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U.S. prioresses and delegates at the DSI meeting

Dominican Sisters International
Meeting evokes greater unity, solidarity

By Anne Lythgoe, OP (Catherine de’ Ricci)

A new movement toward greater unity and a desire to speak with one voice on behalf of the poor emerged as a result of the Sixth General Assembly of Dominican Sisters International which met in Rome, Italy, May 14-19.

More than 100 Prioresses from the congregations of Dominican Sisters of Apostolic Life reflected on the theme: “Shaping Our Future with Realism, Daring and Hope.” DSI is comprised of 154 congregations with about 25,600 Dominican sisters who operate in 113 countries throughout the world. Fifteen U.S. prioresses attended the meeting along with guests and delegates from congregations.

This year DSI celebrates 15 years since its inauguration. Prior to the meeting, a number of U.S. prioresses visited the Dominican Sisters of Iraq at their new mission in Florence.

Sr. Maria Fabiola Valasquez Maya, OP (Presentation), International Coordinator of DSI, offered an overview of her work in visiting the various parts of the Order around the world. Master of the Order, Fr. Carlos Azpiroz Costa, OP, visited the Assembly, along with his General Council. During his homily and in a conference, he encouraged the members to preach with courage and to carry out their work of social justice and peace in the name of the Order.

Reports from the five continental regions of the Order opened a window into the vitality of Dominican women around the world. Those regions include Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, North America, Asia-Pacific and Africa.

The Assembly took an important step in speaking with one voice by approving a proposal to take on the sponsorship of the NGO office at the United Nations in New York, currently sponsored by the Dominican Leadership Conference (DLC). The group recognized that the voice of the poor would be more credible and more widely represented if the members of DSI provide the critical information about conditions of human rights around the world and bring their influence to bear on the work of systemic change. The NGO Office in New York collaborates with the Dominicans for Justice and Peace in Geneva at the United Nations Human Rights Council. The Dominicans in Geneva are sponsored by the friars.

Mary Ellen O’Grady, OP (Sinsinawa), executive director the Dominican Leadership Conference, said, “I am delighted that DSI gave such strong support to sponsor the NGO in New York. I feel this will deepen our collaboration across the continents and promote our preaching mission. It has been my privilege to represent the DLC at five DSI meetings. I believe that the support for sponsorship of the NGO is born out of DSI’s desire to be connected, to network, and to be in solidarity as Dominican women in the world.”

In other movement, the members explored the possibilities of deeper unity. Sr. Donna Markham, OP (Adrian) offered a compelling photo of an Adrian Dominican and an Iraqi Dominican who made final profession of vows together. The photo depicts the moment during the liturgy in which each sister, together, makes a profound inclination by lying side by side on the chapel floor, imploring the saints for their intercession. The photo offers a glimpse into a possible future of unity and solidarity across boundaries of language and conflict. Donna asked, Could we imagine a world like this? and posed the question: "What would you say if one day, we Dominican Sisters of Apostolic Life were no longer divided into 153 Congregations but united in a single government structure aimed at Preaching? Isn’t there already in DSI the seed of one global Congregation of Apostolic Dominican Women?"

Sr. Faustina Jimoh, OP (Nigeria) commented that there are two Dominican congregations in her area and both are called Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena, but from two different foundations. “What is the real difference?” she asks. A union of Dominicans Sisters around the world was seen as both structural and relational. That is, some believed that we are already on our way to such a unity through our collaborations and common projects. Others saw a need to go further and develop a common Constitution.

“It was amazing that prioresses across the world envision a future when we all may be united in a single entity,” responded Sr. Donna Markham, OP (Adrian) as the members explored the call to greater unity and solidarity. The members clearly viewed the assembly itself as an expression of unity and collaboration and celebrated the common values they share as Dominicans.

The members also heard heartbreaking accounts of suffering around the world, told by sisters from Iraq, Nigeria, India, Zimbabwe and other places. Religious persecution of Christians in India, violence against Dominican sisters in Iraq, the difficulties of a failed economy and absent government in Zimbabwe, were sobering reminders of the urgency of the Gospel message of compassion, faith and hope. Their testimony was a visible reminder that we are family.

Young Dominicans were invited to the Assembly to offer a perspective on the future, and they did not disappoint the members. “The panel of young sisters brought new life and energy to the Assembly, said Sr. Rose Marie Riley, OP, prioress (Springfield). “Each Sister shared the hopes and dreams of the young sister of her continent. They blessed us with their vitality.”

The panel included May Onoshokhue Ekwe, OP (Nigeria), Rosalea Busilac, OP (Philippines), Katarina Pajchel, OP (Norway), Jacqueline Sothers, OP (Chile) and Beth Quire, OP (USA). The panelists offered insightful commentary on the thinking and dreams of young Dominican women around the world.

The members were very touched by the sharing of the younger sisters and many continental groups either already plan for or will plan to hold gatherings of younger sisters in their regions. The hope is that an international gathering of younger Dominicans will take place sometime in the future. There are about 500 Dominican sisters under 40 years old around the world.

Prioresses from the U.S. agreed to plan for such a meeting in the United States and a committee was formed to implement it.

In other action, Mary Hughes, OP (Amityville) was asked to describe for the Assembly the present state of the Apostolic Visitation in the United States. There was a great deal of support and solidarity with the U.S. Dominicans in this process. Mary is currently the Vice-President of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR).

The Dominican Volunteers International also offered a report of their activities, and the assembly thanked Roseanne Schlitt, OP (Adrian) for her service as the director for the last five years.

The meeting ended with a very festive and lively Eucharist in which the new coordinating council was installed and the assembly celebrated the accomplishments of DSI.

The assembly voted for the DSI Coordinating Council for the next three years, re-electing four of the coordinators and welcoming Rose Marie Riley, OP (Springfield) as the North American Coordinator. Sincere thanks were extended to Sr. Patricia Simpson, who completed her term, for the work performed over these years with commitment and perseverance. The DSI Coordinating Council is now composed of the following Sisters: Africa, Sr. Michael Mdluli; Latin America and the Caribbean, Sr. Irene Díaz; North America, Sr. Rose Marie Riley; Asia Pacific, Sr. Cecille Espenilla; Europe, Sr. Sara Böhmer.

Sr. Fabiola concluded her talk with these words which we hope will accompany our work over the next three years: "Hope, a universal feeling that is increasingly longed for, is the most ancient theme in literature, in theology, spirituality, in the Bible… in the arts recited by poets, painted by artists, from which writers draw inspiration and that mystics and God’s people chant… hope is an eternal theme because, not only does the human being live on hope, he or she actually is hope."

To view more photos from the DSI meeting, click here