God is Present Within Us

Blog by Sr. June Fitzgerald, OP

Prayer is as essential to my life as breathing.  I learned long ago that if I do not ground my day in prayer, things often go awry as the day goes on.  In fact, when I was a novice, I received a little sign that read, “A day hemmed in prayer seldom unravels.”  This sign still hangs above our convent stairway to remind us of the importance of praying daily.

Dominicans hold prayer as one of the four pillars (or foundation stones) of life.   Along with study, community and ministry/service, prayer grounds and informs our life.  Our connection with God reminds us that God is present to us, as we hear in this quote from St. Teresa of Avila, “We need no wings to go in search of God, but have only to look upon God ever present within us.”  Yet, we need to be guided in learning how to pray and to build that relationship with God so we can discern well.

When I was in formation, I had a wise guide in Sr. Mary Carmel.  Sister lived next door to me in the convent and would often share with me a few words of wisdom as we passed in the hall or when she would invite me in to share a book or article she thought I would find enlightening.  She would then invite me to sit down and pray with her.  From her, I learned that I first needed to develop a regular practice of prayer and from that foundation, my relationship with God would grow naturally.

Fast forward to a few months ago, when several of the women we are walking with in discernment asked if we could start a prayer group for them. They know prayer is essential to their journey, but they wanted to learn how to pray, needed some direction and yearned for group support and encouragement to do so.  Thus, we are delighted to share that a brand new prayer group for discerning women is forming and our first meeting will be on Sunday, October 25.

We will do as Sr. Carmel did with me.  We will share some instruction & inspiration and then dive right into practicing different forms of prayer.  It is by praying that one learns to pray.

If you are interested in learning more about this prayer group or beginning the discernment journey with us, please contact us here.  We also invite discerning women to consider attending our Online Advent Mini-retreat on Sunday, November 29.  For more information and to register click here.

Posted in God Calling?, News

Essential Respect

“Promote justice through solidarity with those who are marginalized, especially women and children, and work with others to identify and transform oppressive systems.”

                          Dominican Sisters of Peace, 2009

Blog by Justice Promoter Sister Judy Morris, OP

In a year unlike any other, we hear the voices of many expressing pandemic fatigues, who just want life to be back to “normal” again—eating in a restaurant without a mask, attending a ballgame with the stands full of fans and an end to virtual meetings.  Many others suffer from “outrage fatigue” in a year filled with political vitriol.

Others, sometimes called minimum wage workers, and more recently, “essential workers,” simply long for a time when their voices will be heard.  The message is always the same – a call for just wages and benefits that enable them to live without the fear of being homeless.

Cynthia Murray, a Walmart worker from Maryland, shares a common concern among low-wage workers, who are now considered “essential.”  She states, “We are the same people that they did not think were worth $15 an hour, but now realize we are worth more than that.  I’ve been there 19 years and I don’t even make $15 an hour… I have to work more than a week to get one hour of sick time.”

Bartolire Perez has worked at McDonald’s for 30 years and has participated in many strikes.  He says, “This time is different.  The next hamburger I make may be my last.”

Low wage workers, now called “essential,” are now on a level with doctors and nurses.  They are largely Black, Hispanic, and women, and continue to put their lives at risk, providing food and personal goods at a retail level.  Meatpacking plants across the country have shown just how vulnerable workers are.  However, media coverage of the struggling workers during the political campaign more often focus on blue-collar manufacturing workers, mostly white men.

The voices of workers themselves are largely absent from the debates, discussions and decisions that shape their future. Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation, a $13 billion international social justice philanthropy, has said  “Too often the discussion about the future of work centers on technology rather than on the people who will be affected by it.”

When a president or senator talks about how good the economy is, I want to ask, “For whom?”  In the last three years the top 1% in the country have done very well, with a generous tax cut.  Several large corporations have paid no taxes.  Those who have money in the stock market have done very well, however, how many “essential workers” or “heroes” own stock?”

Pope Francis challenges all willing to listen:

“The struggle of working people, of the poor, is not a social or political question, it is the Gospel, pure and simple.  We are called to stand in solidarity with the poor, promote human dignity and the common good.”

This is an important time to ask those running for national office what legislation they will initiate or support to bring justice to “essential workers.”  How valuable is their work?  How valuable are their lives?

Can you live on $7.25 an hour?  I invite you to contact you representative/senator and ask that question.


