Dominican Sisters plant roots in Central Texas

Bishop Joe Vásquez and Bishop Wm. Michael Mulvey of Corpus Christi stand with the foundresses of the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist in front of an artist’s rendering of the new priory that will be built in Georgetown. (Photo by Enedelia J. Obregón)

By Enedelia J. Obregón

Senior Correspondent

 

With the foundresses of the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist in attendance, Bishop Joe Vásquez blessed their new temporary mission convent just outside Georgetown on Sept. 21. The convent will house four to six of the sisters currently working in Central Texas.

The celebration also served to thank those who have made donations for the convent and priory, now in the planning stages, that will eventually house 120 sisters. The Georgetown location is the first outside Ann Arbor, Mich., where the motherhouse is located.

The order is led by Mother Assumpta Long, the Prioress General; Sister Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz, Sister Mary Samuel Handwerker and Sister John Dominic Rasmussen. Bishop Wm. Michael Mulvey of Corpus Christi, who was vicar general for the Diocese of Austin when the sisters arrived in 2009 and was instrumental in helping them come to Texas, also attended the blessing.

Sister Elizabeth Ann O’Reilly, who heads the Sisters’ Mission Advancement Office in the Diocese of Austin, said the blessing of the convent is "a sign of spiritual vitality and vibrancy in this diocese."

After the blessing, Sister Elizabeth Ann said that whenever God opens a door, "He definitely lets you know."

"In Texas it happened so fast it seemed he was shoving us through," she said. While they have missions in six other states, Texas will have the second priory for the education and formation of new sisters.

The sisters arrived in Central Texas in August 2009 at the invitation of Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond, who was then bishop of the Diocese of Austin. In 2011 –– with the help of benefactors –– the sisters purchased 60.4 acres near the San Gabriel River on which the convent and priory will sit.

Bishop Vásquez blessed the sisters saying, "May they listen to you in faith and prayer; may they seek only you ... and may they find you in all they do. May they be witnesses to the Gospel and speak of God to everyone."

Mother Assumpta said that when they were asked by Cardinal John O’Connor of New York to start a new order in 1997 they relied only on faith. Three months after that he sent them to Michigan.

"When we began our journey we had no clue," she said. "We knew God had a plan."

Right away, she said, they found themselves "on the fast track."

"We needed a place not only to feed, clothe and educate but also to form them," she said. "We had wonderful people step up to the plate and we haven’t had a creditor knock on our door."

Mother Assumpta also joked the large crowd might get to see a "flying nun" since the winds kept blowing the sisters’ veils and the bishops’ zucchettos.

The sisters –– whose apostolate is education –– work in 15 schools in seven states. Their spirituality and traditional habits have attracted many young women and the motherhouse is bursting at the seams at a time when other orders are dwindling. The Michigan location is landlocked; therefore, expansion had to take place elsewhere.

"We didn’t know where the Lord wanted us," she said. "We had an opportunity to go to California." Then Texas beckoned.

Sisters have been working in offices at the Pastoral Center to develop a plan for the community’s expansion into

Central Texas, including fundraising for the new priory. Others have been teaching at Santa Cruz Catholic School in Buda; and Holy Family Catholic School and St. Dominic Savio High School in Northwest Austin.

"People have been magnanimous," Mother Assumpta said, noting that Texas will be the model for future expansion plans.

Sister Joseph Andrew said that while the monetary gifts from the faithful are vital, it’s not the only thing the sisters need.

"We also want your daughters," she said, suggesting young women attend discernment retreats.

"Open yourselves to God’s will," she said. "It’s the most exciting possibility you can dream of."

Planting the seed is important for young women. According to the National Religious Vocation Conference, women religious first start thinking of a vocation around age 14. Women religious are also more likely to have attended Catholic school as youngsters.

While 94 percent of current sisters are Caucasian, the changing demographic is reflected in the new women in formation. About 21 percent are Hispanic/Latina, 14 percent are Asian/Pacific Islander, and 6 percent are African, black or African-American.

Sister Maria, one of the sisters who has been working in Central Texas, said before entering the convent she was Chief Financial Officer for three car dealerships in New York.

"I led a very materialistic life," she said. She was "living the good life, but not the best one."

"When you possess Christ and do his will you truly find joy, not just happiness," she said. "I was looking for stuff to make me happy but it was temporal."

Robert Marcarelli, director of Mission Advancement for the order, marveled at how quickly the faithful have embraced the sisters and their vision.

So far the sisters have received $13 million in donations toward their $30 million goal.

For more information on the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, visit www.sistersofmary.org/expansion/tx-expansion.html.

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