'A true Dominican': Hundreds gather to honor life of Sister Mary Clemente Davlin

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Sister Mary Clemente Davlin
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Gathering in what Dominican University President Donna M. Carroll described as "the heart of our campus, Rosary Chapel," 350 colleagues and community members joined in scripture and song on Sunday to honor Sister Mary Clemente Davlin.

From her birth in Chicago on March 6, 1929, to her death, surrounded by fellow Dominican Sisters at St. Dominic Villa in Hazel Green, Wis., on Dec. 19, 2017, those gathered said Sister Clemente touched the hearts of many.

“We pray in grief but also in joy,” Carroll said at the remembrance Mass, which was celebrated by the Rev. Richard Woods.

There were times for both tears and laughter.

“Her love always led to laughter and her presence to peace,” Mickey Sweeney, a Dominican University professor of English, said during the eulogy.

From elementary school through her graduation from Rosary College — now Dominican University — Sister Clemente’s education was shaped by Dominican teaching.

“Clem was a true Dominican, a teacher who loved her students and a scholar committed to research and writing to the end of her life,” said Sister Diane Kennedy.

Sister Clemente’s faith branched into service. Advanced studies, culminating in a doctoral degree from the University of California led to knowledge that Sister Clemente savored and shared.

“She was as enthralled by the bud of an idea shared by a freshman, as she was by a good debate between colleagues,” Carroll said.

Sister Clemente’s career led her back to Chicago. She taught at her alma mater, Aquinas High School, then at DuSable High School on Chicago’s South Side.

“She spent a lifetime working hard to broaden and diversify Dominican’s student body; she felt it was especially important to strengthen Dominican’s relationships to African-American students and families,” Sweeney said.

Those who gathered in her honor on Jan. 21 listened to musicians from the Symphony of Oak Park and River Forest. An accomplished violinist, Sister Clemente was offered a scholarship in the early 1950 to study in Italy.

Irina Calin-Jageman, a Dominican University biology professor, said she had already heard of Sister Clemente — the “Violinist Sister.”

“I was pleasantly surprised to meet her at my first rehearsal with the OPRF [Oak Park and River Forest] Symphony,” Calin-Jageman said.

The Symphony of Oak Park and River Forest is dedicating its Feb. 11 concert at Dominican University to her. It will feature a violin concerto.

Woods, in his homily, remembered her many acts of service at Rosary Chapel, where she helped prepare the altar and often shared her music. Roses and photographs placed before the altar were tangible signs of that service.

“Don’t you hear Clem preaching?” Woods said, even as he spoke of the scripture readings Sister Clemente herself had chosen.

Sweeney said in her eulogy that one of the best ways to listen for echoes of her love is by listening ever more closely to one another. She gave each person “an opportunity to be and to grow into our best selves,” Sweeney said. Now, her life can serve as an impetus to renew “a sense of purpose in the world.”

“I think it is such a testament to her work that so many students from such a span of years came to pay their respects and celebrate her passing,” Sweeney said.

After Mass, many gathered for a reception in the Social Hall, where pictures from her life played across a screen. Nearby, friends could leave video remembrances.

Scholarships and the Sister Clemente Davlin Diversity Leadership Award will continue to support those who aspire to her ideals. She also received recognition from the Dominican University community, earning two Excellence in Teaching Awards in 1973 and 1997 and a Caritas Veritas Award in 2000.

Rachel K. Hindery is a freelance reporter for Pioneer Press.

(24 January 2018)