Dominican Sisters of Peace Erect Monument to Honor Enslaved Persons

Cloudy skies and afternoon tornado warnings could not keep Sisters, Associates, and friends from gathering in the cemetery at St. Catharine, Kentucky on Tuesday, May 16, 2023, to bless a Memorial Monument remembering the enslaved men and women that were brought by the young women who answered the call to begin the first congregation of Dominican Sisters in the United States.

Although it is not a proud moment in the history of St. Catharine’s or the Dominican Sisterhood, it is a reality that there were slaves brought with the founding members of the congregation (1822-1865), while in other cases, wealthy supporters and relatives of the nuns donated enslaved people to the convents. These enslaved men and women were instrumental in the building of the original community in Siena Vale (the valley) and in assisting the young pioneer Sisters in their mission to teach the children of the frontier families.

Sister Barbara Sullivan welcomed all who were present to honor these men and women who worked alongside these pioneer women 200 years ago.  The service began with the recording of the song, “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child,” sung by Michael Preacely.

Associate Elaine Riley shared a reflection on John 16:12-13. 

In 2000, the Spirit of Truth opened the door to forgiveness for the sin of slavery within the reconciliation service hosted by the Dominican Sisters, Sisters of Charity, and the Sisters of Loretto at St. Joseph Proto-Cathedral in Bardstown, Kentucky.  This same Spirit of Truth brought us to this moment of recognizing those men and women, named and unnamed.  Their collective spirits were present.  This same Spirit will lead us into the future with hope and truth.

Fr. Kevin McGrath, Pastor of St. Rose Church, blessed the memorial monument.  Sister Blaise Flynn led everyone in a final prayer reminding us that “In All That We Do, We Will Remember Them.”

The prayer service ended with those present joining in singing “Down to the River to Pray.”

Following the service, all were invited to attend a reception in the Motherhouse dining room.

To view more photos of this event, please click here. 

Posted in Celebrating 200 Years, News

The Fire and the Flowers

Articles by Marilyn Rhodes, OPA

On January 2, 1904, St. Catharine Academy senior May Curry of Springfield was awakened by a muffled explosion and discovered the school was on fire. Nearly overcome by the smoke, she woke the Academy prefect, Sister Borgia McCann, who directed students to the children’s infirmary.  Sister Raymond Bird asked a novice to ring the summoning bell to call the novices to dress and assemble in the chapel. When it was apparent that the entire building was ablaze, sisters broke windows and tossed items to the ground in hopes of saving them. As flames advanced toward them, the sisters made sure that all students had vacated the school, then ran to escape the blaze. Many were still in their night clothes and reached for mantles from the chapel stalls to protect themselves from the cold.

As Sister Mary Edward Prendergast ran from the fire, she saw the profession book, in which recorded the names of all those who took vows, on a desk. She placed this important piece of history inside the desk to protect it, and as she was dragging it to the stairway, a man stopped to carry the desk down the stairs. The last to leave, Sister Bernard Fogarty was trapped by flame and smoke. She fled by breaking a window and climbing onto the roof, shuffling her way to another building, breaking another window and climbing through to escape.

By the grace of God, there were no fatalities in the fire. Immediate shelter was provided for 75 girls and 56 sisters by the Dominican friars of St. Rose, the Sisters of Loretto, Sisters of Charity, and Springfield citizens. Clothing was provided as well as many escaped wearing only their night clothes.

The news reached Louisville the next morning, prompting the friars of St. Louis Bertrand to organize a relief committee. This group provided food, clothing, and shelter. The Louisville and Nashville railway dedicated a special train, free of charge, to the relief committee.

Donations and support poured in from many religious communities. St. Francis DeSales in Charlestown, Massachusetts offered their convent as a novitiate. Holy Rosary Academy in Louisville made room for the sisters in their convent and created a classroom for St. Catharine students. A public meeting was held in Louisville to raise funds for the sisters; even a benefit concert was held in New York.

Only two buildings survived the fire –  the chaplain’s four-room cottage and the laundry. The cottage became living quarters and the laundry served as kitchen and dining room as well as laundry. With help from the friars, the sisters built a framework house, covered with a tarpaulin, known as the paper house.

The St. Catharine Academy and Motherhouse after the fire.

Ten postulants quickly advanced to accept the habit to prevent them from having to disrupt their study by leaving the motherhouse. These women professed as sisters on March 8, 1904.  Holy Rosary Academy in Louisville hosted St. Catharine seniors’ graduation in the spring.

