Have You Ever Promoted Religious Life?

Blog by Sr. Mai Dung Nguyen

“Why do you enter religious life? Why don’t you want to get married?”

Many young women have encountered these questions from their loved ones or friends when they mention feeling called to religious life as a Sister. More than 50 years ago, the trend for young women to enter religious life seemed more acceptable and was supported by parents, family, and friends. Parents were willing to be involved in promoting and nourishing their children to live the religious life. Young people felt comfortable then sharing their dreams to be a Sister. Sometimes, they even invited their friends or siblings to consider religious life too.

Many religious sisters have blood sisters, cousins, and friends who joined the same community with them. Even now, our congregation still has some examples like this. One example is our dear Sister Marie Antoinette Klein, OP, who died last week. She was the daughter of Anthony and Mary Hoffman Klein, who had three children, and all of them were girls. Anthony and Mary supported all three girls in their call to religious life and all three became Dominican Sisters.

Both parents were involved in supporting their daughters’ religious communities. As a carpenter, Anthony made many tables for our sisters to use while Mary continued to volunteer as an organist at church. When her parents got older, especially when their mom died and the father had a stroke, Sister Marie’s middle sister was allowed to take care of him. What a wonderful, inspiring story to hear and to share with young women.

These days, the call to live in religious life seems neglected and families and friends are less supportive of a woman’s desire to follow this call. Today, when a woman shares her dream of becoming a sister, her parents and friends often oppose her decision. Knowing this likely opposition, a discerner may wait to share this call with parents and friends until she begins to fill out the application or is accepted. Sometimes, because of the lack of support, these young women are scared to think about their call or do not know where to begin pursuing this call. A young woman may have never thought about becoming a religious sister until someone suggests that they consider religious life.

The good news is that God still calls women to religious life. They are happy to discern, join, and live authentically with this call. In fact, they are walking this journey together with others who, too, are praying about God’s call. They enthusiastically share their talents, gifts, and vision with our mission. To address the needs of our discerners, we created a discernment program where these discerners can come to discern and get support from sisters and their cohort group. Many discerners around the country benefit from this program.

Many young women are waiting to be encouraged to consider life as a religious sister. They may be your friends, daughters, nieces, and granddaughters—who may need a simple nudge or acknowledgment from you. They may be a woman in your parish, a co-worker’s daughter, a youth minister, a church volunteer, a co-worker, a student—the possibilities are everywhere. They need your words of encouragement, support, and affirmation to think about and reflect on this call.

All of us (associates, friends, family, and discerners) can reach out to these young women and ask them “Have you ever thought of being a Sister?” You just might open the door for a young woman to explore what God is calling her to be.

Here are some ways you can promote vocations to religious life:

If you are a woman who wants to discern your call, contact us. We are happy to journey with you. We are going to have a hybrid Come and See event this September 10-12. Click here for information and to register.

Posted in News, Vocations Blog

Kansans Of Faith Evangelize For Saving The Planet From Climate Change

Brian Grimmett, July 13, 2021

 

Click here to listen to the High Plains Public Radio story.

Heartland Farms near Great Bend, Kansas is operated by the Dominican Sisters of Peace.

The sisters at Heartland Farms mark just one of several religious communities in Kansas turning their attention to a modern crisis — climate change. Motivated by their religious beliefs, they make a faith-based case for environmentalism.

GREAT BEND, Kansas — The Dominican Sisters of Peace have been farming with their faith in mind for more than three decades.

In the middle of a state where large-scale commodity and livestock farming has transformed the landscape, the order of nuns aim for a lighter touch on the land.

“If you don’t have a life-sustaining planet, you don’t have life,” said Sister Jane Belanger, who’s lived on the farm for about 13 years. “And if I could quote scripture, ‘I came to bring life and bring it more abundantly.’”

The sisters at Heartland Farms mark just one of several religious communities in Kansas turning their attention to a modern crisis — climate change. Motivated by their religious beliefs, they make a faith-based case for environmentalism.

