In Retrospect: Sister Paul Mary Janssens, OP

Sister Paul Mary Janssens is retiring from leadership of the Springfield Dominican Associate Program after eleven years in this community ministry. During Sister Paul Mary’s final commitment ceremony Sister Rebecca Ann Gemma, prioress general, called her a “superb animator” of the associates. Sister Beth Murphy sat down with Sister Paul Mary for a conversation about her years of service.

What have these last 11 years been like for you?

They have been vibrant, relational, and spiritual. I have loved the associates. They are good people; we have good relationships; I’ve enjoyed them. We will continue our relationships because I’m still living here [at Sacred Heart Convent] so I’ll see them now and then and that will be good.

What does it mean to be an associate of the Springfield Dominicans?

The associates first experience a nine-month program of formation that is the cornerstone of associate life. We have sisters who address a different topic at each monthly meeting. They do a wonderful job covering everything from prayer and spirituality to Dominican history and the social teaching of the Catholic Church. So many of our associates tell me how valuable the period of formation is to them. That is the first thing. Then, as the associates make commitment, they are helping us carry out our charism. They are doing such wonderful things. A couple from Jacksonville are serving the men in the Jacksonville prison through a prison ministry program. Not everybody can do that sort of thing. Other associates are helping a homebound couple in their parish, visiting nursing homes to lift people’s spirits, ministering to those with addictions. They are serving on boards at the hospital, for Salvation Army, working at Catholic Charities food pantries, assisting at homeless shelters, recycling and caring for the environment, teaching religion classes in their parishes, so many things. I’m happy that they are so active and doing so much good. Sometimes it puts you to shame how good they are. They are doing very charitable works, works of love for others, and I think that is important.

What have been the best moments for you during your tenure?

Actually, the days of reflection and meeting those wonderful speakers that we have had. Someone like, last year Sister Mary Ann Weismann-Mills, and this year Sister Ann Willits is returning. Sister Terry Rickard from New York is president of Renew International. They are good people to know and cherish.

What is next for you?

I am going to assist with the mission advancement office. I am going to renew relationships with many of the people I have known in Duluth, Minn., in Aurora and Sugar Grove, and right here in Springfield.

What is your hope as the associate program moves forward?

I’m hoping that it will bring everyone closer to God. That they will develop their spiritually and prayer life. That is essential. I would like to bring more young people into the associate program, too. Young people are involved in so many things and it is harder for them to give up the time to do it but you know we bring in more people in their 60s and 70s than we do the 30s, 40s. I wish we could find a way to meet the needs of younger people, too.

I see how generous young people can be. They are good at preaching by their actions. For example, when these young people come over from Sacred Heart-Griffin it’s wonderful. They have a beautiful spirit.


Springfield Dominican Sisters Response to the Withdraw from the Paris Agreement

We are sharing a press release sent out Thursday, June 1, 2017 from the Catholic Climate Covenant with the response of national Catholic organizations, including LCWR, to President Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Accord.

If you would like to partner with our mission to care for our planet, keep working for our common home with us at Jubilee Farm.

Catholic Leaders Respond to Paris Withdrawal

We, the member organizations of Catholic Climate Covenant, are deeply disappointed by President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement and stop all future payments tot he Green Climate Fund. We implore him to reconsider. The international agreement of 2015 demonstrates that all nations will be impacted by a warming world and that all nations have a corresponding responsibility to limit greenhouse gas pollution causing climate change.

Climate change is already harming vulnerable people throughout the U.S. and around the world. American citizens in Louisiana and Alaska are being displaced by rising sea levels caused by melting glaciers and thermal expansion. Across the globe, families in Zimbabwe are being devastated by crushing drought amidst some of the hottest years on record. Globally, the World Health Organization warns that “between 2030 and 2050, climate change is expected to cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhea and heat stress.” Both at home and abroad, climate change unjustly and disproportionately harms poor and marginalized people who contribute least to the problem.

