ADRIAN - Sister Carol Coston never thought she'd receive accolades from a U.S. president for her work in social programs, much less that it would happen twice in one month.
But Sister Carol made history last week when she became the first Catholic nun to receive a Presidential Citizens Medal at the White House. She accepted her award from President Clinton alongside 27 others, including actress Elizabeth Taylor, boxer Muhammad Ali, and baseball star Hank Aaron.
And tomorrow, Sister Carol, an Adrian Dominican Sister since 1955, will return to Washington to receive another presidential award for her help in establishing pools of money that invest in women and minority issues.
Sister Carol, 65, downplayed all the attention during a visit in Adrian during the weekend. Instead, the energetic nun from Boerne, Texas, described her honors as wins for all women who serve in related fields.
“I think women [in religion] who have been working in the area of social programs have been pretty much unheard of. Their stories are not well-known,” Sister Carol said. “I felt I had a chance to represent that work not only in this country, but all over the world.”
Sister Carol, who tomorrow will receive the 2000 Presidential Award for Excellence in Program Innovation in Micro-enterprise, directs an alternative loan fund known as Partners for the Common Good 2000, based in San Antonio.
That group pools money from the religious community, mostly fellow Catholic nuns, and invests it in women and minority owned micro-enterprises, low-incoming housing, low-income credit unions, and community-development projects.
The six-year limited partnership has provided more than $8.5 million in capital, Sister Carol said.
A Florida native, Sister Carol is a founding member and first executive director of NETWORK, a national Catholic group created by nuns to lobby Congress on a variety of social justice issues.
Before that, Sister Carol helped to establish the Adrian Dominican portfolio advisory board and worked on civil-rights issues in Florida.
Sister Nancy Sylvester, a longtime friend of Sister Carol's, and a member of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, of Monroe, said she is proud of Sister Carol's accomplishments.
She said Sister Carol has succeeded largely because she works with a vision. Sister Nancy said her friend also can generate excitement for causes through her humor, knowledge of her own limitations, and her imagination.
About 150 fellow Adrian Dominican Sisters recognized Sister Carol during a reception at the campus Saturday night.
While there, people watched clips from C-Span, a cable public-affairs network, and looked at photographs taken during the presidential award ceremony last week.
“It really was a great tribute to her,” Sister Nancy said. “She doesn't blow her own horn very well. She needs some others to do it for her.”
Another one of the 1,000 Adrian Dominican Sisters was in the national spotlight last year.
In January, federal officials chose Sister Jeanne O'Laughlin's Miami home as a place for 6-year-old Elian Gonzalez to visit with his Cuban grandmothers.
Sister Jeanne, president of Barry University, left her Detroit home at 15 to become a nun. A graduate of Siena Heights University, she has a history of helping immigrants in trouble.