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S. Mary Ann (second from right) with Pakistani Dominican Sisters

Teaching In and Outside of the Classroom

S. Mary Ann Pevas has been a Racine Dominican for over 50 years. As a child, she knew religious sisters to be amiable and helpful people, and she wanted to catch some of the happiness she saw in others. At the age of 21, she joined the Racine Dominican community. She has taught junior high, high school, college, and religious education, and been a community organizer. In another form of teaching, S. Mary Ann has led student and adult tour groups to the Middle East in an effort to invite others to learn about Islam and other cultures.

S. Mary Ann explaining Islamic banking to Dominican priests in Rome

S. Mary Ann taught Economics at Winona State University from 1990-2009. “I tried retiring three times,” she said. “But I came back to teach a few courses when the University asked me to.” It was in her classes that she first thought of travelling to the Middle East. “There were many Middle Eastern students in my classes,” S. Mary Ann remembered. “And after 9/11, I was embarrassed about how little I knew about Islam and the Middle East.” So she decided to take a sabbatical in Pakistan, Dubai, Iran, and Turkey to learn all she could. During this period she lived with bankers and ambassadors of the different countries, studying history, politics, Arabic, and Islam. When she returned from her travels, she asked herself what she should do with all that she had learned. She started a Middle Eastern Economics course on Islamic banking, and for several years she has led tour groups to Egypt so others can learn as she did.

With Madame Sabriah, a street friend in Cairo who sells matches and Kleenex packets outside S. Mary Ann's apartment

There is a tour group every year for both students and adults. For 10-12 days the study groups visit mosques, meet imams (religious leaders), and spend time with other people. “So many Americans don’t understand the Middle East,” said S. Mary Ann. Through her tours the participants are able to learn about a different culture in a more meaningful way than in a classroom alone. In a similar way, the travelers show that they are nonviolent Americans and interested in the traditions and cultures of the people. “Every year when they come back they’re transformed,” S. Mary Ann said of the participants. “After every trip the students write a paper. It shows in their writing that the experiences they had change them.” This is one of the things that S. Mary Ann loves about her work. As a teacher she can show people things they never experienced before, and enable them to seek the truth.

S. Mary Ann and S. Kristina of Cairo raised funds to build a home for Madame Faith and her sons

S. Mary Ann’s efforts have bridged the east and west in many ways. With the tours to the Middle East, study groups experience Islam and Middle Eastern culture first hand. In her life, S. Mary Ann incorporates some aspects of Islam into her own practices. For example, she never lets the Bible touch the floor or allows any other books or papers to cover it. Her travels have brought her in contact with many different people as well. “One memorable experience I had was with a Muslim man from Nigeria,” S. Mary Ann remembers. “We were respectful of each other’s faiths instead of trying to convert one another.” Through her example, others can see that peace and understanding are possible when one is open to new experiences and traditions.