Prioress to receive St. Thomas More Award

Sister Attracta Kelly, OP (center) with members of the General Council of the Adrian Dominican Sisters (from left): Sister Kathleen Schanz, OP; Sister Julie Hyer, OP; Sister Corinne Sanders, OP; and Sister Tarianne DeYonker, OP.
Sister Attracta Kelly, OP (center) with members of the General Council of the Adrian Dominican Sisters (from left): Sister Kathleen Schanz, OP; Sister Julie Hyer, OP; Sister Corinne Sanders, OP; and Sister Tarianne DeYonker, OP.

Adrian Dominicans

Sister Attracta Kelly, OP, prioress of the Adrian Dominican Sisters, will receive the prestigious St. Thomas More Award from the Catholic Lawyers Guild of the Diocese of Lansing during the Guild’s annual banquet on Monday, Oct. 1, in the Parish Hall of St. Mary Cathedral in Lansing.

The banquet will follow the diocese’s 27th Annual Red Mass, celebrated by Bishop Earl Boyea of the Diocese of Lansing and held in St. Mary Cathedral at 5:15 p.m. A European tradition since the 13th Century, the Red Mass invokes the aid of the Holy Spirit as the Michigan courts begin a new term.

During the banquet, author and administrative law Judge Lisa K. Gigliotti will present the St. Thomas More Award to Sister Attracta in recognition of her tireless efforts to shield children and adults from human trafficking, to protect women from violence, and to advocate for immigrants in need of asylum.

“In this day when immigrants are being so maligned and mistreated in this country, I want to congratulate and thank the Catholic Lawyers Guild members who chose this type of advocacy for this award,” Sister Attracta said. She considers the award to be an acknowledgement of the “thousands of immigrants who have been forced because of war and violence to leave their homelands,” as well as the women, children, and men—sometimes families—who are enslaved for sex or work.

The award “is also an acknowledgement of so many people who, like our ancestors, in order to save their families from starvation were forced to leave their homeland to find any kind of labor which would provide food and shelter,” Sister Attracta added, noting her gratitude for the opportunity to offer assistance to immigrants for the past 15 years.

Sister Attracta’s passion for defending the rights of immigrants stemmed in part from her experience on the Adrian Dominican Sisters’ General Council from 1986 to 1992. During her term, the congregation offered temporary housing for refugees of the civil war in Guatemala and El Salvador as they sought asylum in Canada. After she left office, Sister Attracta earned her law degree from the Columbus School of Law at Catholic University of America, Washington, DC.

After her graduation in 1996, Sister Attracta worked for Jesuit Refugee Services in her native Ireland, helping people from African nations, Romania, and the former Soviet Union to find asylum. She returned to the United States in 1999 and served for 11 years as the director of the Immigrants Legal Assistance Project at the North Carolina Justice Center in Raleigh. She was also on the state’s Anti-Trafficking Board, working to gain legal status for women and children who were brought to the United States against their will for immoral purposes.

Sister Attracta was elected to serve a six-year term as prioress of the Adrian Dominican Congregation in 2010, but retains her dedication to defending the rights of immigrants and human trafficking victims. Most recently, she has coordinated the training of Sisters and volunteers from the Adrian community to assist “Dreamers” – undocumented young adults who were brought to this country as children – in filing for two-year legal status under the federal government’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

The award is presented annually to an individual who exemplifies the Christian ideals of service and sacrifice and who has made significant contributions to the fields of law and justice. The patron saint of lawyers, St. Thomas More served as Lord Chancellor of King Henry VIII but was put to death for treason in 1535 for defending the supremacy of the pope against the king’s claim to be Head of the Church of England.

The Dominican Sisters of Adrian are a congregation of about 800 vowed women religious whose roots go back to St. Dominic in the 13th century. The sisters minister in 29 states; the District of Columbia; the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico; and now in seven other nations: Canada, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Kenya, Norway, the Philippines, and Taiwan.