and our world through reciprocal relationships. Aren’t these the same teachings of the Divine mystics and prophets?
Buddhists take a vow to not kill ANY living being. Yes, that includes mosquitos and roaches. I don’t know what value these insects and some other species add to our world, but I do believe that they have a purpose. We have no right to kill them because they are annoying or we don’t have a use for them. But haven’t we been taught in our culture to disregard that which doesn’t serve us, and because it doesn’t serve us it must not be needed? Read the story of the salamanders in BRAIDING SWEETGRASS and we get their place in our world. They teach us. Their journey is hard. Life is hard. And they keep doing what they are here to do.
Our study group, “Hopeseekers” read this book and we strongly recommend it to all! It is a book that can be read and re-read; its teachings are subtle and profound. It offers wisdom and hope.
Happy New Year! We Associates of the Dominican Sisters of Peace have just completed 2022 – a year of beginnings and endings for each of us.
While I spent most of the last year working at my office in Akron, Ohio, I have also had the opportunity to travel across the country, and to meet many Associates in person or via Zoom. One of my goals for 2023 is to connect with even more of our Associates.
One of the experiences that have enjoyed this past year was walking through the Loggia, in the Akron Motherhouse. This space enjoys beautiful views of Akron Motherhouse grounds, and there are chairs to allow you to rest and enjoy the beauty of God’s creation. Sr. Mary Jakubiak, OP, helps to bring the outside in by caring for the many lush plants in the Loggia space.
Also in this space is a table with two chairs on each side. This is the puzzle table – where a “community” jigsaw puzzle is being completed by the Sisters, sometimes a staff member, and sometimes myself. These puzzles are continually in process – as one is finished, the next one is begun. And this is where my story begins.
There is a process to starting each puzzle. The picture of the completed puzzle is in plain view so all can see what it will look like when finished. A few dedicated Sisters sort each piece of the puzzle by color and shape and place them into plastic containers shaped like puzzle pieces. During this process, other Sisters stop by to assemble the straight-edged pieces of the puzzle, creating the frame that will hold the puzzle together.
I found myself stopping by each time I walked through this area – sometimes to place a piece of the puzzle into its proper place and sometimes just to watch the process as it was happening. I was not always successful when I tried to place a piece in the puzzle, but I began to think about these jigsaw puzzles and the people whose hands are assembling them.
I began to see my role as the new Director of the Associates as the person who had the box with the pieces of the puzzle. The picture of who we are – or who we want to be – is on the front of the box. This picture is a little vague as we are still exploring who we are – how many, where, and what each group is doing. We are not a finished picture; we are evolving.
The difference with this puzzle is that all of the pieces were not included in the box. The pieces to this puzzle are each one of you, living across the United States, Puerto Rico, and New Zealand.
At the beginning of 2022, our Associate database said there were 750 pieces to this puzzle – and we needed to “touch” each of those pieces – each of you – to put it together. Our picture would be determined as the pieces were put into place.
I began to pray for guidance as to how we could complete this puzzle… and God began to answer.
The first answer was the realization that the Associate Jigsaw Puzzle would not be completed in the typical “hands-on” way because the hands were not all in one place.
The hands that were going to put this puzzle together would be from many different parts of the United States. Different categories would make up different pieces of the puzzle.
The most eye-opening message was that instead of assembling the straight-edged pieces to create a border, our puzzle would be assembled from the inside out. We would start from the center of the jigsaw puzzle – identifying each Associate’s time, talents, and treasures -and work our way out to the edges. All our gifts would be part of this puzzle.
So how would we accomplish this task? Last January, the Associate Council and I started to discuss how would we accomplish this task. The first was to confirm the status of those who were in the Associate database.
Because of COVID, many of us were not meeting on a regular basis. Many of us were aging and no longer able to be active associates. We had to determine who among us were active Associates, who wanted to remain an Associate but in a capacity of prayer, and who were no longer wanted to be an Associate.
The Associate Council started work on a survey in cooperation with Congregational Leadership. We all believed that it was to know how many Associates of the Dominican Sisters of Peace there really are. “Who are you? How are you? Where are you?” were some of the questions that we posed. We also asked for thoughts on how our Associates thought the program should move forward in the future,
We worked with Alice Black, OPA, and the Communications Department to write and launch our survey in June of 2022. We sent it to all 750 Associates in the database and gave them 30 days to respond to the Associate office. We received 350 responses to the survey and were able to determine who considered themselves to be active associates, who considered themselves prayer associates or who wanted to be a prayer associate, and who no longer wanted to be part of the program.
But this was just the beginning.
We sent a second survey to the 400 members of the database that had not responded and heard from 140 more people. By December 2022, we had heard from a total of 490 Associates, and we are still looking for those of you who have not responded.
