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Blessing of Memorial to Enslaved Persons, A Reflection on John 16:12-13

Posted on May 22, 2023

Reflection by Elaine Riley, OPA

When the Spirit of Truth comes, the Spirit will guide you to all truth. John 16:13

As I reflect upon this memorial dedication to the enslaved, I’m reminded how this dedication’s origin was really formed at the reconciliation service held in Bardstown, KY, in 2000.

Little could have anyone ever imagined that this reconciliation service would be the key element used in calling forth the Spirit of Truth, as Sr. Joan Scanlon, then piesident of the Dominican Sisters of St. Catharine, formally acknowledgd and
ask forgiveness for the owning slaves.

As the Sisters took this first crucial step, it would require profound courage in acknowledging the truth, to apologize and ask forgiveness for the truth, and to take ownership of the truth. Once this acknowledgement was spoken, the SPIRIT OF TRUTH emerged. This was our first encounter of witnessing the SPIRIT OF TRUTH challenging the Order who preached the Truth, to tell the Truth. Because for many years this “Unspoken Truth” was allowed to lie dormant within the Dominican Family’s historical archives.

But just as there’s an appointed time for everything, the Spirit of Truth would have to wait patiently before guiding
the Sisters to the “I WAS HERE” presentation on October 2, 2022. At this remembrance and blessing ceremony, the Sisters recognized and honored the contributions of the Enslaved. We also learned, through the research of Catholic Historian Walker Gollar, the first names of the very first women and men enslaved at St. Catharine.

And just when we felt that the Spirit Of Truth had nothing more to say, the “spirit” would once again emerge, taking the
spotlight, as Sr. Rosemary Rule summarized that St. Catharine’s Motherhouse was a place of injustice and pain for the enslaved persons who helped build it in 1822. Painfully, this was another “Unspoken Truth” now spoken.

Clearly, it was the pursuit of telling the Truth which has brought us to assemble here for this memorial dedication
honoring the Enslaved who once walked these sacred grounds. This monument is a true testament to how the lives of the Dominican Sisters and the lives of the Enslaved are inseparable.

So, it is only fitting that the Enslaved spirits of Grace, Lucy, Milla, George, Leanard, Robert, and the names unknown, take their rightful place here in this cemetery alongside their Dominican Family.

For this monument will always be a constant reminder that the Enslaved were here, when they journeyed to St. Catharine’s with the Founding Women who joined the order.

YOU were here working the fields, tending the livestock, and performing other domestic duties to Sisters, who may or may not have known your names.

YOU were here, at times broken and wounded in spirit, as a result of the oppressive injustices thrust upon you.

And yes, YOU were here, sometimes seen or unseen working among and alongside  of the First Dominican· Sisters of the United States.

To the Enslaved persons who once walked these sacred grounds of St. Cathaiine’s, may your eternal spirits rest peacefully with the Dominican Siste of Peace. And hopefully in time your “SPIRITS” will no longer feel like a MOTHERLESS CHILD, because the SPIRIT OF TRUTH HAS SPOKEN.

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