16 Ways Hope is Thriving Today
Twenty-three years ago today, three congregations created a new entity: the Dominican Sisters of Hope. (Here’s more about the history of our founding and of the Dominican Order.) At the birth of Hope, it wasn’t clear what the future would hold, but the congregation was firm in one conviction: to commit ourselves to the transforming power of hope.
“When we birthed Hope, we stepped off without an idea of what was going to happen,” Sister Catherine Walsh, who became Hope’s first prioress, says. “We knew that we were going forward to bring hope and to be hope. However that played out would be alright with us.”
Over two decades later, Hope is still very much alive. And, although our sisters are getting older, we’ve founded, sat on the Boards of, and worked with various organizations that continue to propel Hope throughout the United States and even internationally. In honor of Hope’s “birthday,” we’re spotlighting sixteen of our ministries today. We hope that this synopsis revitalizes your sense of mission and your spirit as much as it has ours. We might be getting older, but we’re not fading. We’re not even just surviving. Truly, Hope is thriving.
Today, hope is:
1) Working for Justice On-the-Ground
Intercommunity Justice and Peace Center, Cincinnati, OHEarlier this week, on Tuesday evening, Dominican Sister of Hope Monica McGloin, OP headed out to a local church to pray for a convicted murderer. Robert Van Hook was sentenced to death on August 8, 1985, and his execution date was set for July 18, 2017. “It’s not a question of whether he did the crime or the severity of it,” Sister Monica says. “You don’t kill people to prove that killing people is wrong,” she says.
On Wednesday at 10:44 am, Robert Van Hook was pronounced dead. Such are the injustices that the Intercommunity Justice and Peace Center works to end. Through various programming, IJCP also provides education about human trafficking, advocates for immigrants’ rights, and works toward peace and nonviolence. Sister Monica is especially involved in a program called Rethinking Racism, which meets six times per year for discussion, study, and conversation. Since its start in January 2016, there have been a total of 622 unique attendees who strive to identify gentrification, promote the culture and autonomy of traditionally black communities, and grapple with racism on a systemic level.
“Racism is the work of white people,” Sister Monica says. “People come to our sessions because they’re concerned, and they’re very sincere. But they want black people to comfort them. That’s not what this is about.”Instead, this is about recognizing racism in participants’ own neighborhoods, in their own lives.
2) Growing Seeds of Justice
Harmony Farm, Goshen, NYAt the supermarket, $450 might get you a few week’s worth of groceries. At Harmony Farm in Goshen, NY, $450 will get you organic vegetables and produce for twenty-two weeks straight. Dominican Sister of Blauvelt Didi Madden, OP has been working on Harmony Farm since its inception twenty-five years ago. For her, the farm is a place for not just food, but also for justice and spirituality. She can tell you just as much about heirloom tomato seeds as she can the “desire” of the land of the farm. “I cooperate with God’s design by being part of allowing the land to grow and give of its fruit,” she says. “I don’t own land, I have a capacity to steward land in a way that can help its mission.”
In this case, that mission is connecting people to healthy, whole foods. Harmony Farm expanded in the last five years to focus on community building through potluck suppers, education days, and study groups. They donate to local food pantries. And, they don’t have interns, but they seek to target people who are exploring the possibility of farming as a vocation, especially women. In an industry that too often undercuts farmers, those employees are paid a prevailing wage. Dominican Sister of Hope Mary Feigen, OP also spends time on Harmony Farm and sits on the Board. Twice per year, she goes on retreat at the farm and spends her days in the greenhouse and roaming the fields. For her, spending time on a Dominican-run farm is collaboration as its best. “I believe that, as a Dominican family, we are called to support things that we see as beneficial and useful,” she says. “The issue of food justice should be a collaboration of Dominicans. It’s a blessing for all of us.”
