Preaching Through Teaching

Sister Heather

The Adrian Dominican Sisters run adult literacy centers across the country, staffed by a mix of religious women and lay people. Sister Heather Stiverson, Order of Preachers (OP), teaches at one of three such centers in Detroit. The Dominican Literacy Center helps adults improve their reading, speaking, listening, writing, mathematics, and basic computer skills, through one-on-one tutoring and small group classes. They acquire useful skills and life strategies that prepare them to live out their roles as parents, workers, and citizens. Most of Sister Heather’s students are immigrants from Yemen, who moved to Detroit to work in a factory, only to find themselves out of work when the plant closed.

Tell us about your ministry.

Currently, I teach English as a Second Language. Most of my students are Muslim, and I appreciate learning about their faith and history. My students struggle with unemployment, as well as with reading and writing. It’s challenging because they are all at different levels. But, it’s rewarding to see them getting better at reading, writing, and speaking. I pray every day before I come to work that I can be the best person I can be for these students.

In addition to teaching, I also match our students with tutors. We have a great need for tutors. We always have more students than tutors.

In your opinion, what happens when we neglect the needs of those who are less fortunate?

As a society it makes us weaker. Poverty and inequality affect us all whether we realize it or not. Everyone deserves the right to clean water, to education, to feel safe. Not just those with money or power.

Could you describe a time when you provided spiritual guidance, and you felt you made a real difference?

I used to teach high school theology to freshmen and sophomores at an all-girls school. They would often question their faith and their beliefs. The bold ones would say, “I don’t know why I have to take religion. I don’t believe in God.” I enjoyed asking them questions to get them to reflect on what they believe.

What drew you to become a sister? And how did your family respond?

I didn’t grow up wanting to be a sister because I wasn’t Catholic. Being a sister never crossed my mind. When I was 18, I started working for the Dominican sisters as a nursing assistant while I was going to college. I went to some of their liturgies and thought they were beautiful. I was attracted to the Eucharist. A year later, I converted to Catholicism.

I spent the next few years working with the sisters, getting to know them, their values and charism. I was really attracted to their joy and work in social justice, especially with people on the margins. They began to ask me, “Have you ever thought about being a sister?” One day I said “yes.” I met with the Vocation Director and she set me up with a sister mentor. I started praying about it and going to daily Mass with the sisters. I spent a year in Discernment, talking to God and talking to other people. I felt God was calling me to something more in my life, to be a sister.

My dad was thrilled because he had worked for sisters. My brothers did not have a lot to say about it. I think they are happy because I am happy.

What would you say to young Catholic women who are curious about what it would be like to be a sister?

I would invite them to come and see our lifestyle. It’s still relevant. We have “Come and See” weekends and we also have a formation house where people can come and spend time living with us to really get the experience of what the life of a sister is like. Just because you become a sister, you don’t have to give up your family and friends.

The Sister To All campaign is made possible by the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, and by the dedication of Catholic sisters. This campaign is part of our continuing effort to tell their stories and support their vital work.

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