You already know that the 170 Dominican Sisters of Hope are active in fifteen states and Puerto Rico; their ministries include everything from writing books to building homes to dancing, and lots more. But they do more than good works. Here’s what might surprise you: the sisters are technically a corporation, and, as such, they take corporate responsibility very seriously.
Corporate responsibility goes beyond our sisters as individuals; it affects how they respond to social issues as a unified whole. This includes how they invest financially, how they vote, how they interact with those with political power, and how they hope to influence their friends and supporters.
Responding to these issues by committing to living justly is paramount to the sisters. As they write, “Social justice is an integral part of our call as humans, as members of various religions, as baptized Catholics, and as Women Religious.”
Corporate stances, then, are one way in which the sisters lead a just life as a congregation.
As Sister Mary Feigen, the Justice Promoter for the Dominican Sisters of Hope, says, corporate stances are about the sisters having a “right relationship” with the world at large and everything in it.
“We ourselves, and all of creation, are the Universe unfolding and revealing itself,” Sister Mary explains. “Our corporate stances are one way to respond as Dominican Sisters of Hope to the call to a right relationship with all. We stand together, and now with all the Dominican women religious congregations of the Northeast, against the named injustices and global concerns.”
But how are these “named injustices” chosen? And who chooses them, specifically?
The issues are determined by the social teachings of the Church. The decision to take a corporate stance is not just an individual choice, but one made together through a process of education and contemplative reflection. The corporate stance is a statement of principle – the result of prayer, research, reflection, and discussion on behalf of the sisters as a group. Each sister is asked to study and pray about the issue before it becomes a corporate stance; in doing so, the sisters honor their Dominican charism of study, prayer, and action. Individual and group reflection yields a vote: corporate stances have the support of the majority of the congregation.
Today, the congregation has six corporate stances including issues such as the death penalty, genetically modified foods, human trafficking, nuclear weapons, immigration reform, and climate justice. More than just taking a stand, though, the sisters are interested in the implementation of these stances.
They live out their stances through participating in marches and demonstrations, signing petitions, changing legislation, etc. They are also committed to socially responsible investing and are members of the Tri-State Coalition for Responsible Investment.
Most recently, at the Dominican Sisters Conference held this month in Chicago, sisters from Dominican congregations across the United States signed letters to representatives highlighting justice issues and urging for specific action. The letters are now being sent to Senator McConnell, Congresswoman Pelosi, President Obama, Senator Reid, and Congressman Boehner’s successor.
Twenty-five Dominican Sisters of Hope and one Dominican Sister of Hope Associate were present to endorse the petitions for political action:
We implore you to recognize within the issue of global climate change, however it is perceived, a unique opportunity to partner with other countries as well as the private sector in the creation of a sustainable energy and lifestyles which in the big picture will only serve to enhance the well-being of this country and lay the foundation for a more peaceful future. We urge you, moreover, to consider the fate of those peoples and countries who have had the least to do with the creation of the climate crises, yet whose very future is imminently threatened by it.
It is, therefore, critical that our country follow through on its pledges to the Green Climate Fund. We call on you to release these funds in a timely manner so that the global community can implement strategies of adaptation and mitigation which secure the safety of the most disadvantaged at that the same time that the world develops the new technology necessary to build a sustainable energy future.
For Dominican Sister of Hope Patricia Jelly, a former Justice Promoter for the congregation, encouraging such change is vital.
“Corporate stances serve as a reminder that, not only are we concerned to take a particular stand, but we will take certain concrete steps to change what needs to be changed,” Sister Pat shares.
Indeed, corporate stances are meant to be as much a sign to those in the outside world as they are a commitment from those within the congregation. Altogether, the sisters hope that the corporate stances will urge those around them to take action and commit to justice, too.
“The hope is that, by taking such a position, others will take note of the issue, pause to reflect, and act,” Sister Catherine Walsh, a Councilor on the Dominican Sisters of Hope Leadership Team, explains. “It is also a reminder to our elected officials about issues of importance to us. And we do vote.”
“Corporate stances serve as a reminder that, not only are we concerned to take a particular stand, but we will take certain concrete steps to change what needs to be changed.”
In the end, perhaps the Dominican Sisters of Hope Corporate Stances aren’t so complex. The notion of committing to an issue as a congregation and acting on it together might seem grandiose, but it relates back to the sisters’ mission statement. Far from a heady proclamation, the words couldn’t be simpler: they’re a commitment to living out the Gospel, to living out hope. The statement reads:
“We, Dominican Sisters of Hope, are called to preach the Gospel to our world. In communion with all creation, we commit our lives to the transforming power of Hope.”
The Dominican Sisters of Hope are not only hoping for a better world, they’re working toward it. Leading a just life is a step, and an important one, at that.