“We grow a really great product. It’s not pretty, necessarily. But we grow a great product and we make it affordable to people.” -Sister Didi
3) Helping Students Travel through Technology
Saint John the Apostle School, Clark NJSome traditions at Saint John the Apostle School are centuries old: like praying the Dominican Magnificat or studying saints. However, at the hand of Principal and Dominican Sister of Hope Associate Deb Egan, others are brand new. Take, for instance, the installation of smart projectors in sixth, seventh, and eighth grade classrooms. Or the fact that chromebooks are provided for fourth and fifth grade students.
As Deb Egan puts it, science and technology have always been a part of the Dominican tradition, as they pertain to the search for truth. So it is in her classrooms. She’s going into her fourth year as principal of the school, which educates 430 students, and she’s made technology a priority. With the projector, which is a single unit that makes any surface interactive, first graders go on a trip to an archaeological dig. Other grades jet to outer space to see the planets up-close, or wander through the Vatican Museum, all without leaving the classroom. But, the technology isn’t only beneficial to entire classrooms. “I have an eighth grade student who taught himself Russian on his computer,” Deb reports. And, she’s hopeful about the future.
“One of these students may be the one who finds a cure for cancer,”she says. “They could make a great, new discovery anywhere in the world because of what we’re able to provide as a foundation here through the use of technology.”
4) Reversing the Cycle of Poverty through Education
Nora Cronin Presentation Academy, Newburgh, NYA huge number of Hope sisters were career educators, so it’s hardly surprising that a ministry focused on quality education would be one of our favorites. Nora Cronin Presentation Academy is a private Catholic middle school for underserved girls in the City of Newburgh and the Hudson Valley. The Academy provides a pathway out of poverty through education as a means to raise expectations for young girls.
For many students, they’re the first in their families to attend college or vocational school. After teaching for thirty years, Dominican Sister of Hope Lucy Povilonis, OP now sits on the Board of the Academy. As Sister Lucy says, the girls’ education starting in sixth grade is imperative to breaking the cycle of poverty in their families. The Academy offers an extended school day with cultural enrichment and vocational programming after school. They also continue to formally mentor students after they graduate and go on to high school. Sister Lucy calls the work of the school “astounding.” “We have one student who got a full-time scholarship to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI),” she recounts. “Students enter the Academy reading below grade level, and by the time they’re in high school they’re excelling,” Sister says.
5) Giving Women a Space to Thrive
The Passaic Neighborhood Center, Passaic, NJIn 2007, the Bishops of the State of New Jersey published a “Call to Action” on poverty. As a New Jersey resident, Dominican Sister of Hope Cass McDonnell, OP wondered if they could transform the edict from a written statement to actual action steps toward justice. Sister Cass was on leadership at the time, and she was confronted daily with the reality of an aging congregation. However, in her mind growing older didn’t mean abandoning hope.
“All of us are dealing with older members, but it still feels like God is asking more of us,” Sister Cass says. “I wondered if there’s something that we could be doing together.” By 2011, Sister Cass had formed a committee. In 2013, the Passaic Neighborhood Center for Women opened its doors to serve the women of Passaic by offering them a safe, peaceful, welcoming environment in which to express their needs. Passaic was chosen because of its high poverty rate. Women in Passaic were chosen because of their vulnerability within this population. Since opening its doors, the Center has seen over 8,000 visits from the women of Passaic, who come to the Center for English, quilting and crocheting classes, to use the Rosetta Stone English learning software, to grow fruits and vegetables, and to become connected with community resources to fulfill their needs. Currently, the Center has volunteers from parishes, colleges and six different women’s religious communities, one of whom is Sister Cass. When you approach the Center, you’re met with laughs and chatter. Women studying English guide each other and laugh together when they make mistakes. The wraparound porch is checkered with women sharing stories, commiserating, and, most important, building community. You might hear one woman offer to take another’s laundry to the laundromat, while another offers to babysit or pick up the groceries. For a community whose struggles range from linguistic to financial, this spirit of helping is the true heart of the Passaic Neighborhood Center. “It is exciting to see the women taking ownership of their own lives and feeling good about the fact that they’re not alone in this,” Sister Cass says.
“We can provide services, but really we step aside and are observers. We’re not here to fix their lives. They can fix their own lives with the support of each other.”
