Sister Sarge and a Lifetime of Service - S. Linda McClenahan
Linda. Coach. Sister Linda. Sister Sarge. You will hear S. Linda McClenahan called by many different names, each one representing a part of her story.
Linda felt the beginnings of a call to religious life while she was in still in high school, but wasn’t sure what path that call would take. After graduating, she decided to join the Army first and serve her country. She began her college classes during her time in the Army, and then was called to service in Vietnam as a Communications Specialist in the Signal Corps. The job had many technical parts, like processing routine paperwork, but also emotional ones, like the notifications of service members who were missing, wounded or killed.
Her time in the Army, as it is for many who serve, shifted her perspective on everything, including her faith. “I found myself at a crossroads in my faith. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe in God, I realized that I didn’t believe in the God of my childhood. Things had changed and I had to change with them.” Linda began attending services of all denominations, learning many lessons about faith and people, and ultimately finding a new relationship with God.
She found her way back to the Catholic Church, began her discernment about her future in religious life and started teaching at a Dominican high school in California. One evening while grading papers, she had 60 Minutes on in the background and caught a story about Dominican Sisters in Mississippi doing important mission work. She was drawn to them and moved by their story, and sent a letter which Sister Joanne Bloome, a Racine Dominican, answered. The conversation about becoming a Racine Dominican began. “I found a kinship in the Racine Dominicans,” Linda said. “Where others focused often on where I had been, the Racine Dominicans saw me as someone with a purpose and mission, and encouraged me to think about where I could be of service in the future.”
She took vows and became a Racine Dominican in the early 1990s. As she started her ministry work, S. Linda met a group of Vietnam Veterans who were chaplains or became ministers after leaving the service, and they all recognized the need for Vets to have access to services that dealt with spiritual healing.
After receiving a master’s in counseling from UW-Whitewater, S. Linda and a sponsoring partner, Mayslake Ministries, began holding retreats for veterans at Siena Retreat Center in Racine on what they call Post Traumatic Spiritual Disorder. Veterans are able to openly and freely talk with other veterans about their experiences during combat, their loss of faith, and what they can do to find spirituality again. “Trauma changes people - how we view ourselves, how we have relationships with others, and even how we have a relationship with God. Our retreats acknowledge that we are different people than before we left for war and that our faith will be different too, and that’s OK, says S. Linda.”
The retreats are available to Veterans and their significant others at no cost to them. She finds that her experience both as a Veteran and as a Sister helps her to break down walls in a way that someone without military experience often cannot. “I know what serving in wartime is like because I served too. People feel that they can’t be forgiven for what has happened. My purpose is to listen and understand their experience, and then help them to see an unconditionally loving God who also understands,” says S. Linda.
They are seeing more women Veterans at their retreats, especially those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. She is always amazed at what comes of their time together and the transformation that occurs in just a few short days. “I like to say that we start the conversation and then then we get out of God’s way,” she says.
S. Linda was recently chosen to take an Honor Flight from Milwaukee to Washington D.C. with other Veterans from Vietnam and Korea. It was a profound experience for her, including getting letters on the flight home from family, friends, Sisters, former students and fellow service members. And on May 22nd, she threw out the First Pitch at a Milwaukee Brewers game representing the Honor Flight and Veterans everywhere. For this lifelong baseball fan, it was a moment she will never forget.
S. Linda often reflects on her journey and what her mission and purpose is as a Racine Dominican Sister. “Life has taken some unexpected turns, but each one has put me exactly where I am supposed to be,” she says. As I often say, don’t be afraid of tomorrow, God is already there."
Compelled to Justice - Racine Dominican Associate Lea Koesterer
Racine Dominican Associate Lea Koesterer has been standing up for those in the margins since she was a child, and that passion for justice has led her to becoming a Racine Dominican Associate.
Lea’s journey to the Racine Dominican Community started in St. Louis. She met Racine Dominican Sister Carla Mae Streeter after mass when she was hosting a “Dialogue with the Word” session at a local St. Louis Church. “I was amazed that I could have heard the scriptures for decades and still had not plumbed its depth,” said Lea.
