Staff and Adjunct Facilitators
Peter Albertini Peter Albertini is currently working as a Real Estate Consultant in the Greater Grand Rapids, Michigan area. He is on the Advisory Council of the Dominican Associates and has been an Associate since 2006. A member of the Marywood Worship Community since 1991, he also adds his voice to the Marywood choir for worship services. He received his BA in Theology from Aquinas College and is volunteers as a Eucharistic Minister for the Spectrum Hospital Chaplain Office. He is a member of the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce, Past President of the Board of Directors for the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum, member of the Aquinas College Alumni Association and President of the Grand Rapids Rotary (2009-2010). Peter, originally from New York, lives in Michigan with his family and is an active member of the West Michigan community.
Monsignor Gaspar F. Ancona Msgr. Gaspar F. Ancona was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan, on November 27, 1936. His home parish was Our Lady of Sorrows Church. His elementary education took place at Sheldon Public School and Our Lady of Sorrows School. From 1950 to 1956 he attended St. Joseph Seminary in Grand Rapids. He was awarded the Basselin Scholarship to the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. for the years 1956-1959. The Basselin Scholarship was given annually to 12 seminarians from throughout the United States for specializing in speech-communications, English, and philosophy. He completed his theology studies at St. John’s Seminary in Plymouth, Michigan, while also taking summer classes at Michigan State University Extension in Grand Rapids and Aquinas College. He was ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Grand Rapids on June 1, 1963. His assignments have included high school teaching at St. Joseph Seminary in Grand Rapids and Catholic Central in Manistee. His parish assignments included St. Paul’s Campus Parish at Ferris State University in Big Rapids, the Cathedral of St. Andrew in Grand Rapids, and St. Sebastian Church in Byron Center, where he lead the parish campaign to build a new church. He did additional studies in Rome in 1973 and 1977-78. He was named Monsignor by Pope John Paul II in 1986. He was Associate Director of Religious Education, judge for the Diocesan Marriage Tribunal, founding director of the Continuing Education of Priests, host for the televised program “Catholic Outlook,” host for the ecumenical radio program, “Soundings,” Chaplain of the Grand Rapids Serra Club, lecturer for Emeritus College (now OLLI) at Aquinas, and columnist for the Western Michigan Catholic and Faith Magazine. Bishop Robert Rose commissioned him to write the diocesan history, which was published in 2001 as Where the Star Came to Rest. He retired in January of 2007.
Reverend David P. Baak is Designated Associate Pastor for Mission and Pastoral Care of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Grand Rapids. He has served in Interim Pastor assignments with several congregations since 2004 after many years in the leadership of the Grand Rapids Area Center for Ecumenism (GRACE) (through 2007) and as its executive director from 1983-2002. He is convener of the Congregations Council of the “Year of Interfaith Understanding — 2012″ in Grand Rapids; a member of the Kaufman Interfaith Institute Advisory Committee (at Grand Valley State University); and, a member of the Community Relations Commission of the City of Grand Rapids. David is an ordained clergy in the Reformed Church in America (RCA) and lives in Grand Rapids.
Maria Beesing, OP is a Dominican Sister of Peace, who has many years of experience in adult formation. For twenty-two years, she traveled to give seminars, workshops; and also, retreats throughout the United States as well as in Pakistan, Guatemala, Italy, Canada and Guam. She was a co-author of a book on the enneagram and the first President of the International Enneagram Association. Prior to her years of traveling, Sister Marie was an elementary teacher and principal in Northeastern Ohio from 1966 through 1972. After leaving elementary education, she pursued training as a spiritual director and supervisor of spiritual directors. Sister Maria was co-director with Sister Ann Walters of the Dominican Women’s Collaborative Dominican Novitiate and partnered with Sister Ann Walters in Adult Faith Formation and training others in Empathic Listening. Sister Maria is currently ministering as a Spiritual Director in Akron, Ohio. She and Sister Ann Walters have also ministered in Nigeria in 2007 and in 2012.
Nancy Brousseau, OP facilitates an interfaith committee in East Lansing. This group offers dialogue and dinner events twice a year for the public with a variety of topics that relate to all faith traditions. Her group spiritual direction with the people of the Heartside Neighborhood in Grand Rapids is published in Group Spiritual Direction: The Lived Experience by Paulist Press. As a part-time Facilitator for the ELCA North/West Lower Michigan Synod Center for Mission & Ministry, she offers ecumenical retreats, spiritual direction, workshops and programs in prayer, spirituality and spiritual formation for churches in Michigan, Indiana and Ohio. Sr. Nancy has been a spiritual director and retreat director for thirty years. She has certificates in the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius and Spiritual Direction, and is a certified Grief-Recovery Specialist. A Dominican Sister of Grand Rapids, Michigan, Sister Nancy was Director of Dominican Center at Marywood (DCM) for five years and Director of Spirituality Programs for six years. Prior to that, she was Director of St. Joseph’s Educational Center in Des Moines, Iowa. Sister Nancy has an MA in Religious Education, an MDiv from St. John’s Seminary in Detroit and a DMin in Spiritual Direction from the Graduate Theological Foundation and the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis. She taught middle school students for 17 years and served five years in school administration.
Doctor Clara Brower was born and reared in the savannah lands of Nigeria in Africa. She became introduced to dreams when she encountered the Nigerians acting out their dreams. Later, she studied dream interpretation with the Jungians, theology with the Jesuits and received her Doctor of Ministry in Spiritual Direction from the Graduate Theological Foundation in South Bend, Indiana. She does spiritual direction, retreats and lives a contemplative life.
Sharon Garlough Brown and her husband, Jack, serve as co-pastors of Redeemer Covenant Church in Dutton, Michigan. Sharon received a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Language and Literature from Smith College, a Master of Divinity degree from Princeton Theological Seminary, and a Certificate in Spiritual Direction from the Dominican Center. Sharon has pastored congregations in Scotland, England, and Oklahoma. She is a spiritual director, popular retreat speaker, and author of the award-winning spiritual formation novel, Sensible Shoes. She enjoys teaching piano, watching movies with Jack and their teenage son, David, and all things British—especially tea.
Jordan Bruxvoort currently serves as the director of the Micah Center, a Christian social justice organization based here in Grand Rapids. A graduate of Calvin College, Jordan has been doing church-based community organizing for the last five years, working primarily on issues of immigration and workers’ rights. Jordan also serves on the steering team of the Men’s Spirituality initiative at the Dominican Center and is currently taking the Foundations in Spirituality class at the Dominican Center.
Nora Butcher is a SoulCollage® facilitator, psychotherapist and artist. Combining art, psychotherapy and spirituality, she helps individuals and groups, who want to discover their unique strengths and find answers to life’s questions. She earned an MSW from Michigan State University and a BA from Aquinas College. She taught at the Midland Center for the Arts, Delta College and the Saginaw Art Museum and also worked as a therapist for twenty-two years. After experiencing the life changing effects of art making, she now presents the expressive art process of SoulCollage® for groups and individuals. You can learn more about Nora at her website: http://www.norabutcher.com.
