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Sister Nadine Foley (1924-2017): Adrian Dominican Sisters prioress urged social justice

ADRIAN — Sister Nadine Foley, an advocate for women in the Catholic church who served as prioress of the Adrian Dominican Sisters from 1986 to 1992, died Friday in the Dominican Life Center in Adrian. She was 93.

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She suffered a stroke last autumn but had remained active in the congregation researching, writing, and singing, even as her health declined, said Sister Attracta Kelly, who served as prioress from 2010-2016.

“Those of us who have worked with her and known her well over the years, we feel like it’s kind of the end of an era,” Sister Attracta said. “She was a profound woman.”

Sister Nadine was an intellectual who joined the Adrian Dominican Sisters in 1945, the same year she received a bachelor’s degree in science from what was then Siena Heights College in Adrian. She served two terms as a general councilor for the Adrian Dominican Sisters, from 1974 to 1978 and from 1978 to 1982, before she was elected as the congregation’s prioress in 1986.

As prioress Sister Nadine was also elected president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, an association of the leaders of congregations of U.S. Catholic Women Religious that represents about 80 percent of the sisters in the United States. She also was selected to serve as a U.S. delegate to the International Union of Superiors General.

Under her leadership the Adrian Dominican Sisters focused on social justice issues. The congregation’s general council endorsed the sanctuary movement that provided safety for people fleeing to the United States from Central America, opposed apartheid and racism in South Africa, and promoted the woman’s role in the church.

Though she herself had no aspirations of becoming a priest, Sister Nadine believed strongly the priesthood should be open to women. She advocated her position across the country as one of the organizers of the first conference on women’s ordination in the Catholic church.

“She was most known in the ’70s and ’80s for her very strong commitment to her role of women in society and in the church,” said Prioress Sister Patricia Siemen. “She was always able to be very articulate, and she had a great command of scripture as well.”

Born April 10, 1924, in Newberry, Mich., to Thomas and Ursula Foley, Sister Nadine was an avid learner and teacher. In addition to her congregational leadership, she taught high school for eight years and served as a professor at several colleges, including Siena Heights College, Barry College in Florida, Drake University in Iowa, and Marist College in New York.

“A person like Nadine can teach you from the time you’re 16 to the time you’re 88,” said sister Jeanne O’Laughlin, who was on the congregation’s general council with Sister Nadine and, like many other women, considered her a mentor.

Sister Nadine wrote two volumes of Adrian Dominican history and a biography of the congregation’s longest-serving prioress, as well as dozens of articles on religious life. She served as the congregation’s historian until last year and was working on a book of lighthearted stories about Dominican nuns when she died.

She was an admired vocalist and lyricist, and sang with the choir in this spring’s Easter Mass.

“She was a giant, in all good sense of that word,” Sister Patricia said. “Religiously, spiritually, intellectually. No matter what arena she placed herself in, she was excellent.”

Surviving are her sisters, Yvonne Lelli and Patricia Foley, and brothers, Robert, Thomas, James, Timothy, and Michael Foley.

A vigil service will be at 7 p.m. Thursday in St. Catherine Chapel on the Adrian Dominican Sisters’ campus in Adrian, where the funeral Mass will be at 10:30 a.m. Friday.

Anderson-Marry Funeral Home in Adrian is handling arrangements.

Contact Sarah Elms at: selms@theblade.com or 419-724-6103 or on Twitter @BySarahElms.

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