Dominican Sisters find joy in religious life, teaching

By Hannah M. Hepfer
Correspondent

In recent years, Central Texas has welcomed 13 Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, from Ann Arbor, Mich. The order was founded by four sisters in 1997 and now has 125 sisters. In 2009, eight sisters came to Texas at the invitation of Bishop Gregory Aymond to establish a permanent residence in Georgetown.  
Sister Dominica Hooper, from Buffalo, N.Y., is in her seventh year with the order. She had inklings of joining religious life in middle school, but didn’t tell anyone at the time. In 2005, she attended World Youth Day in Germany where she first met a few Dominican Sisters of Mary. She was stirred by the contentment she sensed in them. 
“I just saw their joy and love,” she said, and she began to quietly pray about joining.
In 2007, she graduated from the University of Detroit Mercy with a degree in civil engineering. She worked as an engineer, but quickly found the 9-to-5 lifestyle lacking. 
“I’d accumulated things that the world told me I should –– good grades, a scholarship, job opportunities and now plenty of money,’” she said. “But, I wasn’t particularly fulfilled or at peace.”
She continued to work full-time and was active in Catholic young adult groups, but was restless for more. 
“I felt something big was around the corner, either marriage or religious life,” she said. “I remember thinking, ‘God’s going to drop a guy in front of me or it’s something else.’”
It was when she attended World Youth Day again in 2008, this time in Australia, and heard a speech by Cardinal George Pell, that she gained clarity on what direction to go. 
“He said, ‘You can’t live life sitting on the fence. Make a decision about your vocation. You’ll only find happiness in commitment,’” she recalls. “I felt he was speaking directly to me.”
She entered the Dominican Sisters of Mary in 2009 and relocated to Texas from Ann Arbor last year. She now teaches chemistry, physics, and AP physics at St. Dominic Savio High School in North Austin, where she lives with three other sisters. 
Sister Dominica said she likes to use her platform as a teacher to show young people that God can be found outside the context of theology. 
“It’s a challenge to bring the topics of faith and science together and show the kids how complementary they actually are,” she said.
The fulfillment that once eluded her is now present and she encourages all Catholics to pray about their vocation. 
“Giving yourself fully to your call, whatever it is, is how you make yourself most happy,” she said.
Like Sister Dominica, Sister Mary Jacinta wondered about religious life from a young age. She first met the Dominican Sisters of Mary at her family parish in Ann Arbor. Later, her older sister entered the order and Sister Mary Jacinta’s visits to see her sister made an impression on her. She, too, noticed the joy the sisters possessed.
By the time she graduated high school, she knew she was called to join the order and entered in 2000. She took final vows in 2008, and currently lives with four other sisters on the 60-acre property in Georgetown, where they hope to build a priory.
While Sister Mary Jacinta was certain she wanted to join the order, she was not certain she was called to teaching. But, 10 years later, the role of teacher is one she cherishes. 
“Sometimes God pushes you out of your comfort zone, and you find that you can actually be comfortable in a new zone,” she said. “And kids are wonderful, they keep you alive.”
She currently teaches second grade at St. Helen Catholic School in Georgetown. She said her style of teaching has evolved over the years. 
“I used to think that I should teach them the doctrine first and then later, when they were older, they would meet Jesus, and have a spiritual experience,” she said. However, she says teaching has shown her the spiritual potential of young children. 
“Children as young as 2 and 3-years-old can have an encounter with God. They know and understand so much,” she said. “They just need someone to hold their hand and guide them.”
Sister Mary Jacinta enjoys bringing them closer to God through Mass and reading Scripture. She often refers to the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, an approach to the religious formation of children that involves a personal introduction to Jesus using special materials and a developmentally appropriate integration of Scripture and liturgy.
“When I’m able to preach the truth and talk to children about God, it feeds my soul,” she said. “I think God made it that way.”
Year of Consecrated Life Celebration with the Sisters
Celebrate the Year of Consecrated Life with the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist at their fall event on Sept. 19 from 11:15 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Learn about their lives as consecrated women and join them for a barbecue on their Georgetown property site. Families and children are welcome. Register at www.sistersofmary.org/texas-fall-event-september-19-2015.html.