Barb Christiaans is an interfaith spiritual director who loves journeying with people spiritually, and who has a passion for building bridges between faith groups. Counseling refugees and immigrants rooted her in interfaith work, she holds a Master of Arts in Family Studies from Michigan State University and a Doctor of Ministry in Spiritual Direction.Her course “Through A Jewish Lens” not only introduces participants to a traditional Jewish practice, but also provides an experience of different faiths truly walking together spiritually.Barb is a member of Congregation Ahavas Israel where she is on the Religious Life Committee, facilitates an ongoing Mussar va’ad, and co-leads an art group.
Susan Duesbery is a graduate of the Holistic Health Care Graduate Program at Western Michigan University, and holds a Certificate in Holistic Stress Management Facilitation from the Paramount Wellness Institute in Boulder, Colorado. She offers stress management and wellness presentations; workshops; and consultations to individuals, community groups, professional organizations, and businesses. She does this in order to offer information and tools to foster increased health, more joy, and a greater sense of peace in today’s stressful world. Susan is an adjunct instructor in Western Michigan University’s Holistic Health Care Department, where she teaches a course on Holistic Approaches to Managing Stress. Additionally, she teaches weekly yoga classes at the Dominican Center at Marywood, Expressions of Grace Yoga, and Cascade yoga Studio in Grand Rapids.
Gary Eberle is a professor of English and former chair of the English department at Aquinas College . Since coming to Aquinas in 1982, he has served as an administrator and faculty member teaching literature and humanities. He founded the Insignis Program for Honors Students in 1985 and was instrumental in initiating the Spectrum Scholarship competition in 1992. A member of the library building committee in 2002, he spearheaded the idea of transforming Jarecki Center into the college’s first freestanding library. He has twice been honored with the Student Senate’s Outstanding Faculty Member of the Year award and is the author of seven books, including the novel Angel Strings and several non-fiction works, the latest of which is Dangerous Words: Talking About God in an Age of Fundamentalism.
Reverend Michael Fedewa has served as Rector of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church since 1992. Prior to coming to St. Andrews, Mike served Episcopal Congregations in Battle Creek Michigan and Lockport, New York. As part of his ministry, Mike has served on the boards of many agencies in the community and in the Episcopal Diocese of Western Michigan. Currently he is part of the steering committee for the 2012 Year of Interfaith Understanding and serves on the board of The Interfaith Hospitality Network/Family Promise. He is also panelist with the radio program: Soundings, a public affairs program broadcast on Wood Radio. He preaches on behalf of the aid organization: Food for the Poor.
Anthony J. Gittins, CSSp is in his twenty-fourth year at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago and is currently professor of mission and culture. Born in Manchester, England, he earned an MA and PhD from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland. He has taught and worked in some thirty-five countries. His pastoral outreach includes ministry in cultures from Africa to the Pacific, and work with Chicago’s disenfranchised, especially homeless women. He is the author of fifteen books and numerous articles. Father Gittins also lectures and leads retreats nationally and internationally. He continues his anthropological work by spending periods of time in local churches, especially in Africa and the Central Pacific, working on inculturation by bringing learnings from cultural anthropology and theology together. His commitment to homeless women in Chicago, whose stories he told in Where There’s Hope, There’s Life: Women’s Stories of Homelessness and Survival, is ongoing.
Marcia Good has a bachelor’s degree in social work. She has been married to her husband, Tom, for 32 years and they have three grown children. Marcia plays harp and flute for hospice patients at bedside and for liturgies at Dominican Center at Marywood. Her other interests include learning about the natural world, reading, walking, and gardening. Marcia’s love of nature goes back to her youth growing up on a farm which was surrounded by 600 acres of woods. Her casual explorations led to volunteer work at Kent Intermediate School District’s Blandford Nature Center, followed by six years as a professional interpretive teacher there, where she led day-long outdoor explorations with students K-12. Her career path then led to Spectrum Health where she has worked for the past eleven years, first as a Volunteer Coordinator for the Pediatric Oncology Resource Team (P.O.R.T.) and most recently for Spectrum Health Hospice. Marcia’s interests in spirituality, music and nature come together to make a walk in the woods one of discovery and connection.
Diane Hamel is a lifelong artist whose passion for icons is contagious! She teaches people of all ages about iconology and how to write icons through lectures, workshops, and icon retreats. Her icons have been exhibited around the country, and she has written icons for churches, private collections and other institutions. Diane is married to her husband, John, and they reside in Lowell, Michigan.
Mark Hepper convenes the Ministry and Nurture Committee of the Grand Rapids Friends Meeting, which is responsible for organizing Clearness Committees and coordinating pastoral needs of our Meeting. Prior to becoming a Quaker, Mark attended Unity School of Christianity, completing the Personal Development and Leadership programs: 400 class hours in topics ranging from Bible Study to Spiritual Counseling to Meditation. Mark participates in many community interfaith activities.
Al Heystek is a Licensed Professional Counselor who has worked professionally with men’s issues since 1994. He has been a therapist with the Men’s Resource Center at Fountain Hill since 2002. Prior to that Al worked for OAR, Inc. in Holland, Michigan as a therapist in both outpatient and residential men’s chemical dependency programs. Al also worked for Gateway Foundation, an Outpatient Treatment center in Chicago and prior to that was on a ministerial team for 10 years in an urban ministry in Chicago. Al is also an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ.
Al’s practice revolves around three levels of accountability. The first and foundational level is to own up to my part of my current difficulties. The second level is about developing a deeper level of compassion for those I have hurt or for those who have hurt me. The third and equally important level is to develop a deeper level of compassion for myself.
Al believes that learning compassion is at the heart of positive change. Al’s passion for working with men on their journeys of healing and growth is connected to his deeply held belief that men can change. When given respect and opportunity men can move forward in surprising ways.
M. Katherine Hilkert, OP, a Dominican Sister of Peace, is professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame. She is the author of Naming Grace: Preaching and the Sacramental Imagination (Continuum, 1997) and Speaking with Authority: Catherine of Siena and the Voices of Women Today (Paulist, 2008); and co-editor of The Praxis of the Reign of God: An Introduction to the Thought of Edward Schillebeeckx. She has served on two international theological commissions on preaching of the Dominican Order and preached retreats and lectured on theology, preaching, and spirituality throughout the United States and in Canada, Europe, Australia, and South Africa.
Charles Honey is a freelance writer and a religion columnist for The Grand Rapids Press/MLive Media Group. He has been writing about religion in West Michigan since 1994, and is former editor of The Press’ award-winning religion section. A reporter and editor for nearly 35 years, Charles has published articles in Christianity Today magazine and in the books Thin Ice and Heart & Soul. He is an adjunct instructor in journalism and mass media at Grand Rapids Community College, and at Grand Valley State University where he teaches the interdisciplinary course Life Journey. Charles serves on the steering committee of the 2012 Year of Interfaith Understanding and was an organizer of GRPS Arts Advocates. He has a BS in English from Murray State University.