Catholic teaching insists that climate change is a grave moral issue that threatens our commitments: to protect human life, health, dignity, and security; to exercise a preferential option for the poor; to promote the common good of which the climate is part; to live in solidarity with future generations; to realize peace; and to care for God’s good gift of creation. These arguments have been made by Saint John Paul II, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, bishops from every continent and, most recently, Pope Francis.

The Catholic Church recognizes that climate change is a global problem that requires global solutions. It has repeatedly called for and supported international climate change agreements including by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in 2009, 2010, and 2012. Pope Francis wrote and released his ecological encyclical, Laudato Si’, in part to influence the Paris Agreement stressing that “its implementation will require unanimous commitment and generous dedication by everyone.” In Laudato Si’, he emphasized that “continuity is essential, because policies related to climate change and environmental protection cannot be altered with every change of government” (no. 181).

Here in the United States, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has encouraged the Trump Administration—in letters and visits to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, National Security Advisor Lt. Gen H.R. McMaster, and Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin—to abide by the Paris Agreement and live up to its commitments for the Green Climate Fund. In March, 15,000 Catholics sent a petition to President Trump asking him to honor the Paris Agreement and to contribute to the Green Climate Fund.

Beyond the Catholic community, majorities of Americans in every state believe that the U.S. should remain in the Paris Agreement. Similarly, hundreds of U.S. businesses – including major fossil fuel companies – have urged President Trump to honor the Paris Agreement. Across the United States, the message from Americans to President Trump is clear: any short-term economic gains should not be at the expense of long-term stability. This is not what America wants.

We, the members of Catholic Climate Covenant, believe there is no justification for his decisions and we implore President Trump to reconsider this path. We will continue to raise our voices against climate policies that harm the planet and people while we will advocate for policies that respond to “both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor” (Laudato Si’ no. 49, emphasis in original).


Daniel J. Misleh
Executive Director, Catholic Climate Covenant

Eli McCarthy, Ph.D.
Associate Director of Justice and Peace, Conference of Major Superiors of Men

Fr. Michael Lasky, OFM Conv.
Board of Directors, Franciscan Action Network

Sheila Hopkins
President, National Council of Catholic Women

Scott Wright
Director, Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach

Sr. Carol Keehan
President & CEO, Catholic Health Association

Sr. Donna Markham, OP, PhD, ABPP
President & CEO, Catholic Charities USA

Sr. Jane Remson, O.Carm.
Main Representative, Carmelite NGO

Sr. Mary Pellegrino, CSJ
President, Leadership Conference of Women Religious

Sr. Patricia McDermott, RSM
President, Sisters of Mercy of the Americas

Tomás Insua
Movement Coordinator, Global Catholic Climate Movement

Very Rev. Kevin Mullen, OFM
President, English Speaking Conference, Franciscan Friars (OFM)

Healing with Dialogue

Healing with Dialogue
Election Year Strained Friendship

by Aaron Tebrinke with reflections by Shirley Johnson and J. Graham Thompson, LMFT

Aaron Tebrinke, our Multimedia Specialist, and Shirley Johnson have been friends since 2013. Aaron feared that their friendship was damaged by the general election last November. He was eager to try an exercise in contemplative dialogue with the help of facilitator Graham Thompson, marriage therapist, Dominican Associate, and JUST Words editorial board member. Shirley agreed. Here is a summary of their experience.

Shirley: First, I must say that I came into this experience not knowing what to expect. I was apprehensive because I know how emotional I can get over politics. I purposely came into the conversation with no expectations, which allowed me to be completely taken in by the process.

Aaron: I had high expectations based on my observations of sisters using contemplative dialogue practices, but I had a realistic fear that the relationship was too damaged to salvage.
Shirley: As the listener, I felt that I was truly hearing the heart of my friend for the first time. I heard his concerns, and I heard the impact that the general election had on him emotionally. I empathized with the inner conflict he experienced and understood the influence of his life experience on his decision. I was moved with compassion for him and for those he knows who felt scared and fearful of what might take place under a Trump administration. It was no longer for me about the debate. It became more about comforting a friend who was genuinely hurt and felt as though life as he knew it was quickly falling away and that there was nothing he could do to prevent it.

