The Nashville Dominicans
For more than 150 years, the Sisters of St Cecilia in Nashville, Tennessee have exemplified the Dominican charism.
The charism of a community is such that if all written records were destroyed, it could be re-created through the living testimony of its members.
After Vatican II, the ‘Nashville Dominicans,’ as they are known, elected to continue to follow their charism closely, retaining their religious habits and their life in community. Fast forward 50 years, and the Order has experienced an outpouring of interest on the part of many young American women, bursting the seams of their Motherhouse and prompting an expansion of the Order to other parts of America and beyond.
Q. Sister Anne Catherine, O.P, you have just announced a foundation in Scotland. Is this your Order’s first foray outside America? How did this come about?
This fall four of our sisters went to the Diocese of Aberdeen. This is our first mission house in the UK, although we also have sisters in Vancouver, British Columbia, Sydney, Australia, and Rome.
The story of how the sisters got to Scotland is referenced in the homily of Bishop Hugh Gilbert of Aberdeen at the welcome Mass: Bishop Hugh Gilbert, a Benedictine and former abbot of Pluscarden Abbey, has so kindly prepared for the sisters’ arrival and is a great advocate for the presence of Dominican life in the local Church.
“Over 60 sisters are currently in formation in our novitiate, with 27 young women entering our community this August.”
Q. Can you characterize your order’s growth for us in any way? Percentage growth over the last ten or twenty years, for example?
Our Congregation has grown 46% in the past 14 years, and currently, at 300, we are the largest we have ever been. Since I entered the convent in 1998, over 150 sisters have followed me. Over 60 sisters are currently in formation in our novitiate, with 27 young women entering our community this August. While the numbers vary, I think the underlying fact is that the Lord continues to call young women to religious life, and they are responding with generosity.
Q. Many -in fact most – people don’t yet realize that the traditional orders are meeting with such success. Do you find that people are surprised that you exist — and that you are thriving?
Sometimes we are met with surprised expressions–in airports, at grocery stores, on the street–and a person may come up to us and say he or she was taught by sisters in grade school and is glad to see we are still around.
People who are not Catholic or who have never seen a sister are not always quite sure who we are, but so often we find that they want to talk to us, ask us questions, or ask our prayers for something. Very often they are surprised to learn that there are people around who have chosen to give their lives totally to Christ, and yet I have found that our presence is a sign of hope to people, even when they cannot quite understand exactly what our life means.
“People who are not Catholic or who have never seen a sister are not always quite sure who we are, but so often we find that they want to talk to us, ask us questions, or ask our prayers for something. Very often they are surprised to learn that there are people around who have chosen to give their lives totally to Christ.”
Q. Can you relate some anecdotes about how young girls find your order? How they come to understand that they have a vocation?
Young women find out about our order in various ways–through our website, through a priest or friends who know us, through meeting one of our sisters at a retreat or on a college campus, through seeing one of our brochures. I am always amazed how God’s Providence works so uniquely in the life of each young woman to draw her to Himself in the way He knows best. While some young women know clearly and early on in their lives that God is calling them, I would say for most of us the call emerges gradually over a period of time.
In my own case, I had a friend from college who had decided to enter our community, and she was my initial reason for coming to visit. For most girls considering a religious vocation, they need to visit a convent in order to see what the life is actually like and to ask themselves, “Can I see myself being happy here?” Talking to the sisters, asking them questions, learning more about the life–all of this is important in the discernment process.
But most important of all is to develop a deeper friendship with Christ through prayer and the sacraments. In a world surrounded by noise, we have to learn to hear the Lord’s voice speaking to us in the depths of our hearts and revealing Himself in the ordinary events of every day.
“This Fall four of our sisters went to the Diocese of Aberdeen. This is our first mission house in the UK, although we also have sisters in Vancouver, British Columbia, Sydney, Australia, and Rome.”
Q. What do you see as the Order’s next challenge(s)?
We have a number of young sisters, and going forward we want to make sure we have room for all of them to flourish! We also want to continue to provide the best formation and support we can for all of our sisters, and this takes ongoing thoughtful consideration. I think any person who takes seriously the call to follow the Lord, and not just one called to religious life, is going to meet with many challenges in this culture, for there are a lot of forces acting against the Gospel message.
Therefore, we need to be well-formed and equipped to see the needs of the new evangelization in the situations in which we find ourselves, and be ready to respond with energy and creativity in preaching the truth of Christ. There are many good and necessary things we can and must do to spread the Gospel in a world that so desperately needs to hear it, especially in our apostolate of education, but we also have to remember that if we are not first faithful to our primary relationship with Christ, then we will have little of value to give to the world.
As the Dominican motto says, “Contemplate and give to others the fruits of your contemplation.”
“We have a number of young sisters, and going forward we want to make sure we have room for all of them to flourish!”
The Sisters can be reached at www.nashvilledominican.org
How You Can Help
You can assist the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia by participating in their life and mission through a financial gift. Your gift would be used for daily living expenses as well as larger areas of need, including education and formation, maintaining the Motherhouse and building endowments for the future.