August 4, 2021, Adrian, Michigan – “The Healing and Prophetic Power of Art” was the theme as 65 Dominicans – Sisters, Friars, and Associates – met virtually July 23-24, 2021, for the annual Dominican Institute for the Arts (DIA) Gathering.
The DIA focuses on the Dominican call to preach through the arts and has drawn members with a variety of artistic disciplines: visual arts, music, poetry, dance, preaching, and drama. The annual gathering gives members the opportunity to share their artwork, encourage one another, form community, and hear inspirational and informative talks.
Associate Pat Daly (Peace), DIA President, welcomed the participants, who met via Zoom for about five hours each day, with a break for lunch. The first day gave participants the opportunity to share their art. Sister Barbara Schwarz, OP, (Amityville), presented a video slide show made up of five slides of art work from each participant, as well as In Memoriam slides of the work of members who died in the past year. Participants spent the afternoon in Zoom chat rooms, sharing their artwork with one another.
The second day focused on the keynote address of Brother Mickey McGrath, OSFS, an artist, author, storyteller, and retreat director who lives in Camden, New Jersey. In her introduction, Sister Nancyann Turner, OP (Adrian), a member of the Planning Commission, noted that Brother Mickey has focused full-time on his art ministry since 1974.
The author of 20 books, Brother Mickey has traveled throughout the United States and Canada “to share his firm belief that beauty will indeed heal and save our broken world,” Sister Nancyann said. “I am so inspired at how he is able to use his creativity and artistry to preach about peace and justice, to preach about the dignity of all people. His art does not condemn but builds up positive hopes.” More about Brother Mickey can be found on his website.
In his keynote address, Brother Mickey created connections between art and friendship and between art and healing. He told the story of artist Henri Matisse, an atheist who was helped by a Dominican Sister when he designed a chapel for the Dominican Sisters in France, and about American artist Georgia O’Keefe, who was inspired in her art by a Sinsinawa Dominican Sister who taught in the boarding school that Georgia attended.
Brother Mickey’s two sessions were followed by group discussions in chat rooms.
The gathering also included prayer services led by Sisters Nancyann and Sue Schreiber, OP (Adrian), and Associate Judith Engel (Adrian).
Because the 2020 Gathering was canceled due to COVID-19, DIA participants acknowledged Sister Irene Mary Diones, OP (Mission San Jose) as the 2020 recipient of the Fra Angelico Award and Sister Liz Sully, OP (Sinsinawa) as the 2020 recipient of the Spirit Recognition Award for her service to the DIA. The Fra Angelico Award – named after the great 15th-century Dominican artist – is the highest honor that the DIA bestows on its members.
Sisters Joella Miller, OP, and Aneesah McNamee, OP, both Dominican Sisters of Adrian, reflected on the conference and on the importance of encouraging Dominicans to preach through the arts. They attributed the success of the conference to Brother Mickey and his keynote address; to the clear script that kept the gathering moving forward; to Brad McCullar, of the Adrian Dominican Sisters’ Technology Department, who organized the virtual format; and to the spirit of the participants. They also acknowledged Sisters Rosemary Asaro, OP, and Joanne Peters, OP (Adrian) who helped the DIA members living in Adrian to connect to the gathering.
Sister Joella chaired the Planning Commission, working with commission members Sisters Aneesah, Nancyann, and Sue Schreiber, and Associate Judith Engel. All are affiliated with the Dominican Sisters of Adrian, since Adrian was originally designated as the site of the 2021 gathering.
Sisters Joella and Aneesah also both serve on the DIA Board, which includes Associate Pat Daly (Peace), President; Sisters Ann Marie Santen, OP (Sparkill), and Mary Pat Reid, OP (Caldwell); and Father Rudolf Löwenstein, OP, a Friar from England.
“I’m very impressed with the membership,” Sister Joella said. “We have some wonderful, wonderful members. Their spirits are just so big.” A longtime member of the DIA, Sister Joella, a photographer, joined the group at the encouragement of the late Sister Kathleen Harkins, OP, who performed a one-woman play about St. Catherine of Siena.
Sister Aneesah, a freelance graphic designer, calligrapher, and photographer, heard about the DIA shortly after entering the Dominican Sisters of Adrian and attended the Gathering in Adrian. “I was very impressed and excited about it,” she said. “Everybody needs to be encouraged. When you think of all those people and how their spirit comes out through their art and music – that’s what is inspiring to me.”
“Everybody is an artist in some way,” Sister Joella added. “They have some kind of creativity inside of them that needs to come out. I don’t think God created anybody who didn’t have some creative way to express themselves.”