Four sisters live at Heartland Farms. They’re joined by a rotating group of volunteers who earn room and board by helping out with chores. The sisters offer camps and classes on how to grow organic crops and spin fiber. (The raw wool comes from the alpacas the sisters keep on the property). They also sell what they don’t eat at a local farmer’s market.

“That speaks to people,” Belanger said. “We’re not coming in to solve your problems or tell you what to do, but we are offering an alternative way.”

Still, the message can draw opposition. Belanger recalled a conversation she had with a member of Heartland Farms’ advisory committee — someone she described as a good Catholic man — who said that as much as he admires what they’re doing, there’s no way he could do it on his farm.

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She said people can, understandably, be set in their ways, including doing things that contribute to climate change.

Other religious communities that focus on the environment say they face similar resistance.

“We have some churches that are good at promoting ecological ideas and some that aren’t,” said Helen Meuting, one of the nearly 100 Benedictine sisters at Mt. St. Scholastica in Atchison, Kansas. “We’re kind of like the squeaky wheel. We have to keep saying it.”

The sisters at the monastery try to live the principles found in Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical Laudato sí, which focuses on the environment and its destruction.

The sisters grow an organic garden, harvest honey from several beehives on the property and have installed a 150-kilowatt solar system to help offset their electricity needs. They’ve also issued a statement calling for political leaders to support climate friendly legislation and a transition to renewable energy.

Mueting said those and other actions they’ve taken are driven by faith and a sense of responsibility for all of God’s creations.

“If we destroy the environment, we’re morally responsible for the people of the future as well as for the poor who are most devastated by climate change,” she said.

Making a connection between the impacts of climate change and care for the poor, she said, will be key to convincing more people of faith to act on climate change.

Some religious leaders hope that the moral appeal for action will even help combat theological based opposition built on the idea that there isn’t a need to care for the environment because God gave man dominion over the Earth and that Jesus Christ will one day come and renew it.

“To say it’s all ending anyway or even let’s bring it about, is like, to me, theologically really wrong,” said Cathleen Bascom, the bishop for the Episcopal Diocese of Kansas.

Bascom is also part of the left-leaning advocacy group known as Kansas Interfaith Action. It’s members often testify on climate issues to committees at the state Capitol.

“This is shepherding,” she said. “Because I want our children and grandchildren to be able to drink and be able to have crops and we’ve got to see this as holy.”

Religious communities can play a unique role in addressing climate change, said Rabbi Moti Rieber, the executive director of Kansas Interfaith Action. He said people of faith who view climate issues as moral issues are able to reach those that otherwise would only see it through a political lens.

“It’s up to us to demand that our political leaders take this conversation seriously and begin to address these issues,” Rieber said.

And while there’s still a long way to go to convince people of the seriousness of the climate crisis — including getting more religious leaders to talk about the issue from the pulpit and during Sunday school — Rieber said caring for God’s creations is a sacred duty.

“One of the reasons why we do this is because we’re convinced that it matters to God,” he said. “So therefore it should matter to us.”

Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished by news media at no cost with proper attribution and a link to ksnewsservice.org.

Copyright 2021 KMUW | NPR for Wichita. To see more, visit KMUW | NPR for Wichita.

Posted in News

Artist Gaye Reissland, OPA, reveals her ‘Inner Thoughts’ at Fresh A.I.R. Gallery show

Joel Oliphint, Columbus Alive July 12, 2021

Reflections on an anxious year inspire work in ‘Coping Mechanisms’ exhibition, on view now at Bridge Gallery in Franklinton

“Halo” (48” x 36”; charcoal on canvas) by Gaye Reissland

Columbus artist Gaye Reissland is the activities director at a convent of the Dominican Sisters of Peace, which meant her work constituted an essential service during the pandemic. The sisters, most of whom are older adults, had to remain at the convent to stay safe, and Reissland was tasked with finding fun, productive activities for them.

“My boss texted me on a Saturday night: ‘You’re going to be in charge of making masks.’ And I said, ‘I don’t know how to sew. Is this a joke?’ And she said, ‘I wish I was joking,’” said Reissland, who made her way to Joann Fabrics. Fortunately, she discovered the sisters had plenty of sewing skills.