Lea continued to attend sessions and she and S. Carla Mae formed a friendship. That led to discernment and ultimately the decision become an Associate. Lea found the Community’s mission and charism fit her own life, and she made her commitment on October 23, 2020.
Lea finds her Associate relationship supports her heart for justice. “I had always been a ‘lone ranger’ in my efforts to promote social justice and human rights. As a child I had been ridiculed for standing up for others. My mother told me, ‘If you stick your neck out, you get your head chopped off.’ It is of great comfort to me that for the Racine Dominicans, sticking your neck out is valued and supported! I am no longer a lone ranger!”
Lea is committed to her ministry work. More than 20 years ago, she started Second Sunday Sandwiches (SSS) to feed hungry folks at a homeless shelter. When trying to decide what her ministry would be as an Associate, she decided to focus on Palestinian liberation. “The vast majority of ordinary Americans have no idea of the true nature of the occupation nor the genesis of the conditions,” says Lea. Because of this, Lea founded St. Louis Friends of Bethlehem (STLFOB) with several like-minded friends. Their goal is to enlighten people about the beauty and value of the culture of Palestine, and the reality of the deprivation inflicted by military occupation. Lea is also on the steering committee for Voices from the Holy Land. Through documentary films we augment the voices of the people who are actually living in the Holy Land under a military occupation.
Lea is so grateful for the relationships she has made with the Racine Dominican community and the supportive group she has found. “The ability to share successes and failures and learn from one another has been such a gift,” says Lea.
Lea’s passion for justice aligns with the mission of the Racine Dominicans, and our Sisters and Associates are proud that she is a part of our Racine Dominican Community!
Mission Trip to the Border - S. Janet Ackerman and Friends
We invite you to share in the experience at the Texas-Mexico border from our S. Janet Ackerman and a small group of pilgrims. Janet and friends will share their first-hand experience through stories and pictures as they ministered with the immigrants at Casa Alitas, near the Texas-Mexico border.
Join us at Choir Practice!
We saved you a front row seat at the Racine Dominican Choir Practice. Click on the videos below to hear our Sisters lift their voices in prayer.
Sister Lois Aceto, OP, a Dominican Dynamo
Written by Racine Dominican Associate Kathie Solie
For someone who just celebrated her 90th birthday, you might expect Sister Lois Aceto to be slowing down a bit. Not this Racine Dominican Sister! There has never been a day in her life that moved slowly and no time in her life that she did the ordinary. Even now, when most people of her age are long since retired, she leads a very active life. Just ask other Racine residents exercising at the local YMCA at 5:00 a.m. each day!
Sister Lois lives in an apartment just down the road from Siena, the motherhouse and home of the Racine Dominicans. Anytime there is something going on in Racine, you can spot her in the crowd. She attends prayer vigils for victims of gun violence, helps with fundraising events for justice ministries and attends social education programs. She is a pillar in the Racine Community, especially with those working for social justice.
Growing up the daughter of a religious family in Kenosha, she knew the Racine Dominican Sisters from an early age. It was the most natural thing for a young woman of this background and at this time in history to enter a religious community, and she felt the call to become a Racine Dominican Sister.
As did most of the Sisters of her group, Sister Lois taught in mostly Wisconsin Catholic Schools for 14 years. She also had a special passion for working in Santa Fe, New Mexico and teaching in Illinois at a school staffed by the Racine Dominicans. Sister Lois loved teaching and playing the organ during her early years of her ministry. But in the silence of her heart she had always dreamed of being a missionary in a foreign country.
That call led her to Bolivia. At the age of 33, she was invited to join three other Dominican Sisters on a missionary journey there, and for the next 17 years, she would call Bolivia her home. In the poverty of this then dictator-ruled country, she taught school, established a home for young delinquents, organized a health care center (for which she studied rural medicine in Spain) and dared to speak out against an oppressive government.
