Dominican Sisters’ Influence in Louisville

Articles by Marilyn Rhodes, OPA

In 1866, Bishop Lavialle of Louisville asked the Dominican Friars of St. Louis Bertrand Church to open a parish school. The friars turned to the sisters at St. Catharine, who sent two sisters to begin the elementary school of St. Louis Bertrand and plan for a boarding school to be named Holy Rosary Academy.

St. Louis Bertrand opened its doors in an abandoned barracks building on Seventh Street. Students ages 6-18 were welcomed to the school, and so many attended that it was not long before the Sisters needed to expand. A third sister from St. Catharine arrived about six months later, and the school acquired a nearby cottage to create a third classroom. The school educated of some of Louisville’s historical business and professional leaders.

In 1892, the St. Louis Bertrand school moved into the Dominican priests’ home, a newer and therefore more modern school. There the school remained until it closed in the mid-1960s as families moved into the suburbs and new schools opened.

 St. Louis Bertrand school housed people who were driven from their homes by the Ohio River during the historic floods of 1937, when nearly one million people were left homeless. One classroom was used as a field hospital, while the women of St. Louis Bertrand Church prepared meals in the priory. Volunteers transported these meals to the school on a makeshift bridge of wooden planks laid across old school desks to stay out of the flood water in the school’s yard.

Holy Rosary Academy was established in 1867 and experienced several financial setbacks in its early years. The first building, located near St. Louis Bertrand at Sixth and St. Catherine Streets, accommodated both day and boarding students in grades 1-12. The sisters were unable pay the mortgage, and the school property was foreclosed upon.  In 1868, the sisters purchased a residence at Eighth and Kentucky Streets and reopened the school. Financial difficulties compelled the sisters to frequently solicit assistance from the community, in addition to holding a fundraising picnic, but by 1880, the school was self-supporting.

tudents from the Dominican Sisters’ School, St. Louis Bertrand, in Louisville, enjoy a picnic at Cherokee Park in 1920.

The community around the second home of Holy Rosary Academy began to deteriorate, forcing the school to close in 1894 until 1896, when the academy moved to the former Greystone Apartments on West Ormsby Ave. It was to this address that students and sisters from St. Catharine retreated when their school burned in 1904.

The academy moved again in 1915 and grew to four buildings within two years. Here, Holy Rosary shared its auditorium for several civic events, including a concert with a famous South American pianist.  The school was also used by the sisters to provide care for soldiers at Camp Taylor during the Spanish Influenza pandemic. In 1955, Holy Rosary Academy moved to its largest, most modern, and final facility on Southside Drive and Kenwood Way, accommodating 400 students.

The first Holy Rosary Academy offered courses in composition, literature, mathematics, music,

Holy Rosary Academy, shown at its location on South Fourth Street in Louisville, was more than just a school – its auditorium hosted local artists and the building was an infirmary during the 1918 pandemic.

drawing, sewing and needlework. In the twentieth century, the curriculum added full preparatory academic and business courses, preparing graduates for college or futures as administrative assistants. The academy was first accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools (SACSS) in 1929. Along with the SACSS accreditation, Holy Rosary Academy was accredited by the Kentucky State Department of Education with an A rating from the academic year 1933-34, until it closed in 1977.











Posted in Celebrating 200 Years, News

Community in Action

Blog by Associate Mary Ellen George, OPA

“Please know we are here for you.”

These words were sent to me in an e-mail from a Sister here and filled my heart with gratitude and made me think of why I feel blessed to be a part of this community.

Familiar to many of us is the African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child.” This proverb conveys the importance of community in fostering the growth and well-being of a child.  Once we are adults, we still need the benefits of a community to grow and for our well-being. Few of us can grow without the help of others; our need for the presence of others in our lives is vital to living a fruitful, meaningful life. We are social beings who need to connect with others and we need the help of others to survive.

Faced with life’s challenges, we may try to do what we can alone without others, but more than likely, we will find we need community help to survive and thrive. We are healthier human beings when we have social support.  “Physiologically, not having a social support system is actually a source of chronic stress for our bodies,” according to research by Emiliana Simon-Thomas, PhD, Science Director of the Greater Good Science Center at The University of California, Berkeley.