Posted in News, Peace & Justice Blog

From the Columbus Catholic Times, October 11, 2020

Answering God’s Call: Song spurred ‘God-sent moment’ for future Dominican sister

By Tim Puet
Catholic Times Reporter

Sr. Robin Richard works with learners at the Dominican Learning Center in Columbus, OH.

Sister Robin Richard, OP, credits Simon and Garfunkel with a significant role in her decision to enter the religious life.

“Their song Bridge Over Troubled Water lifted me out of a sense of darkness at a time when that was most needed,” said Sister Robin, who has been on the staff of the Dominican Learning Center in Columbus since 2009.

“I had a slipped disc in my back and was in such pain that I barely could pick up the telephone,” she said. “Then one day, I heard that song, with the words ‘I’m on your side when darkness comes and pain is all around,’ followed by ‘Sail on, silver girl. Your time has come.’ All I can say was that, at that point, I had a God-sent moment.

“I sensed that those lyrics were a message from God. In an instant, I felt an immediate sense of hope. The darkness I was feeling lifted, and from that moment, I began to get stronger physically and spiritually.

“My mother and grandmother and an aunt were in Fatima on a pilgrimage at that time, and the next day, I found out that mom had gone to the shrine at Fatima to pray for me at a time that was early in the morning in Portugal and would have been about the time I heard that song. I don’t think that was a coincidence,” she said.

At that point in her life, Sister Robin, a New Orleans native, was a layperson and was in the midst of a nine-year period of teaching French at Ursuline Academy elementary school in her hometown. She said she had begun to discern the possibility of entering the religious life when she was in 10th grade, “but I had put it on the back burner for several years – a time I wouldn’t trade for anything.”

“If you have a serious vocation, God will come knocking again, and that’s what happened to me,” she said. “After this experience with the song, a Dominican sister called to ask if I would be interested in taking part in a ‘come and see’ weekend of prayer and discussion at her motherhouse for women trying to discern their vocation. I had declined the invitation several times before, but this time I accepted, and I think it surprised her almost as much as it surprised me.

“I was so deeply moved during the weekend that I knew it was not a question of where I would enter if I decided to become a sister, but if I would enter. Many women who become sisters attend ‘come and sees’ with several orders before deciding on one, but I felt an immediate connection with the Dominicans and felt that if I did join the order, it would be like coming home.”

After 22 more months of discernment as a lay Dominican affiliate, she entered the Dominican Congregation of St. Mary in New Orleans in August 1986. She took her first vows in August 1989 and her final vows seven years later. The time between her first and final vows was longer than the usual three to six years because her father died during that period.

Her congregation in New Orleans, along with the Columbus-based Dominican Sisters of St. Mary of the Springs and five other congregations, came together on Easter Sunday 2009 to form the Dominican Sisters of Peace and later were joined by another congregation.

Sister Robin, 65, graduated from St. Mary’s Dominican High School in New Orleans and received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Tulane University in 1977, a Master of Pastoral Studies degree from Loyola University in New Orleans in 1991 and a Master of Education degree with specialties in English as a Second Language (ESL) and adult education in 1996 from the University of New Orleans (UNO).

She taught Spanish and French at her high school alma mater from 1988 to 1993, and then was involved with the ESL program of the Archdiocese of New Orleans for 13 years.

“My ministry has evolved as part of the movement of the Holy Spirit in myself and in the Church,” she said. “When I made my profession of vows, I felt a specific calling to teach ESL for adults. In New Orleans, I was involved with Pax Christi, a justice movement ministering to the marginalized, and realized that I love languages, I love culture, and what better way to use that God-given gift of language than to share it with those who need it to survive?

“There wasn’t an ESL position available in New Orleans at the time, so I taught and became involved with youth ministry at my former high school. Then, all of a sudden, an ESL position opened up with the Hispanic apostolate of the archdiocese. When I learned I had been accepted for the job, I was standing in front of the education building at UNO and I remember saying, ‘Thank you, God!’ I was so happy that my burning desire had been fulfilled. I just had to wait on God’s time.”

Sister Robin evacuated from New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005. She spent six weeks at a convent in Houston before she could return to start rebuilding her old ESL program at a new site. The original location was damaged by the flooding caused by Katrina.

“Katrina traumatized everyone who lived through it,” she said. “The recent Gulf Coast hurricane brought back a lot of memories, not just of the loss of buildings but of the layers of loss and all the steps that had to be taken to rebuild.”

