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HE DOMINICAN CONGREGATION of St. Mary numbers 51 (Sep 2003) professed members. In 1860, inspired by the appeal of an engaging young Irish pastor, seven young women embarked from Cabra (greater Dublin) to New Orleans to begin a new foundation. They would teach girls in a parish school; within the year they added an academy modeled after their school in Cabra. In the same decade, stout-hearted St. Mary's, Cabra, was dispatching sisters to teach in Portugal, Australia, and South Africa, convents which still flourish.

St. Mary's, Cabra, like its mother-convent in Galway from 1644, was a convent of cloistered, contemplative nuns who taught girls, establishing a tradition of excellence that they passed on. The St. Mary's Academy born in the spring of 1861 flourishes today as St. Mary's Dominican High School. Alumnae include TV personality Arthel Neville, '80, daughter of musician Art Neville. Among the first gigs of the now famous Neville Brothers were the school dances at Dominican when Arthel was enrolled there.

A college sprang from the academy in 1910 and provided a noteworthy, liberal arts education for 75 years. Among the better-known alumnae of St. Mary's Dominican College is Helen Prejean, CSJ, '62, author of the best-selling Dead Man Walking, basis of the award winning movie. Writers, artists, lawyers, judges, doctors, engineers, teachers, homemakers, business women, missionaries, all women of purpose, say as with one voice, "Dominican taught me to think for myself... Dominican rooted me in faith."

The sisters have expanded into other ministries since the sixties, when Vatican Council II opened up diverse possibilities for women in the Church and in the world at large. In community organizing, for instance, Sr. Mary Jordan Langenhennig, under the auspices of PICO (Pacific Institute of Community Organizing) has launched LIFT (Louisiana Interfaiths Together) across the southern part of the state, a fertile ground. New Orleans was later named one of ten All-American cities in the US; credit was given for the fact that the city's problems are being addressed. M. Jordan began organizing All Congregations Together (ACT) to address these problems anew in 1988, and continued  until she was elected Prioress of St. Mary's Congregation in 2000.

Only the limits of the Net attention-span preclude our enumerating the variety of ways to serve developed by the Dominicans of St. Mary. All religious women can tell similar stories. What perhaps marks Dominicans is distilling their life to the essence found in four elements: Community, Prayer, Mission, and Study, all of equal priority. The first three are common to most vowed religious groups, with emphasis on one or another. Dominicans give equal emphasis to Study, understood as life-long learning.

St. Mary's is 143 (in 2003) years old. Mostly from south Louisiana, members are individuals together, challenging themselves to unity in diversity. St. Mary's sisters tend to be easy-going, family and friend-oriented, appreciate gracious living, stories and good conversation. Work (mission) is valued, yet the person has priority over the work. St. Mary's is strongly committed to Dominican Family, which includes three other groups of sisters based in the New Orleans area, the headquarters and home base for a generous contingent of Southern Province (St. Martin de Porres) friars, as well as St. Mary's own lay associates. St. Mary's leaders have been involved in the Dominican Leadership Conference (DLC) from its beginning, and more recently in Dominican Sisters - United States, a federation of Dominican Religious Women. For congregations desiring even more collaboration, St. Mary's leaders helped to initiate the Dominican Alliance which now numbers nine congregations. The Alliance is a partnership of U.S. Dominican women committed to collaboration linking their energy, resources, and personnel to preach the gospel.

Dominicans are worldwide. They are sisters and brothers, lay and vowed members. St. Mary's is a small part of a global family. (See in our guest book!)

The median age of St. Mary's sisters hovers around a fairly vigorous 68. In the fall of 2001 St. Mary's opened Flanagan House, one of its community houses, to women seeking an experience of Dominican community life. A college student enrolled at the University of New Orleans is the first to take advantage of this opportunity for discerning the call to religious life.

Dorothy Dawes, OP, Archivist
ddawes@Xdominican-sisters.net
but take out the X please...

504-861-8155

 
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