Clearly, community is important to us and finding a community to help us along life’s path is not always easy.  What makes for a good community?  According to Coretta Scott King, “the greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members.” I find this quote significant at this moment in my life because I have been the beneficiary of such compassion from this religious community of the Dominican Sisters of Peace.

Recently, both my husband and I have been struggling with health challenges, requiring major surgery for both of us around the same time. The compassion and support we have received from the Sisters has been tremendous, filling our hearts with such gratitude during this difficult time for us. Experiencing this community in action in our personal situation has been heartwarming, brought home further by an email from one Sister who said to me, “please know we are here for you.”  These words sum up the beauty of this community and what this religious community is about in responding to the needs of those around them.

So, if you are a women discerning a vocation to religious life, I encourage you to explore this community of Sisters. In my own experience, the sisters practice what they preach and their example of being community to others is a beautiful testament to living out the Gospel message of serving and loving others.

Posted in God Calling?, News, Vocations Blog

Dominican Sisters to Speak at Albertus Magnus College Conversations on Faith, Life and Justice

Sr. Pat Connick, OP

Trinity and Community: A Mysticism of Creation

November 9, 2022, 5:30pm DST

Sr. Pat Connick, O.P., scientist and educator, leads a workshop on spirituality and science. Using contemplation, we will begin to learn to read the Book of Creation, focusing on various sciences, to explore models of community for everyday living and to experience the presence of God in Creation.

Click here to sign up. 

Sr. Joan Scanlon, OP

Albert the Great Lecture

November 14, 2022, 3:30pm DST

Join us for a celebration of the 200th Anniversary of the Dominican Sisters in the U.S. Sr. Joan Scanlon, O.P. will give the presentation. “Pioneering Women of the Past, Innovators Shaping the Future.”

Click here to sign up. 






Posted in News

Dominican Learning Center Featured in Columbus Dispatch, Columbus, OH

October 18, 2022

Second and third grade students held on to their yellow and blue plastic hard hats, smiles lighting their faces as they sang “Can we fix it?” and thrust both arms into the air.
A beat later, a fist pump accompanied their voices shouting, “Yes, we can.”
The students, singing “Bob the Builder,” were standing in the gymnasium of St. Mary School in Columbus’ German Village at a ceremonial groundbreaking where school and area officials Monday morning turned dirt over with shiny shovels.

St. Mary School students wear plastic hard hats before singing the theme song to "Bob the Builder" on Monday morning during a groundbreaking ceremony at the school's Columbus German Village campus. The school is growing and preparing for renovations as well as adding a student health center through a partnership with Nationwide Children's Hospital.

Work was to begin Tuesday on renovations to the current elementary school building. The project is expected to cost $18 million, with another $2 million planned to go to an endowed scholarship for students. Fundraisers announced they have raised $18.6 million so far.
The existing elementary and middle school buildings house 430 students from preschool through eighth grade. The renovations and new build will allow the school to enroll 500 students total, almost double the number it had five years ago, according to Principal Gina Stull. In the 2015-16 school year, 218 students were attending, according to the fundraising campaign site.
As part of the project, a building neighboring the school that is currently housing the church offices will become home to a Nationwide Children’s Hospital school health center and the Dominican Learning Center, an adult education center run by the Dominican Sisters of Peace. The church offices will move to the rectory.

A Mass was held Monday morning at St. Mary Catholic Church in Columbus' German Village before a groundbreaking ceremony to kick off a major renovation project for the existing school and a new school building.

‘Everyone is welcome’

“Today marks the next phase in our campus transformation,” Vince Nguyen, pastor of St. Mary of the Assumption Catholic Church, told the approximately 90 assembled people.
He said later that he hopes the changes at St. Mary School will be an example to others of the welcome they will experience when they encounter God’s love.
To local people, Pastor Nguyen said: “We’re here to help and support them to encounter God’s love in so many ways. … Everyone is welcome.”