About a year after Katrina struck, Sister Robin moved to Chicago, where she was on the staff of the Aquinas Literacy Center, a ministry of the Adrian (Michigan) Dominicans, a separate Dominican order. She came to Columbus and the Dominican Sisters of Peace in 2009, shortly after the Dominican Learning Center was founded.

“The center was looking for an assistant director for its ESL program. It was an ideal position for me,” she said. “I’ve been here for 11 years, and in that time, the center has taught thousands of ESL learners with the help of hundreds of volunteers. We never could do what we do without the volunteers.”

Until mid-March, when the coronavirus pandemic caused most public life in Ohio to come to a stop, ESL classes were conducted at the learning center or at schools, libraries or other public buildings, mostly on a one-to-one basis. Sister Robin said there were about 110 student-teacher pairs for the classes, with another 250 to 300 learners being taught English in group classes at five diocesan parishes.

COVID-19 halted all of that for about two months, until the center’s ESL classes began to resume via the Zoom videoconferencing system.

“COVID is hard for all of us. It’s caused a level of anxiety that I compare with the kind of concern that occurs in New Orleans whenever a hurricane may occur,” Sister Robin said. “People who haven’t lived through a hurricane couldn’t have understood this feeling before, but we’re all living through the same sort of thing now. It calls for a level of patience we’re not used to. We just have to recognize we’re in a holding pattern and have to wait on developments and follow the health guidelines we’ve been given.”

Besides her position with the learning center, Sister Robin also is involved with her congregation’s recently opened House of Welcome on Columbus’ east side. The house serves as a residence for women in the formation process of becoming sisters and is open to other sisters, neighbors, women deciding whether to enter the congregation and anyone else who wants to stop in for prayer, conversation and food. “We’re a revolving door for prayer, dinner and hospitality,” Sister Robin said.

“All are welcome to the house. Just let us know you’re coming,” she said. “And there’s a great need right now for more ESL tutors who can teach via Zoom and other types of technology. I love working with our volunteers because their lives have been blessed. If you want to give back to the community, volunteering for the learning center provides a wonderful opportunity.”

For more information, contact Sister Robin at RRichard@oppeace.org.

Posted in News

From the Global Sisters Report, October 8, 2020

Quaran-team’ at Dominican house embraces the beauty of community

To read in the Global Sisters Report, click here. 

NEW HAVEN, CONN. — When Cathy Buchanan arrived at the Dominicans of Peace house in New Haven and immediately went into quarantine, it was Sr. Julia Grey, the oldest member of the community, who carried meals up to her room on the third floor. “She did it in such a loving way,” said Buchanan. “She was like ‘No, I’m happy to do this.’ ”

For her part, Grey expressed appreciation for the opportunity. “She [Buchanan] was very gracious about it,” said the older nun, who goes by Sister Julie.

One of two houses set aside by the order for women interested in exploring a potential call to life as a sister, the House of Welcome (also known as the House of Discernment) sits behind St. Stanislaus Catholic Church in the bustling New England town.

Four of the residents are Dominican Sisters of Peace. Another, Sr. AnHoa Nguyen, is a member of a Vietnamese community, the Lovers of the Holy Cross. She’s staying with the New Haven Dominicans while she completes a theology master’s degree at Yale Divinity School.

Though they reflect the diversity of vowed life in generation, ethnicity and temperament, the five women who live here call themselves the “quaran-team.” In addition to a sense of humor, they share an apparent commitment to embracing their differences as they explore facets of religious life together.

Most newcomers to religious life haven’t entered a community during a public health emergency. But after multiple visits and conversations with congregations over several years, Buchanan and the Dominican Sisters of Peace had made a mutual decision: She was to enter their House of Discernment in New Haven, Connecticut, as a candidate.

That was back in March — just as COVID-19 began to sweep the country. But it wasn’t until late July that she arrived at the convent, having left her job as a pastoral associate in a New Jersey parish. Connecticut had imposed a mandatory self-quarantine period for people from states with a high COVID-19 positivity rate, so Buchanan then immediately began two weeks of self-isolation.

Grey, 81, began her journey to become a sister at age 17 in the mid-1950s, entering religious life at the Dominican Sisters of St. Catharine in Kentucky (one of the founding congregations of the Dominican Sisters of Peace). It was a time when religious women spent many of their formative years without much contact with the secular world and without a significant degree of autonomy. Her entire adult life has been spent in a religious community.

The younger sisters have had opportunities for study and prayer that are “far more sophisticated” than when she was younger, said Grey. “It’s sort of like I’m learning along with them.”

