It all started with a simple observation and question at our Sponsors Council meeting.
The observation? COVID fatigue. Faculty, staff, and administration of our sponsored educational ministries have been dealing with a great deal of uncertainty regarding e-learning, hybrid models, and on-campus instruction—and so much more! They have to plan the opening of school, instruction for both on campus and e-learning, determine how to best keep everyone safe, etc., in a constantly shifting landscape with the introduction of new information around every corner. With little chance for a break during the summer, they must be exhausted and weary.
The question? What can we do to demonstrate our gratitude and support for them?
This simple spark lit a fire of ideas that eventually led to two responses. The first response was a coordinated effort to invite Sisters to send messages of support to the nearly 1,300 faculty, staff, and administration of the seven sponsored educational ministries of the Dominican Sisters of Sinsinawa. In some cases, Sisters wrote to faculty members in their same field of teaching; in other cases, a group of Sisters wrote to a larger community to express their gratitude for the way the faculty, staff, and administration continue to live the mission in these trying circumstances. Kara McBride (Associate), faculty member of Trinity High School, River Forest, IL, captured the enthusiastic response expressed by many recipients: “Please let all the Sisters know how much their letters and prayers have lifted us and inspired us!”
The second response was rooted in an academic tradition dating back to the 16th century: the Mass of the Holy Spirit. After a lively discussion, the Sponsors Council suggested celebrating the Mass of the Holy Spirit virtually at Sinsinawa Mound, inviting all communities of the sponsored educational ministries to attend, and invite Sisters and Associates throughout the Congregation to pray with and for these communities. Marcia Holthaus, OP, graciously prepared the liturgy with suggestions from the schools’ mission coordinators and vice presidents; Priscilla Wood, OP, prepared the environment which included the schools’ logos and mission statements; Prioress Toni Harris, OP, graciously agreed to preach; and the Sisters of the Mound community enthusiastically served as liturgical ministers of music, Word, and Eucharist. President of Edgewood College Andrew Manion remarked: While it has been disappointing to not be able to visit the Mound since becoming president of Edgewood College, I was grateful for an opportunity to worship and celebrate with the community via remote participation in the Mass of the Holy Spirit. One silver lining of the pandemic has been the way it has demonstrated our creativity in using technology to connect with one another. The Mass was especially meaningful for those of us who joined in from Edgewood College, where we are devoting especial attention to our value of community this year.”
In her introduction and preaching, Toni welcomed the larger community, extended a “wide virtual embrace” and set the context of sponsorship: The Dominican Sisters of Sinsinawa is “the religious community that stands behind your school, your academic institution, and says ‘Yes, we are confident about the values and the education that you are receiving there.’” Toni pointed to the challenges and realities of our world today: a raging global pandemic, insidious racism, the common good and civility ignored, vast polarization in our society, and natural and human disasters. And yet she noted: Amid all this, our schools persist with efforts to educate, to build up, to nourish and to draw out the best in each student. Our schools exist to contribute to the development of persons who can give expression by their lives to the values most necessary for our world now and into the future. Referring to the readings of the day, Toni reflected: It seems to me that the purpose of our schools, our educational institutions, is expressed in Paul’s letter: to develop, to draw out all that makes students worthy of their calling as children of the same God. . . . In other words, to assure that each person is becoming her or his best self, true to God’s dream for that person.
Toni concluded her preaching with both a challenge and a mandamus of sorts for our sponsored educational ministries: May our educational communities . . . continue to awaken our students to the essential truth about themselves and others: The truth that every person deserves respect; the truth that our safety and security are intertwined with the safety and security of our sisters and brothers near at hand and around the globe; the truth that we must continually work at being faithful to—that is worthy of—our call to live like we are all children of the same God sharing a planet that is our common home.