Roman Catholic Diocese of Columbus Bishop Earl K. Fernandes hosted a Mass at the church before the groundbreaking ceremony.
“The work we are beginning today should enliven our faith,” he said during the ceremony.

A growing community

In the past few years, the school has grown and its student body has changed, with children from 30 different ZIP codes now attending there instead of them primarily coming from the South Side, Stull said.
Today, 90% of students use the state’s EdChoice voucher program, which allows children to go to private schools with a scholarship.
The parish is no stranger to capital improvements, as it went through years of renovations after its historic sanctuary was hit by lightning in August 2016.

St. Mary of the Assumption Catholic Church is the third oldest Catholic church building in Columbus. Located in German Village, it is expanding and renovating the neighboring school. A multipurpose parish hall will also be added for use by the parish and school.

Then, in 2020, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Columbus bought the former Golden Hobby shop building at 630 S. Third St. from the city for $1.23 million and turned it into a middle school building for St. Mary School. That same year, the roof on the gymnasium to the elementary school building, which sits on the other side of the church at 700 S. Third St., also was replaced.

The next stage of the school’s transformation will add 10,000 square feet of new classroom and learning space, an outdoor play area and a parish hall that will serve as student cafeteria by day. Much of the existing elementary school building hasn’t received a major renovation since it was built in 1955, and changes will offer modernization and technology updates.

Nationwide Children’s school health center to open January 2023

The new student health center is about 500 square feet of space that will house a nurse practitioner, therapist and nurse. It is set to open in January and is one of 19 the hospital aims to have open by the end of 2023, according to Mary Kay Irwin, senior director of school health services at Nationwide Children’s Hospital.
“We wanted to bring a health center into this community so there’s opportunity for children and families to access care outside the walls of a traditional hospital,” Irwin said. “The goal is to provide care for children not connected to a pediatrician.”
The center will serve children in the area and enrolled at St. Mary before, after and during school and will offer vaccines to adults. Later, the hope is to bring services for mothers and babies to the center, Irwin said.
The health center, which will also help students manage chronic diseases, will work with school nurses and can also reconnect children to their pediatricians, she said.
“The goal is to minimize nonacademic barriers to learning,” Irwin said. “Healthy children learn better.”

‘Cradle to grave’: Adult learning center to move to St. Mary

The Dominican Learning Center, an adult school now based on the South Side at Corpus Christi Catholic Church, will soon move to St. Mary Catholic Church and school, director Denise Hilliard said.
Founded in 1994, the center offers English as a second language, literacy education and GED preparation for adults, she said.
Mark Butler, director of founded ministries for the Dominican Sisters of Peace, said Nguyen came to the organization with the idea to move the center to German Village and a vision to make St. Mary a hub for comprehensive care for the community. The Dominican Sisters, an order of religious sisters based on Columbus’ East Side, were thrilled.
“It’s such a bold vision they have,” Butler said. “Partnering with Nationwide Children’s and creating a one stop place where families can go from the cradle to the grave, kind of all aspects of life. If they need support they can go to St. Mary’s and find it there.”

By Danae King

Posted in News

Sr. Mai-Dung Nguyen featured in Global Sisters Report

Global Sisters Report
October 10, 2022

Nurturing vocations is challenging, but ‘it’s all God’s work,’ sisters say

Sr. Kimberly Nguyen, second from left, poses with Sr. Oanh Nguyen, far right, and three biological sisters — Monica Do, Lorraine Do, and Catherine Do — at the Aug. 4-7 Marian Days celebration in Carthage, Missouri. (Peter Tran)

Sr. Kimberly Nguyen, second from left, is a vocation director of Lovers of the Holy Cross of Los Angeles. Here, she poses with Sr. Oanh Nguyen, far right, and three biological sisters — Monica Do, Lorraine Do, and Catherine Do — at the Aug. 4-7 Marian Days celebration in Carthage, Missouri. (Peter Tran)

CARTHAGE, MISSOURI — Vocation directors of various women’s religious congregations say personal contact with young people — inviting them to weekend retreats or to a “come and see” event to experience community life in addition to continuing phone calls, emails, or other social media outreach — is important in vocation work.

