To coin a well-worn phrase, it was a Dominican Sisters Conference Elected Leaders Annual Meeting like no other. Held entirely in the virtual space, the gathering saw Sisters and guests throwing air kisses, lighting candles, dancing and praying in the electronic “cloud” of a zoom call. While over 190 attendees were far flung around the world, the conference was lively, prayerful, and, despite being conducted through computer screens, intimate.
What made the meeting even more special was the presence of about 100 younger Dominicans who were invited to engage in conversation with elected leaders about the future of Dominican Life and Mission in the US. The scriptural image of Visitation, the encounter between Mary and Elizabeth, provided a context.
After Anne Lythgoe, OP (Peace) welcomed everyone to the virtual space, the meeting opened with prayer led by Diane Morgan, OP (Amityville). Pat Twohill, OP (Peace) set the stage for the meeting’s conversation on the future that would take place Thursday and Friday.
Thursday’s day-long session, facilitated by author and leadership development expert Patrick O’Neill, took Sisters and guests through a series of questions designed to deepen relationships among the “Marys and Elizabeths.”
Kelly Biddle, OP, (Houston) described it like this: “We’ve all gotten used to new ways of praying and worshiping together…but this meeting, in terms of organizational complexity, has topped all that.”
“I especially enjoyed our many small group sharing circles,” said Lorraine Reaume, OP (Adrian). “It was a chance for everyone to be heard and have what was important to us shared with the whole.”
Thursday’s small group discussions were followed by six casual breakout sessions, where Sisters of all ages could enter separate Zoom rooms for conversation and sharing in virtual “happy hours.”
“People were very happy to connect and to share, even in a virtual context,” comments Gina Scaringella, OP (Caldwell). “As a recent participant in the CDN, I … developed a deep sense of inter-congregational connection among sisters. This year’s DSC was an extension of that communal experience”
The final day of the meeting focused on the commitments that participants would make to a series of ideas intended to bring the movement toward the future forward. Those commitments were ritualized in a candlelight ceremony.
Mary-Han Nguyen, OP (Mission San Jose), saw these discussions as directional for all Dominican Women. “The future of the USA Dominican women is not only in the hands of the Marys or Elizabeths but in both, a big part of the collaboration,” she said.
Friday afternoon’s Business Meeting featured reports from the Dominican Sisters International (DSI) Coordinator Sr. Margaret Mayce, OP (Amityville) in Rome, as well as DSI Continental Coordinator Gene Poore, OP (Peace), Reg McKillip, OP (Sinsinawa), North American Co-Promoter of Justice and Peace, and Dusty Farnan, OP (Adrian), NGO Representative at the United Nations.
Gloria Marie Jones, OP (Mission San Jose) Program Director of the Dominican Charism Initiative, and Terry Rickard, OP (Blauvelt), DSC Executive Committee, reported on the ongoing progress of creating online materials and structure which promotes Dominican Charism and Spirituality. The plan to financially sustain the Dominican Charism Initiative was affirmed by the members and they expressed deep appreciation to Sr. Gloria Marie.
Anne Lythgoe, Maryann McMahon, OP (Racine), and Mary Ellen O’Grady, OP (Sinsinawa), of the Executive Committee presented a Road Map document focusing on steps to take over the next few years to strengthen the DSC. Its intention is to create stronger and clearer communication among DSC sisters, associates, and leaders, and to promote Dominican charism and mission. That document was overwhelmingly approved, along with the budget.
In closing, Sr. Mary Ellen expressed the groups’ thanks to members of the DSC Planning Committee, the OP Futuring Task Force, the DSC staff, facilitator Patrick O’Neill, and the technical team from the Dominican Sisters of Peace, who facilitated the meeting. She also recognized the DSC Executive Committee and those who presented at the meeting.
Corrinne Thompson, OPA (Sinsinawa) found the experience eye-opening. “I had an appreciation for how large the Dominican family really is and feel very blessed to be part of this family and looking forward to all it will become and its possibilities.”
Interim Executive Director Mary Ellen O’Grady said, “Whatcaught my attention during the DSC Virtual Gathering was the participation, presence and engagement by the Sisters and Associates who gathered remotely across the continent and across the world,” she said. “I appreciated the creative and effective use of technology and the experience of our process facilitator and our technical team that helped move our process forward.”
Anne Lythgoe, OP expressed the feelings of everyone in thanking Sr. Mary Ellen for her on-going work on behalf of the DSC.
The DSC Planning Committee includes Anne Lythgoe, OP (Peace), Rebecca Ann Gemma, OP (Springfield), Diane Morgan, OP (Amityville), Mary Ann McMahon, OP; Mary Ellen O’Grady, OP; MaDonna Thelen, OPA (Sinsinawa).
The DSC Executive Committee includes: Anne Lythgoe, OP (Peace), Maryann McMahon, OP (Racine), Pam Mitchell, OP (Sinsinawa), Terry Rickard, OP (Blauvelt), Corrine Saunders, OP (Adrian), new member Janice Brown, OP (Adrian) and outgoing member Carol Mayes, OP (Houston).