Fall 2010 Issue

Features: Very Distinguished

Distinguished Adrian Dominican Sister Award

Sister Attracta Kelly, OP, Prioress of the Adrian Dominican Sisters since July 2010, was born in Castlerea, County Roscommon, Ireland, to a Catholic family. “I was born and raised in Ireland in a very political family and learned our Irish history from the side of the oppressed,” Kelly says. “As a result, I grew up with a ‘healthy mistrust’ of the law and a questioning of those in power.”

Not long after arriving in the United States at the age of 18 to visit her cousin, a Dominican sister, Sister Attracta entered the Adrian Dominican Congregation. Her early ministries included teaching in Florida, serving as a principal in Montgomery, Alabama, and in St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana. She also worked as a community organizer for a low-income African-American community in Tennessee.

My strength comes in believing I'm doing a little to bring God's kingdom.

“During my ministries in St. Bernard Parish and later in west Tennessee, I learned from the remarkable people I worked with that God is more about serving than being served, is more compassionate than we can ever imagine, and that as Mary says in the Magnificat, God is about ‘scattering the proud hearted and exalting the lowly,’ ” she says.

Sister Attracta served on the General Council of the Adrian Dominican Sisters from 1986 to 1992, and it was during that time that she saw firsthand “the plight of thousands of poor people from Guatemala and El Salvador who were fleeing their war-torn countries seeking asylum in the United States and Canada.” The experience, she says, left her with a “desire to gain the skills needed to use the law in the best way possible for those in desperate need.”

Consequently, she enrolled in the Columbus School of Law at the Catholic University of America in 1993, and during that time served as an intern with the Catholic Legal Immigration Network.

From 1997 to 1999, Sister Attracta worked for Jesuit Refugee Services in Ireland and returned to the United States to begin an 11-year ministry as the director and a staff attorney of the Immigrants Legal Assistance Project of the North Carolina Center for Justice.

Sister Attracta says that her “immigration ministry allowed [her] to touch the lives of people who have taken the risk, oftentimes with enormous suffering, to migrate usually for the sake of their families - to keep them from starving, or from violence, or from harm - or to save one’s own life because they have dared to speak out against the dominant power.”

Because of her dedication to immigration law and her mentoring of numerous attorneys, the Carolina Chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association established a scholarship to their national convention in her name.

“A verse from a WB Yeats poem ‘The Second Coming,’ which I learned as a child, echoes in my head and heart as I listen to the plight of immigrants in our country today: The blood dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere/ The ceremony of innocence is drowned;/ The best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity.

“That line from Yeats, ‘The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity’ always helps me to keep focused on seeking truth,” Kelly says. “My strength comes in believing I’m doing a little to bring about God’s kingdom.”