Young people “are searching for their purpose, their sense of happiness,” said Sr. Kimberly Nguyen of Lovers of the Holy Cross of Los Angeles. “They try to experience God in daily life.”

Sister Kimberly, Sr. Mai-Dung Nguyen of the Dominican Sisters of Peace, Sr. Tuyet-Mai Nguyen of Daughters of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary, and Sr. Janine Van Tran of Congregation of Mary Queen, all vocation directors and Vietnamese American sisters, spoke to Global Sisters Report about their congregations’ vocation ministries during the 43rd Marian Days celebration Aug. 4-7 in Carthage, Missouri.

High school and college students and young adults were among the tens of thousands of Vietnamese Americans from across the United States who came to this religious and cultural festival, attending outdoor services and workshops or trying snacks and drinks from various food stalls.

A booth run by Lovers of the Holy Cross of Thu Duc sells religious gifts and toys at the Aug. 4-7 Marian Days celebration in Carthage, Missouri. (Peter Tran)

A booth run by Lovers of the Holy Cross of Thu Duc sells religious gifts and toys at the Aug. 4-7 Marian Days celebration in Carthage, Missouri. The congregation, which is based in Vietnam, has several sisters in the United States earning degrees in theology and spiritual direction. (Peter Tran)

Many visited booths of congregations of women religious, who took the opportunity to connect with young women who seek purpose, a sense of belonging, opportunities for service, and a strong relationship with God and may consider religious life.

“It is a blessing to listen to all the stories from the young people,” said Sister Mai-Dung, who has been a vocation director of the Dominican Sisters of Peace since 2019.

The Marian gathering is a great opportunity for sisters to interact with youth from all over the country, said Sister Kimberly, who added it is “good to see the youth actively participating in adoration, liturgy, praise-and-worship sessions. After all, they are the church.”

She said she has contacted more than 100 young people in the course of a year in her vocation work.

Tens of thousands of Vietnamese Americans participated in 43 Marian Days Celebration, held Aug. 4-7, at Carthage, Missouri. This religious pilgrimage is being held annually except 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Peter Tran)

Tens of thousands of Vietnamese Americans participated in 43 Marian Days Celebration, held Aug. 4-7, at Carthage, Missouri. This religious pilgrimage is being held annually except 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The event included Eucharistic adoration, Mass, confession, workshops for youth and families, and Marian procession. It is organized by priests of the Congregation of the Mother of the Redeemer. (Peter Tran)

Personal contact with candidates is important, Sister Tuyet-Mai said. Last year, she said the Daughters of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary invited 15 candidates to a come-and-see experience. The congregation continued to stay in contact with them during their discernment to let them see the sisters’ daily life.

“We posted perpetual vows events, jubilees, Christmas and Easter celebrations, our pictures, and our reflections” to the congregation’s website and Facebook page, she said.

Although the sisters’ ministry is to promote vocations to religious life, they find their role is more of a spiritual guide.

“We help them discern whether religious life is theirs or not,” Sister Mai-Dung said. “Some women who tried our lifestyle realized that this is not their call. They told us that they have learned a lot about a community life. Now they are married and are happy about it.”

Sr. Mai-Dung Nguyen is a vocation director of the Dominican Sisters of Peace. The Dominican Sisters are working in 22 U.S. states, Peru, and Nigeria. They have about 400 members and 750 associates and are part of the Order of Preachers. (Peter Tran)

Sr. Mai-Dung Nguyen is a vocation director of the Dominican Sisters of Peace. The Dominican Sisters are working in 22 U.S. states, Peru, and Nigeria. They have about 400 members and 750 associates and are part of the worldwide Order of Preachers. (Peter Tran)

Sister Tuyet-Mai said when she asks young women if they want to join religious life, “most of them say no.”

She surmises that young people do not want to give up their lifestyles. Religious life is a “sacrifice,” she said, and “sacrifice is hard”: giving up a family and material things and committing to a life of service to others.