The loss of the Academy and the Motherhouse was profound. In addition to the buildings, art, and books, all records except the profession book were lost to the fire. It was heartbreaking for the sisters as they witnessed the burnt remains of their home and their work.

In the spring, however, jonquils again bloomed at Sienna Vale. These robust flowers of spring became and remain a symbol of hope, or a Sign of God, that the Dominicans should continue their ministry.

The “Paper House” where the Sisters lived and worked after the fire.

The discussion on where to build the new St. Catharine Academy and Motherhouse continued for months, with many options and opinions offered. But in the end, the Sisters felt that the rural site at St Catharine would be the best place to rebuild the school. As important, this sacred ground had become home, and the Sisters did not want to leave. On May 9, 1904, the community decided to build on their own land. Said to be the highest point of elevation in Washington County, Sienna Heights became the present home for Dominicans in Kentucky.

The Sisters were also looking ahead to the future. Within months of the beginning of construction of the new building, Mother Agnes purchased a harp and hired a professor to instruct one of the Sisters, so that she would be ready to teach new Academy students. She sent another Sister to Boston to complete her studies in vocal music. Both of these directives illustrate the Sisters’ dedication to the Academy, as well as the belief, held to this day, that art is a form of preaching. Today, Dominican Sisters of Peace preach by painting, singing, writing, weaving, and even through the creation of pottery and fabric arts.

Posted in Associate Blog, Celebrating 200 Years, News

Joyful, Faithful and Resilient in Service to God’s People: Dominican Women Religious in the United States

WHEN THE FIRST DOMINICAN convent was founded in Kentucky in 1822, the sisters took joy in the blooms of the yellow jonquils that popped up in the valley annually. Nearly 75 years later, after a terrible fire left the sisters and their students homeless, they found hope when the jonquils bloomed again from the ashes. The beauty and resilience of these wildflowers have become a symbol for Dominican women religious across the United States.

As Dominican women religious in the United States celebrate 200 years of service to God and God’s people, we look back on the congregations that grew from that first convent in Kentucky, and the other Dominican Congregations that have helped to help shape not just the Order, but the church and the nation.

The first foundation of Dominican women religious in the United States was created at the request of Fr. Edward Dominic Fenwick, OP. Fr. Fenwick founded The Dominican Friars of the Province of St. Joseph in 1806 in Kentucky, and soon extended the ministry to Ohio.

Fr. Fenwick had big plans for his new ministry – but few hands to do the work. The Dominican Fathers of the Province of Kentucky had seen their brothers across the ocean having great success with foundations of tertiaries who opened schools in Asian nations and thought that a similar plan would work in Kentucky.

So it was that on a frosty February 28, 1822, Fr. Samuel Thomas Wilson, a priest in the frontier parish of St. Rose Church, rose to the pulpit to preach one of the most fruitful sermons of his life. With his friend Fr. Fenwick, Fr. Wilson dreamed of educating the youth of the new Kentucky settlement, and he wanted to find women to bring that dream to pass.

Nine women stood up and became the first foundation of Dominican women religious in the United States. Like their founder, St. Dominic de Guzman, and their patroness St. Mary Magdalene, these women lived in and among those they served,
responding to the needs of God’s people with hope, care, and love. And like the Dominican Order itself, they continued to grow.

The Paradox of Dominican Women Religious
Unlike today, these early groups of sisters were not considered “Congregations,” but rather, communities, subject to the local friar or Provincial. Sisters moved from community to community to serve the needs of the Church. This itineracy, always a trait of Dominican life, was also the impetus for new communities.

One example is the Springfield Dominicans of Illinois. The sisters who founded that community were requested from Kentucky by Illinois Bishop Baltes. When they departed, the Kentucky prioress made it clear that the new mission was to be financially independent. When the time came for those sisters to return home, Father P.J. Macken told them they were no longer affiliated with the
Kentucky community… and a new congregation was born.

American Dominican sisters were also caught in a paradox regarding their status within the Order. They were invited to serve in an active apostolate – but there was no concession for that sort of ministry in the Order. The Church approved only of those women who took solemn vows and entered the cloister – a lifestyle incompatible for the active ministry to which these sisters were called. Sisters were so concerned about their place in the Order that in 1848, every professed Dominican sister in the Kentucky and Ohio communities sent a letter to Pope Pius IX asking him to approve a modified Dominican life conducive to ministry.

In 1864, Master of the Order Vincent Jandel, OP, caused concern among the communities of Dominican women religious in the United States by making each community accountable to a local bishop, rather than to Dominican provincials and friars. As a result, sisters ended the practice of moving among communities as needed and began to form congregations.