Her activities in Bolivia got her arrested twice. “The first time, I was not scared. I told them what I thought. They let me go.” With some remnants of fear in her voice, she tells of the second arrest. “I slipped into the prison to carry a message to a prisoner. As I was leaving I was grabbed and taken into custody. I was detained for hours and hours. I truly feared that I would never be allowed to leave. You can be sure, I prayed without stopping. Thanks be to God, they let me go.” There is never anything shy or timid about this Wisconsin woman. She simply does not know the meaning of “you can’t.”
Returning to Wisconsin after so many adventures, you would expect a long rest might be in order. Not for Sister Lois! Back in Racine, she dove into multiple efforts to contribute to the order’s mission “Committed to Truth, Compelled to Justice.”
Her efforts have included ministry to inmates at the Racine Correctional Institution, the Youth Detention Center, the Racine Youthful Offender Correctional Facility and Racine County’s Jail. She, in fact, started the Chaplaincy Program at the jail. She invited the Archbishop from Milwaukee down to visit the jail and convinced him to fund her ministry there. She has taught restorative justice and conflict resolution in all the facilities. She taught Criminal Justice at Carthage College in Kenosha and Juvenile Delinquency at UW-Parkside in Kenosha.
While serving as a jail chaplain, she attended a conference where she learned about the conflict resolution program that had been set up by the Wisconsin Correctional Center System. Sister Lois brought the idea back to Racine and with the help of several local judges and community activists, the Conflict Resolution Center - then called the Dispute Settlement Center - was founded on November 2, 1984 and still continues today.
With her big heart and commanding knowledge of Spanish, she was a perfect fit to support the establishment of an Alternative School in Racine, San Juan Diego and its offshoot, the John the 23rd Center in Racine.
One of the more interesting and innovative things she has done was hosting a radio program on Public Radio, WRJN. Her social justice connections brought many interesting personalities to her program. No one could say no to her invitation. This venture eventually led to a YouTube program, Lighting the World with Truth.
These are just a few of the organizations and activities to which Sister Lois has given her time and talents. At the urging of many to share her story with others, she wrote the book, Journeying toward Justice. Her exciting adventures in South America are featured in the book.
After so many decades of being a Racine Dominican Sister, this diminutive woman is still going strong. Few people, in a lifetime, are involved in as many efforts to improve her community and world.
Can anything slow Sister Lois down? Only a global pandemic it seems. While she has had to take a break in many of her ministries because of COVID, as soon as it is safe, you can be certain to find her wherever something in the name of justice and peace is happening. As she often says, “I’m not done yet.”
Associates Catherine and Doug Gundlach - Partners in Dominican Charism
Catherine and Doug Gundlach have been Racine Dominican Associates for 11 years. Catherine learned of the Associate relationship through the Siena Retreat Center, and together they were drawn to the mission and charism of the Racine Dominicans.
Their spiritual commitment extends in many areas of their life. Catherine works part time in the Racine Dominican Associate Leadership Office, lending her organization and expertise to a variety of projects. She also leads her parish Human Concerns committee while Doug is a deacon for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. They lead RCIA and FOCCUS for engaged couples.
As Dominican Associates they engage in meeting the challenges of the Racine Dominican mission and charism and how associates and sisters actively live them. A few examples of that are Catherine’s leadership of a community food basket program that provides meals for families in need and Doug’s taking Eucharist to the homebound, those in the hospital, and nursing home. They are both active as associates participating in assemblies, monthly associate meetings, and other Zoom opportunities with the community.
They are the proud parents of four sons – Garrett, Austin, Trevor and Nolan, and the proud grandparents of Bennett, Willow and Noah. Their family recently celebrated the ordination of their oldest son, Father Garrett Gundlach, S.J., and Father Garrett said a special mass for the Racine Dominican Community on June 22nd at Siena.
We are grateful for Associates Catherine and Doug, and all that they do to be Committed to Truth, Compelled to Justice.