Sister Mai-Dung said she struggled with her vocation when she entered her Dominican community in 2000 after graduating with a degree in chemical engineering.

“I saw my friends who graduated with me starting their lives with high-paying jobs and having beautiful homes. What about me? I don’t have a house of my own,” she said. “Materialism makes it hard to let go. Some people thought I was crazy to become a nun. After much prayer, I feel I have been enriched by the religious life. I chose to serve God because I received so much.”

Sr. Tuyet-Mai Nguyen is a vocation director of Daughters of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary. (Peter Tran)

Sr. Tuyet-Mai Nguyen is a vocation director of Daughters of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary. (Peter Tran)

Sister Tuyet-Mai, who professed her first vows 21 years ago, said young people have misconceptions about religious life and often ask, “What do you do, Sister? Do you pray a lot, all day long?”

Young people do not realize that the sisters see their “work” as a ministry.

“Our ministries include faith formation, education and parish ministry. Some sisters work as nurses, pharmacists or physical therapists,” Sister Tuyet-Mai said.

Sister Mai-Dung said another misconception is that women need to be holy to be sisters.

“We are not perfect,” she said. “We are still human beings. We make mistakes. When we enter the convent, we learn how to help each other become a better sister.”

She added that some young people thought religious life would stop them from exploring the many other opportunities available to them. She said she explains to them that religious life is different today than before the Second Vatican Council: The church now encourages sisters to engage in society and develop their gifts and talents to serve the people of God.

Sister Janine said everyone, whether in marriage, priesthood, or single or religious life, is called to be in relationship with Jesus Christ.

Sr. Janine Van Tran is vocation director of the Congregation of Mary Queen. (Peter Tran)

Sr. Janine Van Tran is vocation director of the Congregation of Mary Queen. (Peter Tran)

“For religious, we are called to make visible what it means to encounter Christ, to be in love with him and to share that love,” she said. “Our life is a consecration to God.”

As part of her ministry as vocation director, a job she has done for the last 10 years, Sister Janine organizes “come and see” retreats at her community. She said it is important to invite candidates to experience religious life and exercise their freedom to choose.

“Sometimes, when potential candidates come to the door, we want to grab them and not let them go,” she said. “No, we must let them go to let them decide what they want to do with their lives.”

Sister Kimberly said many young people have an idea of what religious life is like from watching movies.

“They imagine that sisters are on their knees praying 24/7 in the chapel,” she said. “When they are with us during the come-and-see weekends or retreats, they see us laugh and joke around. They weren’t expecting that. They ask why these sisters are so joyful. Their sense of religious life changes.”

She said many of the people they journey with go to church and say the rosary, “but they don’t realize that there is a God who has a plan for them or loves them. There is a God who wills their greater good. They need to encounter that personal God. Once they are open to encounter God, then they are open to whatever God is calling them to do. That’s the only way to get anyone to even consider a religious life.”

Sister Kimberly’s Lovers of the Holy Cross of Los Angeles has mostly Vietnamese American sisters, but it is open to other nationalities and ethnicities.

“We currently have a Hispanic sister. We have two Caucasian sisters and an Indonesian sister. We speak and pray in Vietnamese and English,” she said. “At the dining table, it varies. We recognize that when we speak Vietnamese, one of our sisters will always translate for the other.”

The vocation directors said they find their ministry challenging. Sister Kimberly said her struggles include the pressure from her desire to have her community grow, questioning her competence, and not knowing the right thing to say.

“Of course, it’s all God’s work,” she said. “At the end of the day, I always say, ‘OK, Lord, I did my best. You made up for what I have [that] is lacking, especially journeying with these sacred souls who open their hearts to us.’ I am trying to maintain my wellness so I can continue to serve God’s people, especially those who are discerning.”


Peter Tran

Peter Tran is the assistant director of the Redemptorist Renewal Center in Tucson, Arizona. He is a former editor of the Union of Catholic Asian News at the main editorial office in Bangkok. During his years as a Redemptorist, his ministry was extensively in the field of pastoral care for refugees and migrants in the United States and at the Vatican.

Posted in News