Over the course of the pandemic, Reissland fretted over the safety of the sisters, isolating and taking extra precautions to prevent spreading the virus to the convent. At the same time, Reissland moved in with a boyfriend who struggled with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, adding another layer of anxiety. “The CDC would come out with guidelines that would put his OCD into overdrive and drive him bananas,” Reissland. “I’d be in the bathroom and he’d say, ‘That didn’t sound like a 20-second hand wash to me.’”

Meanwhile, as the pandemic raged, it became apparent that COVID-19 was disproportionately affecting older adults and people of color. “It was like I had a target on my back, because I’m no spring chicken. … I’m pushing 60 now. I’m a grandmother. I’m African-American, and I’m curvy. I’m not skinny,” she said. “I thought, ‘Oh, my God. I’m going to die.’ It was terrifying.”

Those anxieties manifested in a painting Reissland made during the pandemic titled “Inner Thoughts.” Worry emanates from the face of a woman Reissland created with acrylic paint and oil pastels, the chaotic pops of color hinting at the emotional turmoil churning in the subject’s mind. “A lot of my inner thoughts were, ‘What am I gonna do? I don’t know what to do. Jesus, help me. Jesus, take the wheel,” she said.

"Inner Thoughts" by Gaye Reissland

“Inner Thoughts” and other works by Reissland are currently on display as part of Fresh A.I.R Gallery’s “Coping Mechanisms,” a multi-artist exhibition held at the Bridge Gallery inside the 400 West Rich building in Franklinton (Fresh A.I.R.’s Downtown gallery space remains closed due to COVID precautions; A.I.R. stands for Artists In Recovery.) A virtual version of the exhibit will also available at Fresh A.I.R.’s website.

Reissland also channeled her creative energy into paintings Downtown during the Black lives matter demonstrations last spring and summer, making portraits of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd in a stained-glass style that presented the three as saints. Nearby, Reissland painted the words, “Black lives martyred.”

“I found the protests to be a positive experience. It gave me hope for my granddaughters. It gives me hope for the future,” she said. “The younger people, they’ve got the right idea.”

The sisters at the convent helped Reissland get through turbulent times, as well, acting as a surrogate family when she couldn’t be with her blood relatives. “I work with these women who are very wise, very learned and very, very spiritual. They were in constant prayer for me and my family, and that gave me great comfort,” she said.

Reflecting on the difficulties of the past year now, Reissland feels fortified. “The pandemic let me know that everything that I need, I already have,” she said.

Posted in News

During pandemic, Yale helped address urgent city challenge: food security

The Believe in Me Empowerment Corporation (BIMEC) on Dixwell Avenue in the Newhallville neighborhood of New Haven used its grant from the Yale Community for New Haven Fund to purchase food for several food drives it held during the early months of the pandemic.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit last March, Sister Margaret Mary Kennedy knew that some of the people she works with through Fair Haven’s Springs Learning Center suddenly faced a painful question: Do I buy food for my family or pay this month’s rent?

The center, which Kennedy directs, helps adult immigrants improve their English communication skills so they can apply for citizenship and succeed in their new community. Some of these adults lost their jobs due to the pandemic but could not apply for unemployment benefits because they are undocumented.

To ensure the families would not have to go without food, Kennedy applied for a grant from the Yale Community for New Haven Fund, which was established by President Peter Salovey in March 2020 to help New Haven neighbors struggling during the pandemic.

Managed by Yale’s Office of New Haven Affairs, the fund — supported by donations from university staff members, students, and alumni and with direct and matching contributions from the university — distributed approximately $3 million to nearly 200 local nonprofit organizations that offered pandemic-related assistance to city residents. These New Haven organizations in turn were able to assist families with such basic needs as clothing, housing or shelter, personal protective equipment, childcare, computers for remote learning, mental health support, and more.

