Sister Jordan Haddad was fierce in her fight to garner love and respect for the poor.
“I remember one time, when someone brought a piece of clothing to donate to the poor and it was dirty,” said Sr. Mary Ann Wiesemann–Mills, a Dominican Sister of Peace. “Sister Jordan looked her in the eye and said, ‘You take that back home and wash it.’ She insisted that you give the poor the same love and respect as anyone else. She woke us up to a lot of things and reminded us that everyone deserves dignity and respect.”
Haddad, a Dominican Sister of Peace who died in 2006, is among the women whose work is highlighted in a traveling exhibit that chronicles the contributions of the area’s Catholic nuns. Haddad started the Good Samaritan Hunger Center in Kent to meet the needs of the poor. She also organized the first Salvation Army Christian Kettle in Portage County and the Center of Hope in Ravenna to provide hot meals and food for the needy.
The exhibit – Progress & Promise: Sisters Serving Northeast Ohio – is on display through May 16 in the Upper Chapel Room at the St. Bernard-St. Mary Parish church, 44 University Ave., in downtown Akron. The exhibit is sponsored by the Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland, Notre Dame College and the Ursuline Sisters of Cleveland.
The exhibit was created as part of the national exhibit, Women & Spirit: Catholic Sisters in America. The national three-year touring exhibit, sponsored by the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, was hosted from May to August 2010 at the Maltz Jewish Heritage Museum in Beachwood.
When the national exhibit moved to Ellis Island, the local committee that designed Progress & Promise and representatives from the congregations of women religious decided to convert it into a traveling display and make it available to churches, universities, hospitals and other facilities. It is scheduled to appear in more than a dozen venues in Summit, Stark, Mahoning, Geauga and Cuyahoga counties.
The Rev. Dan Reed, pastor at St. Bernard-St. Mary, said it is a privilege for his parish to host the exhibit. Having been taught, as a child, by Sisters of St. Joseph, Reed said he has been personally impacted by Progress & Promise.
“Going through the exhibit brought back [fond] memories of the sisters who helped develop me, and those who have helped me along the way,” Reed said. “This is a blessing to the diocese to have all of this information that helps us relive the rich history of women religious.”
Sister Diana Culbertson, a Dominican nun, said her hope is that the exhibit will help people pay tribute to the past and help them understand that members of the religious orders are still very actively serving others.
“This is not just about the past but the present and the future. We are alive and well,” said Culbertson, a retired Kent State University professor. “We’re much more invisible than we used to be because we don’t staff large institutions, but I don’t believe there is a religious woman in the world who wouldn’t die for the Gospel.”
Donna Nickel, exhibit writer, echoed Culbertson’s sentiments, saying the goal of the exhibit is to be historical and informational.
“I don’t think people realize the back story and how many millions of people these sisters have helped,” Nickel said. “Because they have such a rich history and profound presence, we couldn’t include everything, so the exhibit focuses on the areas of healthcare, education and social service.
Nickel said two nuns who might be missed in the local exhibit are Sister Mary Ignatia Gavin, a Sister of Charity of St. Augustine, and Sister Dorothy Kazel, an Ursuline. Kazel was one of three nuns and a lay missionary murdered in 1980 in El Salvador, where she lived among the people, teaching them to read, write and nourish their children. Gavin partnered with the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous to open the first ward for alcoholics in the country at St. Thomas Hospital in Akron.
The two women are not part of the local exhibit because they are part of the national exhibit. But their stories are included in a 60-page book (Progress & Promise: Sisters Serving Northeast Ohio) that accompanies the local exhibit. The publication, which is available for a donation of $10, is a project of the Collaboration for Ministry Initiative of the Sisters of Charity Foundation.
The exhibit consists of panels that tell the story of the nuns who began arriving in Northeast Ohio in the mid-1800s and built schools, hospitals, orphanages and homes for seniors. The story unfolds to tell how the institutions continue to thrive and how the sisters have evolved to serve current needs.
The main eight-foot historical panels include images, quotes and descriptive text. A congregational timeline outlines the arrival of the religious congregations in Northeast Ohio. Individual brochures that detail each congregation are available for visitors. Index cards are also available for visitors to share their experiences about sisters who inspired them.
Photographs of 20 historic artifacts are displayed on panels. Those include an irrigation syringe used in the 1940s at Mercy Hospital (established by the Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine) in Canton and a replica of a St. Peter’s Fishing Lure, which was packaged with a prayer and sold by Mother Angelica and the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration in Canton to establish Our Lady of the Angels Monastery in Alabama.
A variety of images highlight the current ministries of the religious orders, including the Catholic Worker of Akron, which was co-founded by Sister Catherine Walsh, a Sister of Charity of St. Augustine. Walsh lives with Latino families at a restored house of hospitality where she serves to help the families work toward self-sufficiency.
The work of Crown Point Ecology Center in Bath Township and Humility of Mary Housing Inc. in Akron is also highlighted.
Started in 1987 by Sister Loretta Raff, a sister of the Humility of Mary, the housing corporation has grown to include 10 sites in five counties. The sites provide housing for low-income seniors, single parents in transition and young men with disabilities who have aged out of foster care.
Crown Point Ecology Center, a ministry envisioned by Sister Patricia Marie Sigler, a Dominican Sister of Peace, is located on 130 acres in the Cuyahoga Valley. It supports the region’s oldest community-supported agriculture program, provides hands-on education programs and hosts organic plant sales. Since 1997, it has donated more than 265,000 pounds of produce to the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank.
Research compiled by Sister Mary Ann Murphy (an Ursuline) and sponsored by the Sisters of Charity Foundation shows that 99 percent of Catholic sisters in the local area are involved in more than one ministry; 80 percent have earned a graduate degree and 71 percent are involved in collaborative ministries.
One of those collaborative ministries is Regina Health Center in Richfield. The center, which is the former motherhouse of the Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine, opened in 1993. The first facility of its kind in the United States, Regina provides medical and pastoral care to women and men religious, diocesan priests and lay people.
A recent collaborative initiative between women from several religious communities and professional women is a campaign to end human trafficking. The initiative promotes awareness and supports policies that aim to prevent the illegal trade of human beings.
Progress & Promise is open seven days a week, during the hours that the St. Bernard-St. Mary Parish church is open. It can be seen 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Saturdays, and 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Sundays.
Free parking is available on Saturdays and Sundays in the church lot and at the University of Akron parking deck across the street from the church.
For more information, call St. Bernard-St. Mary Parish, 330-253-5161.
Colette Jenkins can be reached at 330-996-3731 or firstname.lastname@example.org