The Associate Council and I would like to hear from all of the members of our Associate database by March 2023. We’re asking for your help too – if you are an associate, and you know someone who seems to have fallen away, encourage them to respond to the survey. Only by hearing from everyone will we be able to know who is active, who is a prayer associate, and who is inactive. Only then will we know exactly how many puzzle pieces we have, and what the final picture might look like.
Here is what is clear.
We are Christian women and men committed to Dominican Pillars of Prayer, Study, Community, and Ministry, living across the United States and around the world. Our ages vary, our cultures vary, our ethnicities vary, and our commitments vary.
Many of us have been Associates longer than the Congregation of Peace has existed, and the creation of Peace has helped attract new Associates to our ranks.
We are the Associates of The Dominican Congregation of Peace.
We are Sisters and Associates in Mission.
We are committed:
To foster and create cultures of inclusion
To treasure and reverence Earth
To foster lives of prayer and contemplation
To Prophetic Preaching of the Gospel message
Toward the future of Dominican Life
I can hardly wait till this puzzle is completed. One by one the pieces are being assembled When all is said and done, we will have all the borders in place – the borders that remind us that we are all ONE.
I am grateful for each of you, and I thank you for helping to complete our puzzle.
Cecelia Amendolia OPA
Director of Associates. Dominican Sisters of Peace
On January 2, 1904, St. Catharine Academy senior May Curry of Springfield was awakened by a muffled explosion and discovered the school was on fire. Nearly overcome by the smoke, she woke the Academy prefect, Sister Borgia McCann, who directed students to the children’s infirmary. Sister Raymond Bird asked a novice to ring the summoning bell to call the novices to dress and assemble in the chapel. When it was apparent that the entire building was ablaze, sisters broke windows and tossed items to the ground in hopes of saving them. As flames advanced toward them, the sisters made sure that all students had vacated the school, then ran to escape the blaze. Many were still in their night clothes and reached for mantles from the chapel stalls to protect themselves from the cold.
As Sister Mary Edward Prendergast ran from the fire, she saw the profession book, in which recorded the names of all those who took vows, on a desk. She placed this important piece of history inside the desk to protect it, and as she was dragging it to the stairway, a man stopped to carry the desk down the stairs. The last to leave, Sister Bernard Fogarty was trapped by flame and smoke. She fled by breaking a window and climbing onto the roof, shuffling her way to another building, breaking another window and climbing through to escape.
By the grace of God, there were no fatalities in the fire. Immediate shelter was provided for 75 girls and 56 sisters by the Dominican friars of St. Rose, the Sisters of Loretto, Sisters of Charity, and Springfield citizens. Clothing was provided as well as many escaped wearing only their night clothes.
The news reached Louisville the next morning, prompting the friars of St. Louis Bertrand to organize a relief committee. This group provided food, clothing, and shelter. The Louisville and Nashville railway dedicated a special train, free of charge, to the relief committee.
Donations and support poured in from many religious communities. St. Francis DeSales in Charlestown, Massachusetts offered their convent as a novitiate. Holy Rosary Academy in Louisville made room for the sisters in their convent and created a classroom for St. Catharine students. A public meeting was held in Louisville to raise funds for the sisters; even a benefit concert was held in New York.
Only two buildings survived the fire – the chaplain’s four-room cottage and the laundry. The cottage became living quarters and the laundry served as kitchen and dining room as well as laundry. With help from the friars, the sisters built a framework house, covered with a tarpaulin, known as the paper house.
Ten postulants quickly advanced to accept the habit to prevent them from having to disrupt their study by leaving the motherhouse. These women professed as sisters on March 8, 1904. Holy Rosary Academy in Louisville hosted St. Catharine seniors’ graduation in the spring.
The loss of the Academy and the Motherhouse was profound. In addition to the buildings, art, and books, all records except the profession book were lost to the fire. It was heartbreaking for the sisters as they witnessed the burnt remains of their home and their work.
In the spring, however, jonquils again bloomed at Sienna Vale. These robust flowers of spring became and remain a symbol of hope, or a Sign of God, that the Dominicans should continue their ministry.
The discussion on where to build the new St. Catharine Academy and Motherhouse continued for months, with many options and opinions offered. But in the end, the Sisters felt that the rural site at St Catharine would be the best place to rebuild the school. As important, this sacred ground had become home, and the Sisters did not want to leave. On May 9, 1904, the community decided to build on their own land. Said to be the highest point of elevation in Washington County, Sienna Heights became the present home for Dominicans in Kentucky.
The Sisters were also looking ahead to the future. Within months of the beginning of construction of the new building, Mother Agnes purchased a harp and hired a professor to instruct one of the Sisters, so that she would be ready to teach new Academy students. She sent another Sister to Boston to complete her studies in vocal music. Both of these directives illustrate the Sisters’ dedication to the Academy, as well as the belief, held to this day, that art is a form of preaching. Today, Dominican Sisters of Peace preach by painting, singing, writing, weaving, and even through the creation of pottery and fabric arts.