It wasn’t until 1900 that Pope Leo XIII recognized all women and men who made simple vows as consecrated religious, clarifying their role in the Church.

The Expansion and Experimentation of Dominican Women Religious in America
From nine women in rural Kentucky, the footprint of Dominican women religious moved across the nation. This was the result of the rapid growth of the United States through immigration and expansion, and the Dominican fire to meet the needs resulting from that growth.

Less than a decade after the first founding of the Kentucky community, four Sisters began a second community in Ohio. Sisters from both communities responded to a request from the Dominican Bishop of Nashville, to start a school in Nashville. The resulting community became the Nashville Dominicans.

In 1847, Fr. Venerable Samuel Mazzuchelli and four sisters established a community of Dominican sisters in Sinsinawa, Wisconsin. Sisters from the Somerset, Ohio, congregation came to assist the fledging – and struggling – congregation in 1854, and Sister Joanna Clark  remained to serve as prioress.

The Sinsinawa community became a laboratory of sorts for the formation of active Dominican sisterhood. Based on their experience, Friar Mazzuchelli created a commentary on the meaning of the Dominican Third Order in relationship to the lives of sisters in active ministry. This document recognized that all members of the community were equal in their rights and obligations, and that ministry was of utmost importance. His Rule of 1860 was meant to be a guide for the many groups of active Dominican Sisters springing up across the United States.

The Dominican family was not growing only by expansion. Many congregations were missions from other countries, coming to serve the families of immigrants flooding into America. In 1853, a group of four cloistered nuns from the Holy Cross Monastery in Regensburg, Germany, landed in New York with the intention of founding a school to teach German immigrant children. No one met them at the dock, and these four women knew little English. They were taken in by the Redemptorist Fathers, and soon founded a school for 140 young women. As that congregation grew, their missions became communities of their own. Among the congregations that were born of these four sisters are Dominican Sisters of Hope, Dominican Sisters of Amityville, Caldwell Dominicans, Dominican Sisters of Grand Rapids, and
Adrian Dominicans.

In 1850, Friar Joseph Sadoc Alemany met Sister Mary of the Cross Goemaere, a Belgian novice, in Paris. She volunteered to accompany him to the United States, where she was to teach French at St. Mary’s in Somerset, OH. Upon arriving in the United States, Fr. Alemany decided to send Sister Mary Goemaere to California, where she was later joined by two sisters from Somerset, OH. This little community eventually became known as the Dominican Sisters of San Rafael.

The Effects of Vatican II
Dominican sisters across the US embraced the challenge and call to renewal of Vatican II. They continue to preach Christ’s Gospel through numerous ministerial involvements and are active in addressing many of the social justice issues that impact Americans, speaking out and acting against racial injustice, economic disparities, the death penalty, the arms race, climate degradation and more.

Another result of Vatican II was the creation of Perfectae Caritatis, focusing on the adaptation and renewal of religious life. Under this document, independent institutes considered as belonging to the same religious family were encouraged to form federations, especially as membership begins to decrease.

Conferences, Clusters and Mergers
In 1935 Martine Gillet, OP, the Master General of the Dominican Order, requested the formation of the Conference of the Dominican Mothers General of America. By 1939 all 28 congregations in the U.S. participated in annual gatherings of congregational leadership to discuss common aims and problems.

The Conference transformed over the years to allow members to deepen their Dominican spirituality, strengthen the mission, and develop relationships and collaborations. In 1972 the sisters included the Dominican Friars in the conference, creating the Dominican Leadership Conference (DLC), and sponsoring an NGO representative at the United Nations.

In the early 21st century the sisters began to discern a need for a separate conference dedicated to their needs and missions. Following a two-year process of study and consultation, a vote of the members of the DLC in 2009, and a vote of the Federation in 2010, the DLC held its last meeting in Maryknoll, NY, in October 2010, and The Dominican Sisters Conference (DSC) came into being. Today, the Dominican Sisters Conference unites U.S. Dominican Congregations in their mission to preach the Gospel of Jesus, standing as a clear voice for truth, justice, and peace.

Another important result of the Conference of the Dominican Mothers General of America was the formation of regional “clusters,” groups of congregations in relative geographic proximity. These “clusters” gave Congregations the opportunity to collaborate on ministries, laying the groundwork for future unions of religious congregations.

The Creation of “Peace”
The formation of Congregational clusters combined with the opportunities made available by Perfectae Caritatis set the stage for a new era in the life of North America’s Dominican women religious. In 2002, seven congregations: Kentucky Dominicans, the Dominicans of St. Mary of the Springs, the Congregation of St. Mary, the Dominican Sisters of Great Bend, the Eucharistic Missionaries of St. Dominic (EMD), the Akron Dominicans, and Congregation of St. Rose of Lima, began to discern the possibility of a union.