6) Encouraging Play, and Study
Desda’s Grate, New Rochelle, NYDominican Sister of Hope Mary Alice Hannan, OP was volunteering at a homeless shelter for runaways under twenty-one-years-old when she first met Desda, a homeless woman in Manhattan who she would soon befriend. In 2000, Sister Mary Alice opened Desda’s Grate, a house for homeless, single moms in New Rochelle, NY.
“There’s a lot of programs that will help unwed mothers, but then when the kid grows up, there are fewer,” she remarked. “You have to help the mother and the child. There’s no timeline [for how long they can stay], as long as they’re working on their goals and they’re trying.” It turns out that, when you commit to helping mothers and children for the long-run, certain issues come up, like kids being home alone all day during the summer or struggling with homework during the school year. So, Sister Mary Alice, along with plenty of help, created a summer camp and an after-school tutoring program for kids who are in need, regardless of whether or not they live at Desda’s. Both programs are run out of her home. During the school year, Sister Mary Alice partners with Iona College and New Rochelle High School to get volunteer tutors at her home four days per week. Sister Mary Alice is also available to help with other needs, like when she learned that one student was being bullied at school because of his ratty shoes. It didn’t take her long to buy him a new pair. “He didn’t get name-brand sneakers,” she says. “It’s not a grand gesture, just a little help. This ministry is about supporting the families who, in the eyes of the world, look like they’re fine. But the kids just need a little extra help.” During the summer, the twenty-five elementary-aged kids who attend the weeklong camp “do arts and crafts, play games, and squirt each other with the hose in the backyard,” Sister Mary Alice says. “And I’m completely, physically exhausted!” The best part? Many of the camp counselors are volunteer middle- and high- school students who used to live at Desda’s.
7) Sewing the Way to a New Future
Cuvier, HaitiIn 2015, when Dominican Sister of Hope Mary Headley, OP completed her first trip to Haiti, she was hooked. She talked openly about the need, her ministry of presence, and the hope of it all. By 2016, she was on a plane back to Haiti for a second time. Sister Mary has now completed three trips to Haiti, and she’s also felt especially called to help in one particular way. There was a desire in Cuvier for men and women to learn how to sew. The benefits were two-fold: it would give the adults an industry, and the results would provide the required school uniforms for the children.
The community already had a trailer donated to use as a sewing school, but the donation came with a slew of complications. First, the trailer had to be transported to Cuvier. Once it arrived, a wall had to be knocked down so that it would fit within the walled community. It needed to be painted, it had no electricity, and it was void of sewing machines or other equipment. “The roads are swampy,” Sister Mary Headley explains. “I can just imagine this sixteen-foot trailer on dirt roads coming through Port Au Prince, with traffic and crowds of people.” She winces. The trailer was transported, and on Sister Mary’s most recent trip to Haiti she was given a tour of a fully functional sewing school with foot-pedals. The outside is painted blue. In the future, the school hopes for electricity and more advanced sewing machines that will allow them to make the proper school uniforms. As Sister Mary has toured the village, she has also become aware of other needs: a man on a mountain who created a makeshift movie theater with old aluminum, wood boards, a television, DVDs, and a generator; women who are seeking to start their own hair-braiding salon. “This kind of ingenuity will enable them to live independently,” Sister Mary says. For her part, she wants to nurture it. “It’s the Holy Thursday of discipleship. It’s the Good Friday of suffering and dying. It’s the Saturday of waiting,” Sister Mary says. “And then Easter Sunday there are Alleluias! And Hope is such an essential part of it all.”
8) Signing Inclusion for the Deaf Community
Ministry Formation Program for Catholic Deaf Adults, Chicago, ILVisit MFP Chicago » It’s no secret that deaf people have been largely neglected in terms of religious education. Although Sign Language is an official language, the support within the Church for priests, catechists, and ministers who sign is largely absent. The only program of its kind in the United States, the Ministry Formation Program seeks fill this void. For twenty-five years, the Ministry Formation Program has been preparing Deaf persons to take on leadership roles in their respective home parishes and dioceses.