Bill Huebsch Bill Huebsch holds a BA in religious studies, and a Masters in Theological Studies from the Catholic Theological Union of Chicago. He is the past president of Twenty-Third Publications, and has served in management roles in other Catholic publishing houses since 1995. In 1990 he established The Vatican II Project which contributes to the effort being made within the Church to keep alive the spirit and energy of Vatican II. As part of that project, he published Grace: God’s Greatest Gift and Vatican II in Plain English, along with several other books outlining key features of the Council.His most recent works include Dreams and Visions: Pastoral Planning for Lifelong Faith Formation and the very-popular Growing Up Catholic which is a way to coach parents to form their own children for sacrament prep. His latest book is Great Expectations: A Pastoral Guide for Partnering with Parents which is available on this web site as well. He recently pulled together (working with a team of pastoral leaders) the wonderful new resource, Come to the Table, which is a way to welcome and re-engage the People of God just in time for the Year of Faith.
Douglas Kamstra has pastored congregations in Western Michigan for thirty-five years and currently leads The Deeper Journey–a ministry focused on nurturing the souls of church and ministry leaders through the exploration of ancient practices and disciplines. He has a Th.M. in Religious Education from Calvin Theological Seminary and a D.Min. in Spiritual Formation from Fuller Theological Seminary. An associate spiritual director, he is a frequent seminar speaker and retreat leader, a member of the National Prayer Committee, co-chair of the Denominational Prayer Leaders’ Network, and the author of several books including, The Praying Church IdeaBook.
Molly Keating has been a Certified Spiritual Director since 1998 from the Dominican Center for Religious Development and a Master’s in Pastoral Studies with a focus in Spirituality from Loyola University, She says that she has had “the privilege of walking with others on this incredible transformative journey in which one deepens their relationship with God, and listens to the guidance, consolation and comfort of the Holy Spirit. I meet in one-to-one settings, in small group spiritual direction, by phone, email, or even Skype!” Centering Prayer has been a constant in her life since 1995. She is a commissioned presenter of the Introductory Workshops and also offers the Welcoming Prayer. She has also been an adjunct presenter at the Catholic Information Center for many years. Presently, Molly is the Coordinator for Contemplative Outreach of West Michigan. As a published co-author of Unlocking Our Fenced In Hearts: By Listening to the Voice of Love , they have been able to connect with many women’s groups to start to dismantle the barriers that inhibit us from becoming our truest self. In March of 2011, Molly joined Gilda’s Club Grand Rapids part time to bring in the spiritual piece to the healing journey. Keating says, “It has been a heartening experience of offering programming that invites the Spirit to lead as we experience how profoundly cancer impacts our lives and the opportunities to grow and grieve and even smile as we move through the loss of what was and possibly embrace eventually the new normal.”
Susan Komis has served Contemplative Outreach since 1990. She began as a volunteer for the St. Louis, MO Chapter. Appointed as Coordinator for the St. Louis, Missouri region in 1994, she served in that capacity through 1999 and is still involved with Contemplative Outreach of St. Louis as a commissioned presenter. A member of the Faculty of Contemplative Outreach, Ltd , Susan serves as Director of Chapter Resources & Communication Services (CRCS) to support Coordinators and Contact Persons throughout the Contemplative Outreach spiritual network. She assists Chapters by making on-site Chapter visitations and offering programs for leadership enrichment and Chapter development. In other servant-leader roles, Susan has serves as a staff person for numerous Contemplative Outreach retreats, currently serves as a mentor for other servant-leaders and continues to develop leadership formation programs as an employee of Contemplative Outreach, Ltd. Susan is a certified Pastoral Minister in the Archdiocese of St. Louis and has worked in Adult Faith Development and various other ministries including Spiritual Direction and Interspiritual Dialogue. Previous employment history includes serving as Administrative Director of an early childhood center, and working in Human Resources for two corporations. Susan is married, mother of four daughters, and grandmother of seven. She currently resides in a suburb of St. Louis, Missouri.
Sheldon Kopperl has taught at GVSU since 1970, where he is a member of the Biomedical Sciences and Liberal Studies Departments. GVSU is introducing, in the fall 2012 semester, a new Religious Studies Major and Minor program, and he is on the Advisory Committee of this program. The subjects he has taught at GVSU include history of science, art history, and of most relevance, Judaism and Introduction to Religious Studies. He serves as a lay adult and religious school educator at Temple Emanuel of Grand Rapids, a Reform Jewish congregation of nearly 300 families. When the Rabbi is unavailable, he will lead the weekly Torah Study group and several times a year has conducted Friday evening services. He is also treasurer and a member of the Board of Directors of the Interfaith Dialogue Association of Grand Rapids.
Rabbi David J.B. Krishef graduated from the University of Minnesota with a degree in Hebrew and Jewish Studies. After two years as program director at the University of Minnesota Hillel Foundation, he entered the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, where he received ordination in 1994. Since his ordination, Rabbi Krishef has served as the rabbi of Congregation Ahavas Israel, a Conservative synagogue in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He has taught Beginning and Intermediate Biblical Hebrew at Grand Valley State University; and also Jewish Life, Literature, Culture, and History at Kuyper College. He is the author of a CHAI curriculum revision published by URJ Press revising the CHAI Judaic curriculum to adapt the Reform curriculum for use in a Conservative or joint Reform/Conservative religious school; and edited a section on Judaism for a World Religions textbook (published by Teacher Created Materials).
Father Joachim Lally, CSP was born in Memphis Tennessee in 1939 and was ordained as a Benedictine monk in 1965. After his ordination, he completed his MS in Counseling and ministered as a Guidance Counselor for Subiaco Academy Boarding School from 1966-68. For the following year, he worked as Assistant pastor for the University of Arkansas Newman Center in Fayetteville and was later in charge of an inner-city African American parish in St. Louis. Father Lally was accepted into the Paulist Novitiate in 1972. As a Paulist priest, “Father Joe” worked in Grand Rapids (1973-1976), Boston, MA (1976-2002), New York City (2002-2006) and as a member of the Mission Band of Paulist Fathers from 2006-2008. Father Lally is a practicing Certified Presenter of Centering Prayer through Contemplative Outreach. He has become well-known for his missionary work in the Dominican Republic (D.R.), having lead forty evangelization, construction and medical missions in the D.R. since 1990. He is the founder and director of the Spanish Language and Cultural Center, a total immersion program, in Santo Domingo (1985-1995). He is the founder and director of Adelante NYC,Inc. Father Joachim entered “Senior Ministry Status” with the Paulist Fathers on July 1, 2010 which allows him time to stay active in several ministries throughout the West Michigan area. He has practiced centering prayer in his own prayer life since 1976 A soft-spoken, kind and gentle spirit, he speaks for what is right and follows the call of God in all things. An accomplished artist in oil, pastels and watercolor, his musical talents are expressed in playing the piano and organ. When Father Lally has quiet time, he enjoys reading and stopping to “smell the roses” on leisurely strolls on God’s beautiful earth.