After she left the Pennsylvania retreat house where she had served for many years, she was looking for a setting that would enable her to continue her work as a spiritual director and reunite her with her own religious community, said Grey.

Recently, the community celebrated her 60th year in religious life at the convent, complete with a virtual reunion with many of her compatriots in other parts of the country.

Drawn by the fact that the New Haven center is a community set aside for formation, or spiritual growth, Grey added that she was also looking for a way to use her gifts without the rigors of a full-time salaried post. “There’s just a wonderful spirit in the house, there’s more intentionality, I mean, in terms of relationships.” In addition to sharing shopping, cooking and cleaning chores, she said: “We work hard, and we do things that are in common. We’re very concerned about each other.”

Sr. June Fitzgerald is part of the order’s vocation team. In normal times, Fitzgerald would spend a lot of time on the road working with women contemplating religious life. The upside of pandemic travel limits, she said, is that she gets to spend a lot more time with her community.

“It’s very nurturing for us,” Fitzgerald said. “We all found we had more time for prayer, community time, and faith sharing. We really believe having a life rooted in prayer helps.”

When last seen on the pages of Global Sisters Report, Ana Gonzalez was about to head off from New Haven to St. Louis, to enter the collaborative novitiate the Dominican Sisters of Peace share with other Dominican religious groups in the United States.

Now Sister Ana Gonzalez, she returned to New Haven after several years to assume a position as coordinator of international admissions at Albertus Magnus College, a liberal arts school founded by the Dominicans in New Haven.

After two years in temporary vows, said Gonzalez, she continues to be thoughtful (and prayerful) in exploring the next step.

“One thing I hear from community members is that discernment doesn’t stop,” said the 40-year-old. “Wanting to cross things off our list is not something we do in religious life.”

“You keep discerning until you reach the other side,” said Sr. Joye Gros, who served as novice director for Gonzalez during her novitiate year in St. Louis. “When you make vows, it’s not over. You grow into them.”

Part of her journey, said Gonzalez, is appreciating the gifts of the women in her house. Grey’s skill as a spiritual director comes in handy in difficult times, she said. “In her kind and compassionate way, she listens to me and she helps me to continue discerning. My tendency is to be ‘me,’ [but] she reminds me: What is God trying to tell you?”

Asked what she brings to the community, Gonzalez said she brings the wealth of her multicultural upbringing and a global perspective. When her turn comes around to cook dinner, she said, she “loves that the community is open to eating the food that I grew up with,” including enchiladas and refried beans, as well as conventional American fare.

Gonzalez added that she appreciates the experiences Nguyen, a member of an international community of sisters, offers her and the other Dominican sisters. The risks and challenges taken by the founder of the Lovers of the Holy Cross congregation hundreds of years ago inspire her “on my journey into an uncertain future. If I hold on to God, all will be well.”

“I love the fact that I’m able to live in an intercongregational community grounded in the love of God.”

The New Haven women expressed equal appreciation for Gonzalez’s energy and extroverted personality. “Ana brings her Mexican culture with her. She’s a vibrant Latina, and I’ve learned so much from her,” said Fitzgerald.

When Nguyen moved to the United States from Vietnam to study, she began her educational odyssey in Chicago, living with a group of Polish Dominicans. “I learned to say, ‘How are you?’ ” in Polish, said the 38-year-old.

While her Vietnam order follows a schedule that adheres to the monastic hours (she rises earlier over there), she said the New Haven sisters have taught her about working for justice and promoting the value of higher education. She has also attended several vocational conferences organized by the sisters and has come to appreciate even the value of a Zoom conference, she said.

When she arrived, said Nguyen, she was assured that if she got on well with the other sisters, she would be welcome to stay through the duration of her studies. After a semester, they told her, she said, “AnHoa, you are always welcome. You are easy to live with, a determined sister who helps us to see the beauty of prayer in the community, cares for others, and brings the beauty of another culture.”

An eager and experienced gardener, Nguyen has also been a real asset in the plots that lie between the convent and the church rectory.

“I am grateful for my ministry,” she said, “and for my New Haven family.”

Cultural and ethnic differences impart a contemporary richness to religious communities, said Fitzgerald.

While in former times, women would bring a “patrimony” like clothes or financial donations with them, she noted, women today bring education, life experiences and cultural diversity.

Then there is the most recent arrival.

