by Joan Tirak
Pax Christi Michigan Coordinator


What a great way to celebrate our hard-working, self-giving, dedicated women!  Some 225 participants enthusiastically gathered on April 20, 2013 for Pax Christi Michigan’s 32nd Annual State Conference in Farmington Hills. They came for many reasons, but the primary draw was the theme “Prophetic Leadership of Women: Justice from the Margins” along with the main speakers, Barbara Reid, OP and Elizabeth Walters, IHM. They also came to support the Leadership Conference of Women Religious whom we honored with our 22nd Annual Purple Ribbon for Peace – a tradition that PCM started in 1991 in response to Pax Christi USA’s National ­­­­­­‘We Shall Not Be Silent’ Campaign.

Though it was quite chilly outdoors, the opening welcome quickly brought warmth to the community gathered in the Mercy Chapel. Fr. Fred Thelen, PCM State Council member first welcomed the community on behalf of Pax Christi Michigan and then invited Sr. Karen Donahue to welcome all to MercyCenter on behalf of the Mercy Sisters West Midwest Community.  Bishop Gumbleton followed with a warm welcome from the Archdiocese of Detroit. Our conference prayer leaders and musician Julie Beutel next set the tone for the day…invoking, honoring and praying on behalf of women everywhere.

In her keynote Barbara Reid, theologian, author, lecturer, educator, and one of our beloved Adrian Dominican sisters, celebrated the prophetic work, dignity and leadership of biblical women. After her presentation Barbara graciously stayed to sign her books at the Pax Christi resource table, responding to questions and offering her wisdom and encouragement for the way ahead.

Participants browsed the resources brought by the dedicated peace vendors before scattering to the nine different workshops.  Themes covered a wide range of topics including: women as church, families and a green economy, globalization, drones/remote control warfare, environmental sustainability & social justice, sex trafficking in the U.S – from victim to leader, teaching peace through poster art.

Of special interest to young adults, University of Detroit High School JustPeace members engaged participants around the theme, race, space and place: an interactive workshop on power and privilege.  Another workshop led by PCM Young Peace Activist Lydia Wylie-Kellermann caucused around the topic resistance for a new generation.  Both gatherings drew people from across the age spectrum, including Bishop Tom Gumbleton, one of the prophetic co-founders of both Pax Christi USA and Pax Christi Michigan, intent on supporting and inviting young adults to Pax Christi and its mission of bringing the Peace of Christ to our world.


Another highlight of the day was Elizabeth Walters’ call to action presentation, “Justice from the Margins.” Elizabeth used the metaphor “pieces of the quilt” throughout her presentation – calling all to dedicate our lives to creating an alternative future…one grounded in a vision of hope, nonviolent love and peace.  Planned as our final presentation of the day, Elizabeth did exactly what the PCM State Council had hoped for…inspiring us to challenge the structures of violence in our world with our lives, and with an unyielding commitment to building peace with justice.

Prior to lunch we held our highly anticipated annual peace awards ceremonies.  The 10th annual Young Adult Peacemaker Award was presented to Detroit area native Sarah Fentin who was active throughout high school in community gardening, environmentalism and social justice issues as a member of the Mercy High School JustPeace club in Farmington Hills.  She is now at MichiganStateUniversity where she is active with Amnesty International, Green Peace and the Executive board of the Women’s Council.

The 22nd annual Purple Ribbon for Peace Award was presented to Margaret Brennan and Carol Quigley, past presidents of the Leadership Conference of Women and members of the Sisters Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary from Monroe, MI.  There was a hushed excitement in the crowd as PCM State Council member Kim Redigan proclaimed the LCWR award, after which everyone stood to honor them with a rousing ovation. Margaret and Carol responded with gratitude to PCM and to all for their support of LCWR. Their words and their witness touched everyone with their grace and goodness.

Master of Ceremonies Fr. Fred Thelen then announced an unexpected recognition…calling Joan Tirak to the podium to thank her for her 29 years as coordinator of Pax Christi Michigan.  In response Joan spoke passionately, offering gratitude and praise to all the people who have been her mainstay these many years – including our communion of PC saints who have gone before us.  Joan will be retiring from her PCM position on August 31st.

Conferences of this size and breadth don’t happen without a whole lot of behind the scenes work!  In recognition of this conference coordinator Joan Tirak extended a tribute of gratitude to Local Planning Committee members: Maureen O’Reilly, Bob Podzikowski, Maureen Prest, Mary Beth Seymour, Therese Terns, Celeste White assisted by Claudia Landon & Michele Matuszewski; and to PCM State Council members Carol & Ron Jachim, Carmen & Mike Kelly – all of whom worked for months to bring this conference to fruition.  Their faithful leadership inspired and helped facilitate details that often go unnoticed, i.e., planning the theme, workshops, speakers, prayer, physical set-up, hospitality, publicity, child-care, co-sponsorships, registration, as well as getting the word out to their local communities.

Joan also gave special recognition to Mary Hanna and Pat Valaer for their years of loving service on the Pax Christi Michigan State Council – for their spirited work on committees, conferences, events and retreats, giving generously of themselves as servant leaders, mentors & friends.

In honoring all, Joan presented each with a framed Irish peace blessing which reads:

With Gratitude
Deep peace of the running waves to you
Deep peace of the flowing air to you
Deep peace of the smiling stars to you
Deep peace of the quiet earth to you
Deep peace of the watching shepherds to you
Deep peace of the Son of Peace to you!

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