Thea Nyhoff Leunk is the senior pastor of Eastern Avenue Christian Reformed Church of Grand Rapids, Michigan.Thea received a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and Religion from Calvin College and a Master of Arts in English from Michigan State University. After a high school teaching career, she returned to school and received a Master of Divinity degree from Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. Since her ordination, she has served Presbyterian and Christian Reformed congregations as a Director of Christian Education, Pastor of Discipleship and Senior Pastor. Thea also served for eight years as the Classis Coach for the Christian Reformed Church of North America, providing strategic-planning resources and leadership to middle judicatories. She has written several church education curricula for young adults including Which Way to God? A Christian Look at World Religions, What’s Up With the Church Down the Street? (a friendly look at ten Christian faith traditions) and Fossils and Faith; Finding Our Way through the Creation Controversy. Currently she is part of the Congregations Council for the 2012 Year of Interfaith Understanding. She enjoys reading mystery novels of all kinds, collecting antiques and travel.
Amy-Jill Levine, PhD, is University Professor of New Testament and Jewish Studies, E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Professor of New Testament Studies, and Professor of Jewish Studies at Vanderbilt University Divinity School and College of Arts and Sciences. Holding the B.A. from Smith College, the M.A. and Ph.D. from Duke University, and honorary doctorates from Christian Theological Seminary, Drury University, the University of Richmond, the Episcopal Theological Seminary of the Southwest, and the University of South Carolina-Upstate, Professor Levine has been awarded grants from the Mellon Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the American Council of Learned Societies. She has held office in the Society of Biblical Literature, the Catholic Biblical Association, and the Association for Jewish Studies. Her books include The Misunderstood Jew: The Church and the Scandal of the Jewish Jesus (HarperOne), the edited collection,The Historical Jesus in Context (Princeton), and the fourteen-volume edited series, Feminist Companions to the New Testament and Early Christian Writings (Continuum). With Marc Brettler of Brandeis University, she has edited the Jewish Annotated New Testament (Oxford), and she has written, with her Vanderbilt Colleague Douglas Knight, The Meaning of the Bible: What The Jewish Scriptures and the Christian Old Testament Can Teach Us (HarperOne). She has recorded “Introduction to the Old Testament,” “Great Figures of the Old Testament,” and “Great Figures of the New Testament” for the Teaching Company. In 2011, Professor Levine became Affiliated Professor at the Woolf Institute: Centre for the Study of Jewish-Christian Relations at Cambridge, UK. She is a self-described “Yankee Jewish feminist who teaches in a predominantly Christian divinity school in the buckle of the Bible Belt.”
Rabbi Albert M. Lewis is the Rabbi Emeritus of Congregation Emanuel in Grand Rapids and the Rabbi of Congregation Beth El in Traverse City, Michigan. He is also the past Director of the Aquinas Emeritus College (now OLLI at Aquinas), adjunct professor of Psychology and Gerontology at Aquinas College and the founding president of Hospice of Greater Grand Rapids (now Hospice of West Michigan). Due to his expertise in issues of aging, Rabbi Lewis has served as a consultant to Amway, Herman Miller Corporation, Spectrum Health and Steelcase. In addition, he has been an active member of the Greater Grand Rapids transit millage and the Senior Adult millage. Rabbi Lewis is a recipient of the Monsignor Hugh Michael Beahan Faith in Humanity Award, and together with Shirley, the Aquinas College Trustee Award. His rabbinic career has been built on interfaith understanding and dialogue and his weekly columns in The Grand Rapids Press are now finding their way across the country.
Jan Lundy is a former educator in the area of religious studies, a nationally recognized speaker, and the author of four personal/spiritual growth books, her newest being Your Truest Self: Embracing the Woman You Are Meant to Be (Sorin Books.) Described by her readers and audiences as “practical and poetic with deep and gentle wisdom,” Jan has inspired tens of thousands of women around the nation to engage in “Awakened Living” — living with clear, open minds and wise, compassionate hearts. Her speaking clients include churches, spirituality and retreat centers, corporations, universities, women’s organizations, and health care systems, all of whom offer high praise for Jan’s inspirational and openhearted speaking style, as well as her refreshing, peaceful presence. For the past thirteen years, Jan has also served as the Lifestyle Writer for Women’s LifeStyle Magazine, a franchised publication distributed throughout the U.S. Her love of being with other people as they journey through life is enhanced by her work as an Interfaith Spiritual Director. Jan serves as an adjunct staff member for Dominican Center at Marywood in Grand Rapids, MI., leading women’s workshops and retreats, and mentoring spiritual directors in training. She is a Dominican Associate. You can learn more about Jan at her website: www.JanLundy.com .
Walt Marsten is a Quaker, a member of the Grand Rapids Friends Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers). He is a former Convener of the Ministry and Nurture Committee and Clerk of the Meeting, especially involved in “clearness committees” and other discernment processes. Friends pursue a path of individual and community discernment and reconciliation in all aspects of their lives. He is actively engaged in interfaith communities and conversations in West Michigan. He helps to train and mentor others in spiritual discernment practices, and facilitates dialogues among persons and groups with divergent viewpoints.
Dr. Aly S. Abdel Mageed received his undergraduate education primarily in Egypt at Alexandria University. He currently holds a position as an Associate Professor of Pediatrics at the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine. He is the Division Chief, Pediatric Blood & Marrow Transplant Program, Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, Spectrum Health in Grand Rapids, MI. He also has an MBA degree from Western Michigan University. He has significant research interest in stem cells and served and continued to serve as a member on multiple ethics committees. He also serves on a variety of diversity boards and is a leader of the Islamic Mosque and Religious Institute of Grand Rapids. He is serving on the boards of Kaufman Interfaith institute and on the steering committees for 2012 year of interfaith understanding in Grand Rapids.
Reverend Diane Maodush-Pitzerwas ordained in the Reformed church in America and is currently the Program Coordinator for Religious Studies at Grand Valley State University – this is a new major/minor beginning in the fall of 2012. She is a professor in this program and in Liberal Studies. Formerly, she was the founding director of WITNESS, a non-profit organization working to bring women into leadership in the church; a Parish Pastor; and also a faculty member at Western Theological Seminary. She is committed to ecumenical and interfaith work and is the Co-Host of Soundings, which is a weekly radio program dealing with ecumenical and interfaith issues.
Father William Meninger, OSCO, entered the Trappist Community at St. Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts in 1963. In 1974, he found a dusty little book in the abbey library, The Cloud of Unknowing. As he read it he was delighted to discover that this anonymous 14th century book presented contemplative meditation as a teachable, spiritual process enabling the ordinary person to enter and receive a direct experience of union with God. Fr. Meninger developed a contemplative prayer method based on the 14th-century classic treatise The Cloud of Unknowing. It has led to the prayer method called Centering Prayer. He gives retreats, lectures and workshops on centering prayer, forgiveness, and the Enneagram in the U.S. and abroad. Visit him online at http://contemplativeprayer.net.
