Local News Archive
Print Issue: December 6, 1990
She's An Advocate For 'Local Folks'
By Thea Jarvis
At 42, Pat Siemen, OP, has achieved much of what the American dream is made of: career success, community acceptance, national recognition, personal fulfillment.
She serves on the executive committee of the Catholic Social Justice Committee in Washington, D.C., and the National Advisory Committee of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops' Leadership Conference of Women Religious. As prioress of the Mid-Atlantic chapter of the Adrian Dominican Sisters, she travels to 20 states visiting Dominican communities and their local bishops, conferring on policy and future direction.
Her six-year term as prioress, which ends in 1994, means she is "putting all my efforts into the (Dominican) congregation," Sister Siemen acknowledged from her Atlanta office. After that, she will return to her first love, community organizing and advocacy, empowering the oppressed and disadvantaged both economically and politically.
Sister Siemen received a law degree from Northeastern University in Boston in 1984. It was a long way from the small Michigan dairy farm where she grew up as the youngest of four children. Educated by Adrian Dominican sisters from the fifth grade through secondary school, she entered the order in 1966 following high school graduation. It was, she remembers, "A long-time call from childhood on." She chose the Adrian Dominicans because, "I knew them best. I liked their spirit, their sense of hospitality ... I wanted to be of service and was attracted to their sense of care about each other."
With an undergraduate degree in political science and history from Siena Heights College and several years of elementary school teaching to her credit, Sister Siemen was awarded a fellowship for graduate study at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs in Austin, TX. Following graduation, she moved into the arena of what she calls "political ministry, using the education I have to work with grassroots people."
After two years of parish work with an Hispanic community in Adrian, MI, Sister Siemen moved on to West Tennessee when her order sponsored four women to minister in priestless counties. She "volunteered for duty" and "got into community organizing," co-founding JONAH, an advocacy group that addresses issues of housing, sanitation, education and land use. Eleven years after its beginning as a small neighborhood band, JONAH now serves seven counties in West Tennessee.
During her law school hiatus from 1981-84, Sister Siemen did field work in Atlanta, Philadelphia, Washington and West Tennessee, eventually settling into a position with the Department of Justice Voting Rights Division in the nation's capital. Prior to coming to Atlanta, Sister Siemen was an advocate for migrant farm-workers in Immokalee, Florida for several years.
"I need the suffering community to keep me honest," said Sister Siemen, adding that she likes to "go someplace and work with some struggling community. It's where I do my best work."
Her penchant for "little places," she said, has moved her away from trial law and into the realm of the not-for profit, where grassroots issues interface with legislation and public policy.
"I try to bring local folks together with decision-makers, to be that connecting link," explained Pat Siemen. "It's very, very meaningful to me, life-giving."
Of her religious vocation, Sister Siemen reflected that it has nurtured her own spirituality and enabled her to live out countercultural values in ways she could not do on her own.
"Over the years, I have realized how important a woman's faith community can be," she said. "It helps me be clear in my choices, to stand always with the poor, pooling human and financial resources."
"Women Religious have an excellent opportunity to model alternatives to society at large and within the church itself, to be an example of what the larger Church can be."