But for many of the nonprofits, the most urgent challenge facing the community was food insecurity. A 2017 “State of Hunger in New Haven” report found that 22% of city residents are food insecure, and with the increased unemployment rate in the city during the pandemic, that percentage grew. In total, over $700,000 in Yale Community for New Haven Fund grants were allocated specifically to improve access to food for local residents.

Grants were distributed to the Coordinated Food Assistance Network, a partnership between the United Way, the Downtown Evening Soup Kitchen, Loaves and Fishes, and other agencies that delivered food to people who were ill, immunocompromised, or stuck in their homes during the pandemic; Keep New Haven Thriving, an effort by local restaurants to supply meals to frontline workers in hospitals and other healthcare settings; Square Meals New Haven, an initiative by local restaurants to feed some 250 homeless individuals; and other nonprofits providing meals and groceries to New Haven residents. Nearly 40 nonprofits focused directly on providing meals to local residents — via food drives, food pantries, food delivery to the homebound, the distribution of grocery store gift cards, and more — in every part in the city.

We purposefully distributed grants from the fund across different neighborhoods in the city,” said Lauren Zucker, associate vice president for New Haven Affairs and director of University Properties. “We funded organizations which in turn provided food gift cards or helped local residents pay their utility bills, for example. By connecting with the organizations that know personally the families in their communities, this grassroots approach allowed us to get resources to New Haven residents who were most in need.”

The Springs Learning Center, which is supported by the Dominican Sisters of Peace, spent more than half of its $6,000 grant on $25 grocery store gift cards, Sister Kennedy said. Those cards, she said, were distributed to about 50 local families.

The recipients were so surprised and grateful,” said Kennedy. “When they thanked me for being able to have food on their table, I told them: ‘I’m not doing this. This is possible because there are a lot of people who care about you.’ For the recipients — who sometimes feel on the fringes to begin with — knowing that people cared about them during the pandemic gave them a sense of belonging, she said.

Some of our students who received gift cards in turn helped out others in the community by giving out food baskets at a police substation on a weekly basis. There was a snowball effect in generosity during this challenging time, and the Yale grant is what got things rolling!”

Kennedy also purchased with the Yale funds Wi-Fi hotspots in Fair Haven so that her students could continue with their English language study on their computers.

Like Kennedy, David Greco, the co-founder and director of ARTE Inc., knew that some of the families his Fair Haven-based nonprofit serves would be struggling to keep food on the table during the pandemic. With ARTE’s $15,000 grant from the Yale Community for New Haven Fund, Greco distributed $50 grocery store gift cards to local families in need. Typically, ARTE Inc. provides artistic and cultural programming for local children and their families, but Greco was grateful he could go beyond the organization’s usual mission.

Yale University allowed ARTE to help so many people,” said Greco. “One of the side benefits of this grant is that it helped us build an even better relationship with our constituents.”

Men packing boxes with food
BIMEC staff members prepare for a drive-through food distribution event. BIMEC was one of numerous local organizations supported by the Yale Community Fund for New Haven that addressed food insecurity in the city during the pandemic. Over $700,000 in grants from the Yale fund were used specifically to give city residents access to food in the early months of the pandemic.
BIMEC staff members prepare for a drive-through food distribution event. BIMEC was one of numerous local organizations supported by the Yale Community Fund for New Haven that addressed food insecurity in the city during the pandemic. Over $700,000 in grants from the Yale fund were used specifically to give city residents access to food in the early months of the pandemic.

In the Dixwell/Newhallville neighborhood, grant funding supported organizations including the Believe in Me Empowerment Corporation (BIMEC), which offers programming and services to improve the lives of children, young adults, and families impacted by incarceration. Specifically, the Yale Fund helped provide quality meals at the year-round BIMEC food pantry and groceries for three drive-up food distribution events hosted by the nonprofit along with area churches.

[It] also allowed us to offer transitional housing to our clients for an extra two months who would otherwise have gone homeless during the pandemic,” said James Walker, BIMEC’s executive director, who estimates that with the support of the Yale Fund, BIMEC was able to provide meals to 800 people in the wider New Haven community.

The pandemic created major barriers for our clients,” he said. “And with that support they were able to keep going forward through a hard time.”

