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Around the United States, June 1, 2020 was planned as a shared day of grieving and remembering those who have died from COVID-19.

And yet another grief was continuing to unfold — the murder of George Floyd at the hands of police.

The Dominican Sisters ~ Grand Rapids Leadership Team was focused on putting into words the lament for 100,000 people dead from a virus we have yet to understand– and then recognized the immediate need to seek words and a ritual that would matter in the face of innumerable deaths resulting from systemic racial disparity and injustice.

And yet another Sister was searching for the right words. As Sunday approached, Sr. Joan Williams, OP prepared for preaching in Dominican Chapel/Marywood for Pentecost Sunday.

How do we go on breathing, grappling, with such deep sorrow and despair when George Floyd’s life is over? The anger, despair, and fear felt by black people in America is palpable. Truths are being exposed–and finally acknowledged by people of all colors, and we are left bereft as we face the enormity of hurt and injustice in our country and world.

Sr. Joan’s homily took shape. May we each find meaning in her preached word, comfort in the knowledge that we are not alone in our grief, and faith that God will guide us to understanding and radical transformation.

“Jesus said… to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ And… when He had said this… He breathed on them and said to them, `Receive the Holy Spirit.'”  John 20:21-22

“The same breath of the Spirit of God that sustains us in life is the breath that sustained George Floyd for his 46 years of life.

“Our hearts were torn as we witnessed such cold cruelty and barbaric violence done to our brother, George Floyd, while others stood by and did nothing as they heard him cry out,`I can’t breathe’.

“Breath that ceases because of sickness is one thing. But it is quite another thing to deliberately take away the sacred breath of another as we saw on our screens this week from Minneapolis.

“George was our brother.

“In light of this reality around us, what is the mission that we are asked to fulfill today?

“We see from the Gospel of Luke, that Jesus, as He begins his public ministry, reads from the scroll a text from Isaiah (61:1-2): `The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to bring release to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’

“We the Dominican Sisters of Grand Rapids are not just beginning our public ministry and we are not ready to end it. Each day is a new beginning. How we put flesh on these characteristics of Jesus’ mission is up to us in the context of our lived reality.”

The day after Pentecost, Sr. Joan commented, “Reflecting on our mission, I was moved by this quote by Angela Davis: `You have to act as if it were possible to radically transform the world. And you have to do it all the time. Sometimes we have to do the work even though we don’t yet see a glimmer on the horizon that it’s actually going to be possible.’ The what and the how of our action is in response to what the Spirit has enabled each of us to do in this time and place. We have God’s promise to be with us until the end.”



This post was inspired by the Pentecost May 31, 2020 preaching of Sister Joan Williams, OP in Dominican Chapel at Marywood. Read the homily in its entirety at

Response to the Murder of George Floyd

Listen to Dominican Sisters Grand Rapids Response to Murder of George Floyd.


“On Monday, June 1, Dominican Sisters and employees gathered at a safe distance to mourn and lament lives lost. We tolled the bell in our Pear Garden, mourning those who have lost their lives to Covid-19. We lament the death of George Floyd and the inequities and injustice that take away breath, liberty, and livelihood of our brothers and sisters. And we remember Jesus, breathlessly carrying the burden of an unwieldy cross to his own crucifixion.”