In many ways, this group of congregations was a perfect sample for such a large union. The founding congregations were of varied origin – homegrown, like Kentucky and the EMD’s, expansionist, like St. Mary of the Springs and Akron, or founded by Sisters who immigrated to minster here, like St. Mary’s and St. Rose of Lima. For nearly two centuries, these seven congregations of Dominican Sisters had educated children, cared for the sick and the wounded during war and plague, ministered to the poor and marginalized, and acted as spiritual centers in their communities. They had also conducted missions in China, South America, Vietnam, and Africa, even helping to create an indigenous congregation of Dominican sisters in Nigeria.

Each of the seven congregations had common ministries across the country that could benefit from partnership. Most important, each Congregation was dedicated to the preaching mission, and desired that the mission continue – and that was good enough reason to take the leap of faith that such a union would demand.

The “Peace” Dominicans
The story of the Dominican Sisters of Peace began in the frontier town of Springfield, Kentucky. The women who responded to Fr. Wilson’s sermon, including two blood Sisters, Angela and Benven Sansbury, received the Dominican habit in 1822 and founded the Dominican Sisters of St. Mary Magdalene, the first congregation of Dominican Sisters in the new nation. This congregation later became known as the Kentucky Dominicans and were foremothers to today’s Dominican Sisters of Peace.

The sisters promptly began the work requested by Bishop Fenwick and the Dominican friars – educating the children of the Kentucky frontier. The tiny cabin that they lived in left no room for students or supplies, so the new congregation moved to the Sansbury family farm, located on the banks of Cartwright Creek. There they established the first permanent Dominican convent in the United States, as well as the first Dominican school, built in a rehabilitated a “still house” formerly used for making bourbon.
The sisters welcomed 15 local students in July 1823.

Just as Christ sent out the 72 apostles and Dominic assigned friars to preach across Europe, the Dominican sisters in Kentucky knew that they needed to evangelize and grow. Just eight short years after their foundation, the Kentucky sisters sent four sisters, including founder Benven Sansbury, across the rutted trail of Zane’s Trace to the new frontier of Ohio. Bishop Edward Fenwick was the first priest to serve this parish. He and his nephew, Fr. Nicholas Dominic Young opened Holy Trinity Church, near Somerset, Ohio, in 1827, and welcomed the help of the Kentucky sisters in their mission.

Once they arrived in Somerset, Ohio, the sisters rehabilitated an old carpenter’s shop to serve as their first school, which they named St. Mary’s. Within a month they had welcomed 30 students.

As the sisters in Kentucky and Ohio were building schools in Kentucky, Ohio, and later Tennessee, a Cabra Dominican nun from Dublin, Ireland, responded to a request from Fr. Jeremiah Moynihan to staff a school for Irish immigrant students in the New Orleans parish of St. John the Baptist. Mother Mary John Flanagan and six other sisters made the journey across the sea to found the Dominican Sisters of St. Mary’s, New Orleans. On December 3, 1860, the Sisters of St. Mary’s opened their first school to 200 young women.

The Sisters from Ireland might have crossed nautical paths with a new convert to the faith, Lucy Eaton Smith. The Brooklyn native was traveling to Europe to fulfill her own spiritual aspirations. There her Dominican spiritual advisor, Father Aquilanti, introduced Lucy to the Cenacle, a religious foundation devoted to strengthening the spirituality of women through retreat work. After entering the Order as a Third Order tertiary in 1876, Smith returned to the United States to create an institute whose mission was to meet the need for faith formation and spiritual development of women.

It was difficult for Lucy to garner support for this mission because the local bishop did not believe it could support itself. But with the cooperation of Bishop Francis McNeirney of Albany, NY, Lucy began to offer classes and programs in spiritual formation to women in Glen Falls, while opening a much-needed school. Before she died, Lucy Eaton Smith, who took the religious name Sr. Catherine de’Ricci opened two retreat houses, pioneering the ministry of spiritual retreats and formation for women in the United States. The de’Ricci sisters were not part of the 2009 union that created Peace but merged into the Congregation in 2012.

As important as spiritual renewal and healing was to our founding congregation in New York, the Dominican Sisters in Great Bend, KS, ministered in another sort of healing. Mother Antonina Fischer, six sisters and two candidates left Brooklyn, New York in 1902 with the intention of teaching the Catholic children of the pioneer town of Great Bend, KS, but soon discovered that the residents were much more in need of a hospital.