“Deaf people have been neglected in terms of religious education,” Dominican Sister of Hope Janet Marchesani, OP explains. “There’s a strong need in the deaf community to have the deaf teach the deaf. They know their culture, they know their language. When you think of concepts of religion, which are quite abstract, it’s hard when it’s your second language to really make it understandable. Deaf people can do it well, but they have to understand the theology on an individual basis first.” The most important thing, hands-down, about the Ministry Formation Program is that it enables the deaf to teach the deaf. As a sister who has ministered with the deaf community for decades, Sister Janet Marchesani has been invited to teach workshops at the formation program and to mentor attendees. The program lasts for four years and requires six weekends of training in addition to a thesis-like project at the end. The need is clear: while the program was established in the Archdiocese of Chicago in 1993 to serve the people in the Chicago and Milwaukee areas, it quickly grew to include the neighboring states and now has and is serving students in fourteen states. Watch Sister Janet’s mentee explain her personal faith journey:
9) Grieving the Way to God
Hope for the Bereaved, South Dartmouth, MAWe’ve all been in the unfortunate situation of having to deal with the mountain of grief that accompanies death. Whether it’s saying goodbye to a loved one or having accompanied another through his/her last days, the end of life is often challenging and filled with a range of emotions. Dominican Sister of Hope Cynthia Bauer, OP seeks to give people a space to feel this grief and to cope with it. “It’s mostly people from this parish who had lost primarily spouses,” Sister Cynthia explains. “They are offered a safe place to come, a confidential space, where they could share their stories and get support from one another.”
To facilitate conversation, Sister Cynthia leads the discussion based on a theme and a book that each recipient receives for free. While she hoped that attendees would feel welcome, the group fostered a sense of community that Sister Cynthia didn’t expect. “Out in their families and in their social circles, participants often feel that they can’t express their sorrow because people say, ‘You should get over this,’ or ‘Get on with your life.’ People don’t understand what they’re going through,” Sister Cynthia explains. Yet, in the bonds formed, Sister Cynthia witnessed hope. “Through our faith we have hope in Jesus’s passion, death, and resurrection. We believe that we will see our loved ones again. That’s the center of where I’m coming from, to help the bereaved remember that’s what’s important.”
It’s a place where they can cry. It’s not as easy as getting on with your life.
10) Rebuilding Homes and Lives
Saint Bernard Project, New Orleans, LAFor those affected by Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, “home” might not seem very appealing. Long after news coverage of the disaster dissipated, many were stranded with nothing and were unable to return to their unlivable homes. In 2017, New Orleans was hit with a tornado. Now, many are still struggling to get back into their homes.
“I would wonder, ‘Why do you want to go back?,” Dominican Sister of Hope Sharon Yount, OP admits. “But they want to. It’s the place where generations of their family grew up; they all lived in the area or nearby. It’s their home.” A licensed carpenter and electrician, Sister Sharon joined the St. Bernard Project, which works to build homes and provide prompt relief to disaster-impacted citizens and communities such as those in New Orleans. For the past ten years, Sister Sharon has gone to New Orleans to participate in a week-long build project called Nuns Build. Putting her skills to such a worthy use has been life-giving for her.
“We all have a place that’s home to us,” Sister Sharon says. “I feel energized when I’m building homes for others.”During this time, Sister has seen a number of “homecomings.” In one case, an older woman was able to return to her family home after years of living with various siblings and family members. In another, a family’s home was eradicated of unsafe conditions that were aggravating the family members’ asthma. As Sister says, nothing is better than helping a person return home after years of displacement. One look at the woman who was able to return home after a number of years safe in her living room, and Sister is happy. “After our building,” Sister Sharon says, “she was finally home.”