Newcomer Buchanan, 55, notched up 27 years working in New Jersey prisons before getting a master’s degree in pastoral ministry and becoming a pastoral associate.

In a process that would have been hard if not impossible 50 years ago, Buchanan’s road to New Haven entailed two years of “active discernment” and conversations with vocation directors from six communities.

It’s been a learning experience, after living for so many years on her own, to navigate boundaries in a new community, said Buchanan. “I’m an extrovert. The challenge is knowing when to be quiet.”

On the other hand, she said, it’s an “unexpected blessing just to come home and have a home-cooked meal, and just to share your day with other women, to have people genuinely interested in what your day was like.”

With six decades of experience in community life behind her, Grey is enjoying the companionship of sisters in her own congregation after most of a working life spent in service away from them.

She’s conscious that at some point, should her health fail, she might have to leave New Haven and go to the motherhouse in Ohio or return to St. Catharine’s in Kentucky, where her journey in religious life began, Grey said. But after being away from her community for so long, “I realize how much I’ve missed.”

[Elizabeth Eisenstadt Evans is a freelance writer specializing in religion coverage. She is a frequent contributor to Global Sisters Report.]

Posted in News

Lessons from the Garden

Blog by Sr. Janet Schlichting

Riots, rampages. Disorder. Undisciplined behaviors. Right-leaners. Left-leaner…Lacking in control, The perky. The faded. The spent, chins on the ground. Deeply rooted. Weakly committed. The early and the late. The large and small. The tenacious. The stubborn. The overachievers. The strong. The weak. The intruders. The raucous crowds.

The always unpredictable.

Do you think I’ve been describing a political gathering? The state of our cities and institutions? Our nation in the present tense and tension?

No. I’m describing our garden as summer slips away.

It started innocently enough, with a plan.…

Top tier: creeping phlox, some bushes of no particular interest. Second tier down:  Dutch Iris, black-eyed susans. Coneflowers. Daisies. Zinnias. More dutch iris. Everything in its place—though the creeping flox had somehow snuck into the iris below. The bottom layer, larger, curved edges. Back: more perennials not all of which we could name, planted last fall (half-price!): asters, lavender, lobelia, maybe bee balm, anemones? In front of them, a carpet of wave petunias in purple, pink and white.  And no border yet where the daffodils had bloomed.

It was ordered and promising—but there’s a huge difference between planting and its results:

A criss-crossy every which way gangly tangly enthusiastic explosion glorifying God, coming from the front “border” into which we sowed a native-plant mix. We didn’t know exactly what we were getting. They didn’t have names and pictures on the seed packet. And every seed pluckily showed up.

So these later-planted whatever-they-ares, now moving into September in great blooming fervor, have largely brought a meadow into our planned garden. Those bright little petunias crumple, waving goodbye as the meadow drinks their water and blocks the sunlight. The perennials too dry and fade as  they bequeath their dark seedy centers to the breeze and the birds. But so much rejoicing is yet to be as the natives thrive! The the oddest, sloppiest, tallest most enthusiastic sun-drunk array of blossoms and greenery! We can name some: the tall trembling cosmos leaning into the sturdier zinnias, leaning over the parking lot as they twist to gather the sunlight, both such a prize for the bees; other poke-ups  of  small white ones and greenery not yet flowering, the small surprise of orange poppies, the blue bachelor’s buttons, four  kinds of gold and brown varieties growing through each other, (Rudbeckia? Coreopsis?) and the yet-flowering anemone, from garden plan One, peaceful and composed in rose-pink.

If my introductory description had raised in you a vision of today’s fraught human world, you weren’t far off the mark. These worlds intertwine, actually. But all versions of gardens and meadows wherever they are to be found echo that  never-to-be-suppressed song of grace and hope and delight as God gardens the living community of Earth.  If we but stop, look, smell, and listen.

Our sun-smitten blooms bring us a simple but bright harmony in contrast to the shouts and clashes and cries that sound in our world:  a sweet and lilting “consider the lilies” to remind us that the breeze of the Spirit is and will be always moving among us, and with and in Her we are Oh so frightfully contagious.

From the poet GM Hopkins: There lives the dearest freshness deep-down things….for the Holy Ghost o’er the bent world broods/ with warm breath and with ah! Bright wings.

And a prayer from the Mystic and Doctor Teresa of Avila: Teach me Lord to sing of your mercies. Turn my soul into a watered garden, where the flowers dance in the gentle breeze, praying with their beauty.”

Posted in News, Weekly Word