How to give a handshake, entering and exiting a room, and what not to say during a conversation all part of sisters' new virtue teaching venture
ANN ARBOR — When St. Dominic lived during the 12th century, there were no smartphones or TikTok dances, social media was centuries away, and going “viral” was a bad thing.
But handshakes existed. And etiquette was a major part of daily life.
The Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, in Ann Arbor think manners still matter. And they're using a new video series to talk about it.
Released every Monday, the YouTube series "Manners Monday," hosted by Sr. Peter Thomas, OP, and Sr. Mercedes, OP, features short lessons on things such as how to properly shake someone’s hand, having proper posture and why one shouldn’t interrupt. The videos are usually less than a minute long and provide action steps accompanied by silly fun and friendly banter between the two sisters.
The series is part of the Sisters' Openlight Media initiative, which features regular videos and multimedia geared toward everyday evangelization.
“When you shake somebody’s hand, shake their whole hand, none of this fingertip business," Sr. Peter Thomas quips in a recent video while demonstrating with Sr. Mercedes. "And give a firm grip; there are few things more unpleasant than that feeling of like a dead fish when you are shaking a hand.”
The sisters write the script for each episode using etiquette books for reference and allow jokes to come naturally.
In a clip about "personal space," Sr. Mercedes and Sr. Peter Thomas banter about the need to respect people's "bubbles."
"When you start invading people’s space, people get on the defensive, and they’re not listening to you. They’re trying to get away from you," Sr. Mercedes says.
“On the other hand, if you’re the one who’s uncomfortable because someone’s in your personal space and too close, you don’t need to start by shoving or punching them, just a simple step backwards," Sr. Peter Thomas adds. "But," she jokes, "if they follow you, you might have to try something else.”
The idea for “Manners Monday” came from several of their fellow sisters who began to take a few minutes out of their class time to teach their students manners.
"Their kids really responded," Sr. Peter Thomas said. "This isn't something they've really been taught."
The teachers, she said, "are not in teaching to make little encyclopedias of historical facts or little calculating machines, even though we teach history and math."
“It is about forming disciples of Christ and wonderful young people, and this is part of that human formation,” Sr. Peter Thomas said.
Teaching manners is also about teaching virtue and facilitating encounters with Christ, Sr. Mercedes said.
“If you are trying to make people feel comfortable and at ease — which is what manners really are about — that actually helps you to recognize the dignity of the person and to be received and receive," Sr. Mercedes said. "That is what we are trying to do as Christians. So (manners and etiquette) actually form the person.”
Through their production company, Openlight Media, the sisters are producing hundreds of educational videos. Many are available on YouTube, but all of the sisters' content is available on the Openlight Media website for a yearly subscription of $30.
Openlight Media, formerly known as Lumen Eccleasie Digital, was created as a way to reach a more global audience.
“Dominicans are not afraid to go out into the public square, and the internet is like the public square,” said Sr. John Dominic, OP, co-founder of the community, which started in 1997. “Dominicans are out there reaching and preaching wherever they can be.”
The Sisters started out with print publications, Sr. John Dominic said, but quickly recognized that video content could reach a wider audience. When COVID-19 hit and lockdowns ensued, the sisters launched into high gear, creating even more digital content that could be used by teachers conducting their classes remotely.
Currently, the sisters offer podcasts, blogs, videos and three educational courses, and the Openlight Media website also has an idea bank, which allows teachers to share their teaching resources with others.
“Because we are teachers, we know what teachers like to use. Everything here is created by teachers for teachers," Sr. John Dominic said.
Sr. John Dominic said the vibrant, growing community gets many requests to send teachers to teach in Catholic schools across the country. While it isn't possible to send sisters everywhere, with Openlight Media, they can bring education in virtue to schools without physically being there.
"Fifty years ago, there would have been religious sisters in all the schools; that was a sign that was always before the young people," Sr. John Dominic said. "A sister would always remind (students) to think of heaven, or tell them, ‘God loves you,’ or see them as a child of God.”
While there are fewer sisters teaching in schools today, laypeople have taken up the torch and kept Catholic schools thriving, Sr. John Dominic said.
“There are only so many of us, and there are only so many religious communities still involved in (education),” Sr. John Dominic said. “If we can take what we know and bring that in video content and in-person, then we can be an 'open light,' a sign of hope to them. That is the big vision of what we want to do.”
Currently, the courses are being used in more than 600 schools, Sr. John Dominic said. However, that's just a fraction of the audience the sisters feel the videos could reach. "Manners Monday," for instance, has taken off in a surprising way, driving up the subscribers and YouTube views on the sisters' OpenLight Media channel.
The sisters view this as a first step to opening the door to a deeper relationship and encounter with Christ through virtue, Sr. Mercedes said.
"We are taking this beautiful, rich history and truth of the Christian life and bringing it to these families without them knowing it,“ Sr. Mercedes said. “By learning virtue, we not only can become a good person, but we are infused with these supernatural virtues and can be conformed to Christ and can choose the good.
“That’s the point of it all," Sr. Mercedes said. "God is all good. He is goodness himself, and these virtues enable us to do that.”