11) Making Land Ownership Equitable
Equity Trust, Amherst, MAWhen Sister Monica McGloin, OP started nursing school, she learned that treatment of an illness is three-pronged. The first step is prevention. The second is treatment. And the third step is restoration and rehabilitation. The approach is solid, and Sister Monica believes that it should be used in relation to justice issues, as well. “When we deal with the poor, we seem to always be treating the effects of poverty as opposed to really seeking to eliminate poverty,” she says. “I like to support groups that are dealing with the causes of justice issues, rather than treating the issues reactively.”
For Equity Trust, of which Sister Monica is a board member, this concept applies to land. Young farmers can’t afford to farm because they can’t afford the land. In urban spaces, land is being developed at increasingly higher rates. Communities are being forced out of their longtime homes. Many families who are low-income can’t afford to hire a consultant for advice. With these issues in mind, Equity Trust provides pro-bono assistance to under-resourced communities and to offer below market rate loans to low income borrowers. “I don’t have all the technical skills to do housing work on a daily basis,” Sister Monica admits. “But I do know that when we make money available to people who couldn’t ordinarily get money, there will be more land preserved. And, more people who want to farm who can farm.” She notes that the basic call of the Gospel is to become the “beloved community.”
“We’re individuals, but we have to live as part of a community,” Sister Monica says. “We have to recognize that everything we do has impacts on other people, including our monopolies on land.”
12) Learning to Grow in Faith
Circle of Friends, South Dartmouth, MAFor the past six years, a group of nine has gathered in a quaint South Dartmouth home on Monday evenings to discuss spirituality. The group, called Circle of Friends, attends Catholic mass regularly, but they’re all hungering in some way for more than the parish provides. “It’s been fifty years since the Second Vatican Council,” Dominican Sister of Hope Madeleine Tacy says. “In most dioceses, in most parishes, there have not been any programs that address the spiritual needs of the people.” Moreover, when Pope Francis released Amoris Laetitia he reminded us that it is the job of the Church to inform consciences, not to replace them.
So, when Sister Madeleine was approached by parishioners about creating some kind of adult formation for a small group of parishioners, she obliged. The group meets on a semester-like schedule of eight or nine sessions and then takes a break. When they’re together, they pray the Liturgy of the Hours, study icons, and read about different forms of spirituality. It’s meant to be a stretching experience.
“Being Catholic is not just a thing that you do on Sunday or in church,” she says. “It’s something that becomes how you live your life no matter where you are.”Before long, Sister Madeleine learned that the group formed bonds beyond the regular meetings. Through the group meetings and “extracurricular” contact, many of the participants’ willingness to grow in their understanding of what the faith means has deepened.
“This wasn’t something we started out to do, but it formed a community,” Sister Madeleine says. “We’re not saving the world here. But it’s giving some people who are willing to make an investment in their spiritual growth a safe place for that to happen.”
13) Empowering Girls to Become Leaders
Girl Power, Newburgh, NYNewburgh Girl Power began with a mission at a local church to help pregnant teens. However, as the needs of the community changed, so did the scope of the services. In 2012, Girl Program was created to empower girls at a young age to make choices for themselves and seek out opportunities for self-fulfillment, set and achieve goals, all in an atmosphere of mutual support among peers and under the guidance of trained professionals. Beginning with a group of 12 girls ages 9-12, the program now reach over 30 participants in two age groups.
The group meets once per week after school to do participate in enrichment activities ranging from participating in service projects to learning to code and doing yoga to visiting farms in Cornell and seeing a Broadway show in New York City. According to Dominican Sister of Hope Catherine Walsh, OP, who sits on the Board of Girl Power, her involvement has “been an experience of seeing young girls become strong young women.”
“Strong women mean strong families and strong communities,” she says. “This program is about recognizing and affirming the contribution that each girl can make to a just, compassionate world.”
14) Facilitating Faith and Justice among Adults
Through Every Age, Benincasa Community, New York CityBenincasa Community is a small community of adults who struggled to find nourishment, vitality, and inclusion in the structures of parish life and canonical organizations. Guided by the Gospel, they sought jobs as advocates and educators, yet they served without the spiritual, intellectual, emotional or practical support of community. They felt a deep and almost desperate desire to evolve and expand their understanding of God, deepen their contemplative practice and their commitment to gospel action, and live in community. Through Every Age is a program designed to support those similarly seeking but not called to join in residence at Benincasa Community.