In some ways, I felt conflicted and responsible for what he was going through because I held the opposing viewpoint, which seemed to be what he felt was responsible for his feelings of “true fear,” “betrayal” and “loss of connection” to the way of life he has always enjoyed. I gained a better understanding of Aaron and an appreciation for his values and responsibilities to others. And I understood that it was his overwhelming feelings of isolation, powerlessness, and emotional disconnection that guided his vote.

Aaron: As the speaker, it was scary; I won’t lie. Being vulnerable enough to explain the origins of my decision-making process was not a pleasurable task. I felt I had to expose formative moments that were sometimes painful to revisit. One example was the conflicting messages I got from my father about respecting the law concerning the protection of the southern border—respecting the legal progress of immigration—yet also being guided to take in people in need without question.
Fear was my first emotion after the election. I felt the president-elect would minimize my power to speak freely.

I shared that my inner struggle came from a desire to protect people, to be a support to people, and to not feel powerless in the face of threats to our civil liberties. I shared the powerlessness I felt to help those close to me, and our shared feelings of powerlessness, fear, and anger.  

I explained my fear was not a fanciful fiction; the worst-case scenario was playing out before me in real-life,  and I was not able to stop it. The Republican presidential nominee pledged only he alone could fix the system, yet he was completely unprepared for the magnitude of the office. Even now the Executive Branch has barely any of the key roles filled and the senior level positions in the Pentagon and State Department are nearly empty as well.  Any mention of climate change was removed from the White House website hours after the new president was sworn into office.  They also removed any reference to civil rights or LGBT protections. Decades of scientific research was removed from the EPA page.

Shirley: As the speaker, I felt safe to express my viewpoint without feeling ridiculed or judged. I feel Aaron was able to see my perspective in a manner he’d not previously considered. I felt a release, because since the elections many friends have called into question my character and values; this was the first time I felt safe being honest, knowing I would be heard.

More importantly, I felt that Aaron heard my heart and my disappointment in a system I felt repeatedly failed me as an African-American. I felt validated in my convictions about my faith and my community, and respected for basing my political decisions on these issues. I also felt Aaron heard my frustration—frustration with the moral obligation to vote and the lack of real choices in candidates; my frustration that “throwing a dart” to decide something of this magnitude felt like the only option open to me. Finally, our dialogue ended with a feeling of comfort and freedom for me; the kind of comfort that can only occur when I truly feel heard.

Aaron: As a listener, I heard things I never heard from my friend before. I heard her desire for a genuine relationship, not just a superficial friendship. And for the first time, I heard clearly and without judgement, her reason for voting as she did. I heard her sadness, and how horrible it was for her to be reduced to a pessimistic state. She felt there were “really no choices” even though a choice was being demanded.

The most common thing we connected on was a sense of loss in being unable to speak freely and openly with all people we interact with daily. The alienation caused both of us to separately recoil inward.

This exercise made me listen more than I would in a political discussion. My logical mind was put on hold so my emotional side could hear what she was feeling instead of looking for imperfections to correct.  

Graham reflected: When one adds a person’s emotional context to the content of a difference, it moves people with differences emotionally close so they can listen with new ears and validate the other’s reality. The debate method we all learned in school promotes a “tit-for-tat” form of communication  where one argues only to “win.” This type of content argument usually distances people from one another and does not contribute to emotional closeness.

Debate locks you into the logic of your brain and will not let your heart impact how you listen to another.

  The  conflict managing technique  used for this exercise is promoted by the Gottman Institute, a marriage research and therapy organization, to support healthy marriages. Though Aaron and Shirley are not married or in a romantic relationship, this process helped them understand one another at an emotional level. They saw each other differently, in a way similar to how the disciples on the road to Emmaus had their eyes opened by Jesus.

Shirley Johnson is the Executive Director of Sangamon County Child Advocacy Center.
Aaron Tebrinke is the publication designer for JUST Words and Multimedia Specialist for Dominican Sisters of Springfield, IL.