Other organizations in the city, including the Boys & Girls Club of New Haven in the Hill neighborhood, supported city residents by distributing debit cards that could be used to purchase food or to pay a utility bill, housing costs, or other basic needs in the early-spring days of the pandemic.

With our $20,000 we gave out 97 cards valued at $200 each to families of the Boys & Girls Club that we identified as most needing help,” said Barbara Chesler, interim director of the organization, whose mission is to provide a safe environment — such as in summer camps and after-school programs — for children to play, learn, and grow.

In the letter we sent to families with the card, we told them this was made possible through a Yale grant,” Chesler continued. “This was the first COVID-19-related grant we received, and I was incredibly grateful that Yale provided us with this funding, with the number-one priority of making sure people had food in the house.”

As the nation begins now to emerge from the pandemic, Kennedy said she feels uplifted thinking back to the earliest days of the crisis and how the community came together to help those who were hit the hardest.

The help Yale provided was a life saver for many people in our city,” she said.

Posted in News

Eighty-Five Years of Dominican Service

Sister Teresita Huse celebrated 85 years of religious life in May 2021.

Sister Teresita Huse, OP, spoke to Southwest Kansas Catholic Editor Dave Myers about her of her childhood in Kansas, and how her Dominican education brought her to religious life.

“I was the only girl,” she said. “I had three brothers. I was the second child.

“The big thing in my life was the commitment of my parents to a Catholic upbringing,” she added. “I was born in Kingman; there was no Catholic school. They wanted us to have a Catholic education, so for nine years, early every morning, they would put us in the car and drive 20 miles to Willowdale where Grandma lived. We would attend St. Peter’s School where the Dominicans taught.”

Sister Teresita’s aunt was a Dominican Sister, as was a cousin, so the Sisters were well known to the siblings. “At four in the afternoon on Friday, I would come out of school and Dad’s car was there. In six years, only twice was he not able to pick us up because of the weather.”

In 1931, St. Patrick School opened in Kingman — about the time that Sister Teresita’s family moved to Wichita.

Sr. Teresita (far left) serves at a Fundraising Bazaar in Great Bend, KS.

“When my brother was in high school and I was in the seventh grade, our little brother died at age 5. He was sick for only three days. He had spinal meningitis. Our uncle came to pick us up and said that Cletus was really sick. We were quarantined for two weeks, so we couldn’t even go to the funeral.

“There was no closure,” she said, a hint of sadness in her voice all these years later.

Her new school was run by the Sisters of St. Joseph, one of whom Sister Teresita approached one day and announced, “I’m going to be a Dominican Sister! That year, they had a skit and there was a Sister in it. Guess who got to be the Sister?”

On the day of the presentation, the future Sister – not even yet a teenager – dressed in habit, and was even mistaken for a Sister by a Christian Brother.

“I was a St. Joseph Sister for one day,” she said with a smile.

A few years later, the habit she wore would be real, and her title not the name of a character in a play. At 15, she became “Sister Teresita.”

Sister Teresita ministered as an educator in Kansas and Oklahoma, as a librarian, and in parish ministry. She also taught an adult English class in Kyoto, Japan, during her sabbatical year. She caught the travel bug in 1969 when she visited New Zealand, Australia and Alaska. She has also visited the Holy Land, Korea and India.

She has held various leadership positions in her religious community and served as their first development director. She has always had a great love for the Nigerian missions and has given countless hours to projects which benefit them.

Sr. Teresita Hughes celebrates her 100th birthday in 2018.

After teaching 57 years, Sister retired to the Motherhouse in Great Bend in 1996 and presently resides in the Convent Infirmary. Although “retired,” every year she devotes countless hours giving mission appeals in parishes, coordinating the annual mission bazaar raffle, and challenging groups and individuals to sponsor water wells and build education centers.

“God’s great goodness to me as a Dominican for 75 years boggles my mind, and God willing, there will be more. I’m very, very happy with my many years in the convent,” Sister Teresita said. “I’ve been truly blessed.”

 

Posted in News