Aslam Modak was born in India, and raised in Indonesia and India prior to his coming to America in 1990. A Muslim, Aslam has studied in two Catholic schools and in various other settings as well. He facilitates classes in Humanities and Information Technology at the University of Phoenix, and at Grand Valley State University. Aslam previously served as Information Technology Chair at Davenport University. In addition to his academic and professional affiliations, Aslam Modak serves on the Board of the West Michigan Islamic Center and has been a speaker on Islam and/or Sufism in multiple academic symposiums. He has spent significant time with traditional Muslim scholars and sufis, and is widely traveled. He primarily belongs to the Qadri and Chisti sufi orders but has also been blessed with affiliation to the Rifai Sufi order. His Sufi understanding has been shaped immensely via the guidance of authorized Sufi teachers as well as advanced Sufi students in India, Kuwait, Canada, and the United States. As a Sufi student of Muslim background, he considers himself fortunate to be connected to the shining personality of the Prophet of Islam, and delights to be in the company of lovers of God of all faiths.
Zulema Moret, PhD received her MA at the University of Buenos Aires and defended her PhD/Thesis at Universidad del Pais Vasco, Spain. Dr. Moret has taught a wide range of seminars and workshops to Professors, Community Leaders, Therapists, and Artists. Professor Moret is Associate Professor at GVSU and Coordinator of Latin American Studies (Brooks College of Interdisciplinary Studies). Author of several children books poetry, short stories and critical essays, she has been published at the local, national and international levels. Her Interdisciplinary research involves film studies, as well as art and gender issues. She is involved in numerous service projects related with the Hispanic community in Grand Rapids. A Dominican Associate and Spiritual Director, Moret taught interdisciplinary readings of Saint John of the Cross and Santa Therese of Avila at the Catholic Information Center and was coordinator of workshops on Spiritual Life, Prayer and Creativity at several churches in the Diocese of Grand Rapids. By helping your heart find the color in your world, Zulema will give you colors and materials to color the Word.
Ghazala Munir was born and raised in Pakistan, earned a Master’s degree in Bio-Chemistry from the University of Peshawar and moved to the United States in 1973. By destiny or default, Ghazala’s interests in religion and diversity led her to become involved with interfaith issues and she helped to establish the Interfaith Dialogue Association in Grand Rapids. Over the years, she has participated in interfaith studies, research, writing and teaching with Kendall College, Grand Valley State, Harvard, Yale, Brown and Stanford Universities. In 1998, she was inducted as a fellow of the Association of Religion and Intellectual Life. She has served our local community through work with the Forest Hills Public Schools, IDA, Mother’s Trust and Sisters of Charity Advisory circle. In 2006, Ghazala was featured in the book, Amazing Women of West Michigan, edited by Crystal Bowman of Eerdmans Publishing. Ghazala is currently pursuing her interests in faith and spirituality on a social and personal level. She is serving on the Executive Planning Committee for the 2012 Year of Interfaith Understanding. Most recently, Ghazala was awarded the Champion of Diversity award by Mayor George Heartwell.
David Muyskens is a retired ordained minister of the Reformed Church in America having served as pastor of churches in New Jersey. In the summer of 1999 he moved with his wife to Grand Rapids. He is a commissioned presenter of the introductory centering prayer workshop of Contemplative Outreach and a member of the Circle of Service, the governing board of Contemplative Outreach. He is also a graduate of the Spiritual Guidance Program of the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation. Tilden Edwards was his mentor in the program. He has been a spiritual director since 1991. For ten years, he was Adjunct Assistant Professor of Spirituality at the New Brunswick Theological Seminary, New Brunswick, NJ. He has a Doctor of Ministry degree from Princeton Theological Seminary, Princeton, NJ, and has written two books published by Upper Room Books: Forty Days to a Closer Walk with God: The Practice of Centering Prayer and Sacred Breath: Forty Days of Centering Prayer.
Sr. Mary Navarre has been a Dominican Sister ~ Grand Rapids for nearly 50 years. She enjoyed teaching in the Humanities and Education programs at Aquinas College for nearly 30 of those years. Before that, she taught in parish schools in Michigan. Most recently Sr. Mary served on the Leadership Team of the Sisters as Councilor for Dominican Life. Her interests are many including music, literature, art, philosophy, and spirituality – especially in the mystical and Celtic traditions. She co-directed the Ireland Overseas Program twice while at Aquinas College. When not immersed in a book, her feet are often on a hiking trail as she is a great lover of the outdoors. She is an ardent advocate for care of Earth and all her inhabitants.
She is currently completing the writing of the second volume of the congregation’s history, covering the years from 1966 – 2012. She received her doctorate from Boston University in 1984.
Sr. Kate Okolocha, OP is a Nigerian Dominican Sister. She is currently living with the Grand Rapids Dominican Sisters studying English Education at Aquinas College. She is a trained formator. While in Nigeria, she journeyed with the young women in formation as a Novice Directress in her Congregation for many years before coming to the United States for studies.
Mary Kay Oosdyke, OP, is the Director of Dominican Associate Life for the Dominican Sisters ~ Grand Rapids. She also teaches theology at Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She received a BA, and an MA in Religious Education from Aquinas College; she also received an MA in Education from Michigan State University. She later earned an MA in Systematic Theology from the Aquinas Institute of Theology in St. Louis and a PhD in Theology and Education from Boston College. She taught in elementary schools from 1965 until 1972 when she began teaching at Aquinas College—first in the Educaiton Department and later in the Theology Department. In the 1990s, Sister Mary Kay was the Director of the Graduate Ministry Program at ursuline College in Cleveland, Ohio; and in 2003, she became the Academic Dean at Aquinas Institute of Theology in St. Louis, Missouri. She enjoys fulms, reading, dinner with friends and kayaking.
Juan R. Olivarez, Ph.D. is the seventh president of Aquinas College. Prior to this appointment in July 2011, he served as President and CEO of the Kalamazoo Foundation for two years and president of Grand Rapids Community College for ten years. He holds a doctorate in family and child ecology from Michigan State University, a master’s degree in educational psychology from Wayne State University, and a bachelor’s degree from Aquinas College. Dr. Olivarez has dedicated the majority of his career to education, from preschool to post-secondary, and he serves on many national and regional/local boards and committees advocating for an improved educational system by focusing on early childhood education, literacy, and equal education for all individuals. He has been the recipient of several distinguished awards including the Aquinas College Reflection Award, the Junior Achievement Exemplary Leadership Award, the MSU Educational Excellence Award, and the Distinguished Aquila Award presented by the Committee to Honor Cesar Chavez.
Christine Parks, CSJ currently serves as Program Coordinator, Retreat & Spiritual Director for Transformations Spirituality Center. She has experience in adult training and development and has facilitated numerous programs and workshops related to personal and spiritual growth and development. Her educational background includes a Certificate in Spiritual Direction from Beech Grove Benedictine Spiritual Direction Internship program; Graduate Certificate in Pastoral Counseling from Emmanuel College in Boston; and a MA in Educational Leadership/Community Development from WMU. In this workshop, you will be guided to fine-tune your eye; move from looking to seeing by looking through the camera lens with Sister Christine. You will notice new things and see in new ways.
Venerable Deokwun Russell Pitts oversees the Grand Rapids Zen Center and Buddhist Temple in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The Center is under his spiritual guidance. Sunim, as he is called, is a father of five adult children and the grandfather of six. Having a family is in keeping with the Taego Order principles and part of the Mahayana Buddhist teachings that the clergy should concentrate on as being fully present and active in the world. Venerable Deokwun is a former naval officer, attorney, and college and high school teacher.
