For Sister Carleen Maly, OP, education and the Adrian Dominican Sisters go hand-in-hand – from being taught by them as an eighth-grader to her past 15 years of ministry as Director of Adrian Rea Literacy Center, located at the Motherhouse.
A native of Detroit, Sister Carleen moved with her family to nearby Clawson, Michigan, when she was going into the eighth grade. “I thought my life had ended,” she said, “but the move to Clawson was one of the most wonderful things that could have happened in my life because that was the first and only time I had Adrian Dominican Sisters [as teachers].” She was struck by the joy of the Sisters and by their obvious love of teaching.
During her high school years, Sister Carleen never forgot the Adrian Dominican Sisters at Guardian Angels School. She frequently stopped in to visit, especially to see Sister Patricia Marie O’Rourke, Principal.
Her thoughts again turned to the Adrian Dominican Sisters during a retreat in her senior year of high school. “It was during that weekend that I had time for prayer and talks about our life choices,” Sister Carleen recalled. “I really felt a strong urge in that time of prayer to follow through with talking with one of our Sisters about entering the Congregation.” After frequent talks with Sister Patricia Marie, she entered the Adrian Dominican Congregation in September 1959 with two classmates from eighth grade: Kathleen Voss, OP, and the late Gail Singel, OP.
Much to her surprise, Sister Carleen had an early experience of teaching when, in December of her postulant year, she was assigned to teach a fifth- and sixth-grade class at Sacred Heart School in Caro, Michigan, for the second semester. With the help of the other Sisters at the school, Sister Carleen made it through the semester. She learned from this and later experiences that teaching junior high school student was a “good fit” for her.
After profession, Sister Carleen taught at schools in Michigan and in the Dominican Republic. She later returned to the Dominican Republic with four other Sisters to start Centro Educacional de Bonao in the remote area of Bonao. The school was founded by a Canadian mining company to teach the children of the company’s workers. “We had people from 15 countries represented in the school,” with a complete Spanish track and a complete English track, she recalled.
From there, Sister Carleen went on to serve in pastoral ministry at two parishes in the Diocese of Orlando, Florida, and, in 1994, was elected to a six-year term as Chapter Prioress (Provincial) of the Florida Mission Chapter. Returning to Michigan to be closer to her mother, Sister Carleen worked with Sister Marie Damian Schoenlein, OP, Director of the Dominican Literacy Center in Detroit. After serving as Director of Vocation Outreach for three years, Sister Carleen was asked by Sister Marie Damian to help her start the Adrian Rea Literacy Center. Sister Marie Damian served as Director for one year and turned the ministry over to Sister Carleen.
As Director of Adrian Rea, Sister Carleen finds joy daily. “The joys are knowing that we are able to change people’s lives because we give them the gift of being able to read and write and speak in English,” she said. “In the course of our 15 years, we have tutored close to 1,500 learners with 1,200 tutors – all individualized tutoring,” Sister Carleen said. Currently, about 72 pairings come to Adrian Rea each week. About 90 percent of the learners are studying English as a second language.
Sister Carleen and the literacy center’s volunteer tutors work with many people who are at the lowest literacy rate. “They may have had some education in their country of origin,” she said. “A handful would have gone on to high school or college, but many reported that their highest was third grade in their country of origin.”
Sister Carleen also finds her own joy when seeing the tutors’ joy as they help their learners to meet personal goals: communicating with their children’s teachers and doctors, helping their children with homework, and finding a better job.
She feels especially blessed when the adult learners become citizens with the help of their tutors – and often with the help of the Congregation’s Immigration Assistance Office, directed by Sister Attracta Kelly, OP, an immigration attorney.
“Our Congregation has committed to helping people through an onsite place where they can seek a consultation and information about their immigration status to see if there is an opportunity to apply for citizenship,” Sister Carleen explained. “What we do in partnership is ask that the tutors help the learners study the 100 questions involved in the citizenship test.”
Whatever the learners’ goals might be, Sister Carleen has committed to providing a safe place and a “welcoming environment” in which they can work toward those goals. “It’s difficult enough for adults who are embarrassed, especially for people whose first language is English,” she said. “We welcome everyone and I would say that that’s the atmosphere. It’s a relaxed atmosphere but a place of business, a place of learning.”