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St. Cecilia Dominicans

By: OSV Newsweekly

Talk about good news. I recently received the quarterly magazine published by the Dominican Sisters of the St. Cecilia Congregation in Nashville. Last summer, 11 new sisters professed perpetual vows in the community, and another 13 professed first vows.

(Perpetual vows are for life. First vows are for three years — time for a woman to decide if she truly feels that God is calling her to the religious life.)

The Dominican sisters taught me for eight years at Overbrook School in Nashville. I have two memories of my first day in first grade. The first is that it was raining cats and dogs! The other is of the sisters. They have been a welcomed part of my life since that day, thanks be to God.

The St. Cecilia Congregation formed in Nashville in 1860. In the following year, 11 states withdrew from the Union and formed the Confederacy. Tennessee was one of them. In April 1861, the Civil War began.

Nashville was the first Confederate state capital to fall to the Federal army. Locally, it was not a happy event. In the 1861 referendum that preceded Tennessee’s secession, the people of Nashville voted 7-1 to join the Confederacy.

Keeping the lid on the boiling pot was difficult for the Union forces. They closed all the schools, among other things, but they allowed one school to continue to operate: the Dominican Sisters’ St. Cecilia Academy, which is still going strong today, incidentally.

Why did the sisters receive special favor? They helped all people hurt by the war. They just went about their duties of teaching the young how to be faithful Catholics and productive adults.

The sisters still fulfill this mission very well. The once little St. Cecilia Academy has grown into a network of Catholic schools across the country. Also, the sisters are in British Columbia, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Scotland, and in New South Wales and Victoria in Australia.

Given the history of communities of women religious in the past 50 years, many Catholics ask what makes the Nashville Dominicans different. While they routinely receive candidates, other congregations have not had an application in years.

To my knowledge, no professional study has looked at the question. Some surmise that the Dominicans’ success lies in these facts: The sisters still wear the historic Dominican habit; they live and pray in communities; and they serve one basic objective in apostolic ministry, namely education and the religious formation of youth.

I am no expert. I cannot deny that these particular features may appeal to some who choose to join the sisters. After a lifetime of observing the sisters, I can say with certainty that their personal longing to be one with the Lord — expressly developed in a genuine feeling of being bonded with and serving the Church, and an enthusiasm about Catholicism, as it is and not as some may prefer it to be — must play a very important role.

This is interesting. Many women come to the Dominicans from careers: attorney at law, chemist, ballerina. They made the grade in the big, wide world, but they realized that what they had seen and what they had “achieved” was chalk. Several are converts. Many had presumed that one day they would be spouses and parents. All thought about life.

They simply loved God and wanted to be with God, in every way.

When I was ready for school, my mother took me to Overbrook to register me for the term ahead. Another rainy day! Sister Marie de Lourdes, then the principal, long since gone to God, met us. Small boy that I was, something about her impressed me. God bless that special something about the St. Cecilia Dominicans.

This article comes to you from OSV Newsweekly (Our Sunday Visitor) courtesy of your parish or diocese.


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