Brian J. Plachta serves as an attorney with the law firm of Plachta, Murphy & Associates, is a candidate for a Masters Degree in Pastoral Counseling, a spiritual director, Dominican Associate, and an Adjunct Faculty member at Dominican Center at Marywood. He has spoken at numerous churches throughout West Michigan and conducted several workshops on men’s spirituality topics. He has also researched and written extensively on the topic of men’s spirituality, having recently completed a book on spiritual friendships among men. He is currently working on his second book on breaking the “man code.” He is the co-founder of a non-profit men’s group, Over the Edge, which seeks to provide a sacred space for and among men to explore their faith and spirituality together. See: http://www.goovertheedge.com/. Married and the father of four adult children, Brian and his wife, Denise, are members of Blessed Sacrament Parish in Grand Rapids, MI.
Sister Mario Pavoni, OP is a member of the Dominican Sisters ~ Grand Rapids in Michigan. She has been educating individuals in the Feldenkrais Method ® as a Guild Certified Feldenkrais Teacher® since 1994. The Feldenkrais Method® is a form of gentle and slowed movement with directed attention to improving movement, balance and enhancing human functioning. All Feldenkrais practitioners must complete 800 hours of training over a 3-4 year period. The Feldenkrais Method® incorporates both group classes — Awareness Through Movement®, and private lessons — Functional Integration®. Group classes are taught at Dominican Center Marywood and private lessons can be scheduled by calling 616.458.8799.
Miriam Pederson is a Profesor of English at Aquinas College. She earned an MFA degree in Creative Writing from Western Michigan University. She teaches writing courses for Oscher Lifelong Learning Institute and offers poetry workshops at meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park. Her chapbook, This Brief Light , was published in 2003 by Finishing Line Press and her poetry has been published in many anthologies, journals, and small press magazines. Pederson’s poems, in collaboration with sculpture created by her husband, Ron Pederson, are exhibited in area and regional galleries and have appeared in ArtPrize 2009-2011.
Imam Muaz Redzic has been serving as Imam at the Bosnian Cultural Center in Grand Rapids, Michigan since 2009. He attended Islamic high school in Sarajevo, then earned a B.A. in Islamic Studies at Kuwait University, an M.A. in Religion at Vanderbilt University, and the Ph.D. in Islamic Studies from the Graduate Theological Foundation, South Bend, Indiana. At the Bosnian Cultural Center, Imam Redzic sustains religious activities and prayers, and also supports the Bosnian cultural identity of many of the Center’s members. Prayers are offered and sacred texts are read in Arabic and then translated into Bosnian for his congregation, many of whom came to the area during the war in their homeland in the 1990′s. Imam Redzic also aspires to host open houses and educational classes for non-Muslims. “People tend to fear the unknown. Islam is still very much unknown ground for many Americans,” Redzic said. “We are more than happy to introduce ourselves.” Redzic has expressed concern that Islam is often portrayed negatively in the media: “The filter through which the media talks about Islam is the violence. I’m not saying all Muslims are angels. I’m talking about what Islam teaches. Islam is submitting to God’s will and finding peace in that.”
Barbara E. Reid,OP is a Dominican Sister of Grand Rapids, Michigan. She holds a Ph.D. in Biblical Studies from The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. and is Vice President and Academic Dean and Professor of New Testament Studies at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. Her most recent books are Abiding Word (Liturgical Press, 2011), Taking Up the Cross: New Testament Interpretations Through Latina and Feminist Eyes (Fortress Press, 2007; Spanish translation by Verbo Divino, 2009), The Gospel According to Matthew. New Collegeville Bible Commentary Series (Liturgical Press, 2005), Parables for Preachers (3 volumes; Liturgical Press, 1999, 2000, 2001; Spanish translation for Year A, 2007; Year B 2008), Choosing the Better Part? Women in the Gospel of Luke (Liturgical Press, 1996). She has led many of CTU Israel Study Programs and Retreats.Currently she is writing Sophia’s Table: An Introduction to Feminist Interpretation of the Scriptures (forthcoming from Eerdman’s Press) and is General Editor for a new 60-volume feminist commentary on the Bible, Wisdom Commentary Series (forthcoming from Liturgical Press).
Matheta Muraa-Righa was born in Kenya and was a Missionary for eleven years and is still a missionary at heart. She is an Aquinas College graduate, where she earned Bachelor’s degrees in Business Administration and Religious Studies. She also earned a Master’s degree in Marketing from Davenport University. She wears many huts; wife to her husband of 18 years, soccer mom, rugby mom, football mom, business owner, and Adjunct Professor at Grand Rapids Community College. She has also taught at Davenport University, Grand Valley State University and University of Phoenix. She served as a board member on the Diocese of Grand Rapids Executive Board for the Social Justice and also served in the Executive Finance committee. She and her family frequently volunteer at Gods Kitchen and Matheta serves as a Lector at her home Parish, St. Mary Magdalene. She and her husband are blessed with two young men–currently a senior and a junior at Catholic Central High School. As an African woman, her motherhood responsibilities do not stop at home in Kentwood, Michigan. Her family has other responsibilities in Kenya, where they have taken a commitment and responsibility to support children of relatives who have been orphaned in one way or another.Matheta says that, “In actuality, we currently have eight children the youngest being only three years old. It is such a satisfying feeling to receive word from them that they are able to receive medical treatment or go to school because of the sacrifice we make to reach out to them–a blessing that is
‘a good measure, pressed down and overflowing’ and for that we are grateful.”
Len Robinson celebrated his bar mitzvah at Congregation Shearith Israel: the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue in New York City. Len completed training courses while attending the University of Judaism. He attended a Para-rabbi program and was certified as a Para-rabbi through the Hebrew Union at the College in Cincinnati. This program is designed to train lay leaders to serve as assistants to rabbis or assist communities lacking sufficient rabbinical coverage, to help them support the spiritual life of their congregations and communities. Para-rabbis are trained to conduct life cycle events including funerals, unveilings and baby namings. They are qualified to conduct Shabbat morning minyans, assist in Shiva minyans, conduct Torah study, and conduct services at nursing homes and assisted living centers in the community. Len received his BA at the University of Colorado and Colorado State University majoring in theater and accounting. He is the past treasurer and current Vice President at Temple Emanuel; and also president and artistic director of Jewish Theater in Grand Rapids. Len is also the owner and a certified financial advisor at Ameriprise Financial Services.
Father Chris Rouech is pastor of St. Pius X Parish in Grandville and directs the Office for Worship for the Diocese of Grand Rapids. His life and work experiences include growing up on a farm in Bay City, waiting tables through high school and college, and editing various publications, including a weekly college newspaper. After graduating from Michigan State University in 1987 with a BA in Journalism, Rouech worked as a reporter for the Holland Sentinel and then the Grand Rapids Press. In 1990, he left journalism for the seminary and achieved a Master’s in Divinity from St. Mary of the Lake – Mundelein Seminary in Mundelein, Ill. He was ordained a priest for the Catholic Diocese of Grand Rapids in 1996. In 2005, he received an MA in Liturgical Studies from the University of Notre Dame. Prior to his current parish assignment, Rouech pastored St. James Parish in Montague, with the mission of St. John the Baptist in Claybanks. He has also served as associate pastor of St. Patrick Parish in Portland, MI, and St. John Vianney Parish in Wyoming.