“Too often, there isn’t spiritual, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual support for faith-based communities outside of vowed religious communities,” Dominican Sister of Hope Anne Marie Bucher, OP says. Sister Anne Marie was involved with Benincasa through its forming in 2015, and she continues to be a friend to the community today. The Through Every Age workshop will run at no cost to participants, and will provide thirty minutes of engagement five times per week. Participants will also meet for ten four-day-long retreats throughout the year. Unsurprisingly, there were many more applications for the program than there were open spots.
“In our day and age, it seems that ethics are lacking in our country and our society,” Sister Anne Marie says. “This is an opportunity to nourish and enrich lay Catholics who are working for justice and peace.”
15) Acknowledging the Gifts of Each Woman
Women Bearing Gifts, The Mariandale CenterIn the mid-1980s, Martha LaVallee decided to attend a Women Bearing Gifts retreat. Facilitated by the then Dominican Sisters of Newburgh (now Dominican Sisters of Hope), the weekend retreat was a chance for women to take a break from their daily lives and families to gather, reflect, and share. “It was a real sense of empowerment,” Martha, now a Dominican Sister of Hope Associate, recalls. “There is such power in women sharing their stories. I experienced a sense of community, of not being alone in my spiritual journey.”
Indeed, the Women Bearing Gifts retreat encourages women to explore their spirituality, celebrate womanhood, and foster contemplation. Now, Martha and Sister Janet Marchesani, OP, who also helps facilitate the retreat, offer Women Bearing Gifts out of the Mariandale Center. The retreat is offered annually and is open to women of all ages, faiths, and backgrounds. While the pair hopes that attendees will leave the weekend with a renewed sense of self as well as a deeper connection to each other and the sisters, registration proves that there’s a hunger for such personal enrichment. in 2018, the Women Bearing Gifts retreat sold out. “This isn’t about your false self; it’s about your true self,” Sister Janet says. “We want women to have a place where they feel welcomed, where they can express themselves, and where they can deepen their own spirituality.”
“I think women don’t acknowledge their own giftedness,” Sister Janet continues. “You have to affirm your own gift in yourself, but we hesitate to do that sometimes. Then, you can bring your gifts to others.”
16) Stepping into the History of Saint Dominic
Fanjeaux Pilgrimage, Fanjeaux, FranceSaint Dominic is often called “the joyful friar.” That message elucidates when you travel through France over a two-week period, tracing the footsteps that Saint Dominic laid on the land over eight centuries ago. Each year, a group of sisters and lay people make the pilgrimage to learn about the life and ways of Saint Dominic. On the journey, the “pilgrims” are called to consider how they can live in a way that spreads Dominic’s spirit today.
While walking through sunflower fields, pilgrims learn stories of Saint Dominic’s life that attest to his mission, and ours. For instance, joy saved Dominic from death. When he approached assassins hiding out in the fields of Fanjeaux, France, Dominic was singing. Although the assassins had a specific mission to murder him, they let him live: this man simply seemed too happy to kill. Stories like this one begin to color the land. And, while many vowed religious have the opportunity to go on this pilgrimage or similar ones, Sister Catherine Walsh insists that it’s crucial to spread the message to lay people, especially those at Mount Saint Mary College. Sister Catherine says that:
“…sending students and faculty to Fanjeaux is a key way to ensure that the “value system of truth and community and justice and prayer continue to spread to students at the Mount.”After making the pilgrimage, one associate professor returned with such a passion for the Dominican charism that he embarked on a project to interview sisters individually and write a dramatic piece around his interviews. While not everyone has to be so creative, Sister Catherine hopes that the pilgrimage sparks something in everyone. “I hope the students and faculty return with a commitment to the Dominican way of life,” she says. “I also hope they return with a recommitment to Mount Saint Mary College and to inculcating the rest of the students and the faculty.”