Dr. Janet K. Ruffing, RSM, PhD is Professor of the Practice of Spirituality and Ministerial Leadership at Yale Divinity School in New Haven, Connecticut, USA. She has a PhD in Christian Spirituality from The Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, CA and twenty-five years of experience training spiritual directors at Mercy Center in Burlingame, California, USA and Fordham University in New York, USA. She has presented workshops for spiritual directors throughout the world. She is author of Spiritual Direction: Beyond the Beginnings, a “must read” for spiritual directors.
Bob Sadowski is a Dominican Associate with a long interest in storytelling as well as a Master’s in Divinity from Catholic University. After hearing Master Story Spinner Mary Hamilton at the Grand Rapids Festival of the Arts in 1984, he joined the Grand Rapids Story Spinners where he learned many new stories and several insights into the art of storytelling. You can hear Bob tell stories with the Riverside Raconteurs each summer in Lamoreaux Park here in Grand Rapids. He is delighted to offer his thoughts and insights to the members of this workshop. Bob will help us name and explore the skills of the storyteller to tap into the power of the Gospel story.
Doctor Sharif Ahmad Sahibzada is currently the Director/ Shaikh/Ul Jami’/Imam at the Islamic Center of West Michigan and Masjid of Grand Rapids. He received his BA in English from the University of Punjab, Lahore Pakistan; MA in Arabic, Islamic Studies and Oriental Learning from the University of Leeds in England; and his PhD from the University of Leeds in England. In addition, Dr. Sahibzada belongs to the academic family that has constant devotion to serve humanity, spiritually and academically, having an expert scholarly approach in the field of Islamic Sciences since 1850CE (150 Years). He represents the third generation of this family of academicians. He has served as Lecturer/A-Professor (College & University), Director, Principal, Education Officer, Teacher, Consultant on Islamic Affairs (Muslims & Non Muslims in Asia, Europe, North America), Imam in the Mosques, Director in The Islamic Centers, Evening Schools, Moderators, Guest Speaker in the Seminars, Public gatherings and conferences. Dr. Sahibzada says, “I have inclination and devotion to serve religion & the humanity for its true guidance to divine knowledge, peaceful motivation / Research Study/ Lecturing/ Seminars / Social Interaction with masses / General global awareness of the situation through media and personal contacts and also attended Interfaith Meetings.
Mohammad Saleh, MD is the President of the Islamic Mosque and Religious Institute worships at the Islamic Mosque and Religious Institute in Grand Rapids, where he is also Chairman of the Board. He is a frequent panelist and presenter at interfaith programs and dialogue sessions in the greater Grand Rapids Community. Dr. Saleh is a practitioner of Internal Medicine, having earned his M.D. from Damascus University School of Medicine in Syria and completed his residency at Grand Rapids Medical Education and Research Center.
Rabbi Michael Schadick has been the rabbi of Temple Emanuel since July 2000. He was ordained by the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1994. He has served congregations in Orlando, Florida and Plantation, Florida. Rabbi Schadick speaks about Judaism throughout West Michigan. He is married to Susan Schadick. They have one daughter, Shira. The Schadicks make their home in Cascade Township.
Father Philip Shangraw, D.Min. was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Grand Rapids in 1979. During those thirty-three years, he has directed many retreats and served in a variety of roles in the diocese including pastor, spiritual director and director of the continuing formation of the priests. Father Shangraw is currently Canonical Administrator of St. John the Baptist in Claybanks, Our Lady of the Assumption in Rothbury and Our Lady of Fatima in Shelby, Michigan.
Lucianne Siers, OP is a Dominican Sister of Grand Rapids, Michigan. She holds a Doctor of Ministry degree from Catholic University. Currently, she is on the Leadership Team of the Grand Rapids Dominicans and is an artist working as a stone sculptor.
Denise Solomon has included sacred dance as a part of her prayer life for many years. Her experiences are wide and vary in ways that have drawn her into creative prayer. She began dancing while a student at Aquinas College, and has been honored to dance in church services with Baptist, Methodist, Jewish, Roman Catholic and Ecumenical congregations. She helped create and teach sacred dance in various workshops, and she was part of the liturgy leadership team for the National Pastoral Musician Conference held in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Born and raised in Detroit, Denise came to Grand Rapids to attend Aquinas College. She is currently a Clinical Social Worker (LMSW) and a member of the Cathedral of St. Andrew Roman Catholic Church.
Fred Stella began his spiritual search within the Hindu Dharma at the age of 15, being trained both here and in India. His articles have appeared in Freeman, India Link, Hinduism Today and the GR Press. For over a decade Fred has held leadership positions in the local chapter of Self Realization Fellowship (Yogoda Satsanga Society in India). He is an ordained Pracharak (Outreach Minister) for the West Michigan Hindu Temple. Under the direction of Vivekananda Kendra in 2005, Mr. Stella completed a 30 city lecture tour in India, joining the effort to promote indigenous culture and religion in areas facing the encroachment of Western influence. In the U.S., he has lectured and facilitated workshops and retreats at schools, churches and in the private sector. Fred taught Hatha Yoga at Muskegon Community College for 15 years and currently teaches for the MBA program at GVSU. He is also president of Interfaith Dialogue Association, and hosts its weekly radio program, “Common Threads” on WGVU-FM. Mr. Stella majored in Media Studies at the University of Detroit. . Besides IDA, Fred sits on the advisory boards of Grand Dialogue (promoting conversations between Science and Religion), The Kaufman Interfaith Institute and the West Michigan chapter of the ACLU, where he often consults on freedom of religion issues.
Reverend Chandler Stokes serves as Senior Pastor and Head of Staff of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He graduated in Religious Studies from the University of California at Santa Cruz, received his M.Div. from San Francisco Theological Seminary, and did doctoral work at the Graduate Theological Union and the University of California Berkeley. He was ordained to the Ministry of Word and Sacrament in the Presbyterian Church (USA) in 1983, served churches in Northern California from 1983-2008, and taught Biblical Studies and Homiletics for many years at SFTS and the GTU. He also serves on the Committee on Theological Education for the PC(USA). He is married to Reverend Karen Stokes, Interim Pastor and Head of Staff at East Congregational Church in Grand Rapids, and they have two sons – Jeremy 30 and Dusty 27.
Carmelita Switzer, OP serves as a staff facilitator and presenter for Dominican Center at Marywood. She holds a Master of Arts Degree in Religious Studies from Aquinas College and a Master of Arts Degree in Biblical Studies from Providence College. She completed Pastoral Studies with an emphasis in Formation Studies at Aquinas Institute on the campus of St. Louis University. Her ministries include teaching, Pastoral Ministry in a parish setting, and Pastoral Administration in a parish that had no priest. She has also spent time in ministry on behalf of the Grand Rapids Dominican Sisters as Director of Formation and as Co-Director of Pastoral Life for the Marywood Campus. Coming from a rural farm community background she loves Michigan’s many lakes and natural beauty and God’s creatures large and small. Study of spirituality and living an integrated contemplative and active lifestyle have been long time interests and priorities.
Joan Thomas, OP: Transferrable skills and attitudes have been a blessing in Sister Joan’s ministries throughout these 50-plus years as a Dominican Sister of Grand Rapids. She began by teaching classroom and choral music, K-12, along with private piano and organ lessons. The administrative, organizational and people skills needed for those ministries also supplied what she needed for ministry at Aquinas College in the AIRS Program, Continuing Education, and Human Resources; as well as for Congregational Leadership – all along never stopping music but using those skills in new ways. Her ministry as Programs Coordinator in the Marketing Department of World Library Publications brought her back into the world of music everyday as she used the administrative, organizational and people skills in new and different ways.Now Sister Joan has the privilege of using all these skills in yet another way – as Liturgical Musician at Marywood, the Motherhouse of the Dominican Sisters ~ Grand Rapids.
Mark Thomson:Mark Thomson has worked in the field of social work and mental health for his entire adult career. He has been a direct care worker, supervisor, caseworker, family therapist and program director in the D.A. Blodgett-St. John’s residential treatment program. In 2002, he served as the Director of the Discovery Program, an addiction treatment program for adolescents and their families on the St. John’s Home campus. Mark also served as the Executive Director of the agency from 2005 until 2010. Since 2010, he has been the Director of Special Projects at D.A. Blodgett-St. John’s. Mark and his wife of 40 years, Ann, have three children and three grandchildren. Mark currently serves on a local advocacy group for those in recovery, Project Vox, and is a member of The Salvation Army’s Advisory Board. In September of 2012, the Michigan Association of Substance Abuse Coordinating Agencies recognized Mark with the Excellence In Service Award for his advocacy and work in the field of addiction and recovery. He also writes a monthly column on addiction and recovery in the Health section of the Grand Rapids Press.
Mary Vaccaro serves as Director of Dominican Center at Marywood, Adjunct Faculty in Theology and Women’s Studies at Aquinas College, and occasionally as a columnist for Faith Magazine Grand Rapids. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Religious Studies from Aquinas College, a Master of Arts in Pastoral Ministry from Boston College and a certificate in Spiritual Direction from Dominican Center. She has served in lay ecclesial ministry for more than twenty five years in a variety of settings, which include: Holy Family Parish in Caledonia, the Cathedral of St. Andrew in Grand Rapids, the University of Notre Dame, the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, St. Francis de Sales Parish in Muskegon and the Catholic Information Center in Grand Rapids. She served on the board of Grand Rapids Area enter for Ecumenism (GRACE) from 2002-2006 and is a member of the speakers’ bureau for the Interfaith Dialogue Association and the Kaufman Interfaith Institute Congregations Council for 2012, the Year of Interfaith Understanding. She enjoys offering courses on spirituality, scripture, biographical presentations on saints and other inspiring/holy people, ecumenical/interfaith studies and social justice issues – integrating theology and human experience into all of her teaching through exploring works of literature, art, music, storytelling and humor. Mary has been an Associate of the Grand Rapids Dominicans since 1992.
Reverend Elizabeth Vander Haagen is a spiritual director and co-pastor of Boston Square Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, MI. She received her MDiv from Princeton Theological Seminary and completed the spiritual direction practicum at the Dominican Center in 2008. She and her husband (and co-pastor) Jay Blankespoor have two daughters. Elizabeth has admired Corrie ten Boom since middle school and her faith has been significantly influenced by Corrie’s testimony and passion.
Ann Walters, OP earned a Master Degree in Christian Spirituality from Creighton University. Sister Ann has been active in leading adult faith formation classes, workshops, seminars; directing and preaching retreats; and also providing spiritual direction. Positions she has held include: Co-Director of Collaborative Dominican Novitiate of the United States Dominican Women’s Congregations, Director of Formation for Grand Rapids Dominicans, and Elementary/High School Education Administration. She has also been active in inner-city ministries in Detroit, Chicago, Rural Northern Michigan, St. Louis MO, and Gusau, Nigeria, West Africa.
David Wenger is Co-Director of The Hermitage in Three Rivers, MI.
The Hermitage offers hospitality, spiritual direction, worship leadership, group facilitation and the permission of silence to the many retreat guests they serve. David attended Sursum Corda, a spiritual director’s formation program of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina. He came to The Hermitage in 2001 from Washington, D.C. where he lived for 18 years. There he operated a public relations agency serving the publishing industry and served a local congregation, Washington Community Fellowship, as a lay leader in worship and Christian education.
Sister JoMarie Willians is a Consolata Missionary Sister, who comes from a large family of 12 children. She entered the missionary congregation in 1967 soon after her graduation from Mount Mercy Academy. Following her studies from Aquinas College and three years of teaching at Assumption School in Belmont, MI she went to Italy for her final year before taking her Final Vows. Once again she returned to Belmont to continue teaching for eight more years. In May of 1984 Sr. Jo received her first missionary assignment abroad: Kenya, in East Africa. Throughout her 21 years in Kenya Sr. Jo worked as a Primary School teacher and principal, a High School teacher, Vocation Director and Pastoral Director. Her fondest memory was working with her students and teachers who were always eager to learn new things. Despite the difficulties she encountered she was very grateful for the chance to be able to enter into a new culture and receive the gifts they had to offer.
Esther Yff-Prins is a spiritual director, mentor, and a Grand Rapids Dominican Associate. She is a graduate of Calvin College and received her master’s degree in English from Michigan State University. Esther taught middle school and high school English, and spent several years teaching rhetoric at Calvin. She later became a family law paralegal at a local law firm. Esther has been listening to sacred stories in spiritual direction for the past ten years and also mentors aspiring spiritual directors. She writes poetry and lives an intentional, contemplative life.
Diane Zerfas, OP is the current Director of Programs for Dominican Center at Marywood. She received her Bachelor of Science in Math, Chemistry, Theology and Education from Aquinas College; a Masters of Arts in Religious Studies at Aquinas in 1981 and a Masters of Arts in Pastoral Studies at the Aquinas Institute of Theology in St. Louis in 1991. She holds a Specialized Certificate in Parish Life and Administration from Loyola University of New Orleans and a Certificate in Spiritual Direction from the DeWitt Retreat Center/Dominican Center for Religious Development. From 1972 through 2006, Sister Diane ministered in several ways. She taught high school for 15 years and was the Director of Formation for the Grand Rapids Dominicans for five years. Other positions include: Director of Initiation and Evangelization at St. Mary Magdalen in Kentwood, Diocesan Director of RCIA for the Diocese of Grand Rapids, Co-Director of Pastoral Life at Marywood and a member of the Leadership Team for the Dominican Sisters ~ Grand Rapids. For the past five years, she has been deeply involved in the Spiritual Formation programs here at Dominican Center through the planning and teaching of: Foundations in Spirituality, Spiritual Companioning and Spiritual Direction Practicum.