Mother Antonina decided to serve both needs, and opened a school in 1902, an eight-bed hospital in 1903, and a 20-bed hospital in 1904. As the healthcare centers grew, so did the need for trained nurses, and the Congregation opened a nursing school in 1917.

By the time the Congregation in Great Bend celebrated its Jubilee, the sisters had founded schools in Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Colorado, as well as three hospitals in Kansas and one in Nebraska.

Back in Louisiana, Catharine Bostick had caught the attention of Archbishop Shaw of New Orleans. Shaw supported Catherine’s vision of a foundation that would evangelize, catechize, and offer nursing and social services to ALL people – white and black, rich, and poor. This was radical thinking in rural Amite, LA! Catherine and her companion, Zoe Grouchy, made their first vows in 1927, naming their new congregation the Missionary Servants of the Most Holy Eucharist.

Five years later, at the request of the newly installed Archbishop, the Congregation moved to New Orleans. In 1939, in response to a request from Bishop Gerke, two Sisters traveled to Tucson, AZ, to help teach and evangelize among the native Americans and immigrants there.

In 1956, the Missionary Servants of the Most Holy Eucharist were re-established as the Eucharistic Missionaries of St. Dominic and incorporated into the Dominican Order.

At the urging of Bishop Joseph Schrembs of Cleveland, the Dominican Sisters of Caldwell, New Jersey, founded a new provincial house and school in Akron, OH., in 1923. Housed in a mansion known as Elm Court, the sisters named their Ohio affiliate “Our Lady of the Elms.”

During a 1926 visit by the Bishop Thomas Walsh of Newark, Bishop Schrembs arranged to create an independent congregation of Sisters to serve his diocese. The bishop supported the separation of the two communities, which was formalized in 1929. Twenty-seven sisters elected to return to New Jersey, while sixty-seven stayed in Akron to create The Sisters of St. Dominic of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

The new Congregation faced significant financial challenges, but the sisters continued to expand their ministries. By 1935, there were 105 Akron Dominican Sisters teaching in Ohio elementary and high schools. In the 1960’s, their missions expanded to care of the elderly and campus ministry.

The Akron congregation branched off to serve two geographically separate parishes. The Oxford Dominicans, founded in 1950, was part of a division that happened at the request of the Congregation.

Originally founded as the American Province of the Olomouc Dominican, the mission was formed for the “for the salvation of their souls and the preservation of the Slovak heritage.”

World Wars I and II greatly affected the Slovak people, and sadly, tension between the Slovaks and Czechs within the Congregation began to influence their ministry to Slovaks and their relations to one another. In January 1949, a secret ballot to determine the question of separation resulted in 50 in favor of and one opposed to separation.

In August 1950, the American Province of the Olomouc Dominican would become the Oxford Dominicans, and the new Congregation moved to the Coyle Estate in Oxford, MI. Over the years, the property was transformed to meet the needs of the Congregation and the community, creating a retreat house for women, a junior college, and, at the request of Archbishop John Dearden, a 100-bed nursing Facility. The new facility, named Lourdes, continues to provide care for the residents of the area to this day.

The Union of Peace
In the early years of the twenty-first century, as these seven congregations began to look to a combined future, they formed committees to discuss everything from community life, prayer, Dominican mission, the location of Motherhouses, and the continuation of ministry to the name of the new Congregation. After seven years of discernment and prayer, the newly formed Congregation, The Dominican Sisters of Peace, held their inaugural General Chapter on Easter Sunday, 2009, and were blessed to be joined by the Master of the Order, Father Carlos Aspiroz, OP.

In 2011, after nearly 10 years of research, discernment and prayer, the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine de’ Ricci requested to merge with the Dominican Sisters of Peace. The merger ceremony took place on December 15, 2012.

Looking Forward in Peace
In the 12 years since the union, the Dominican Sisters of Peace have continued to work in all the ministries to which the sisters were originally called – and more. As we celebrate the 200th year since our founding, we are blessed to also celebrate a combined ministerial history of nearly 1500 years of service to God, God’s people, and the Church – and we are not done yet.

Thousands of children have been educated at the hundreds of schools founded in states across the country, and today, we are still affiliated with schools in Louisiana, New York, Ohio, and Tennessee. Our educational ministries also include two colleges and three adult learning centers.

Our hospitals in Kansas and Colorado were founding facilities in Common Spirit Health, the third-largest health system in America. Our long-term care homes in Kentucky, Michigan and Ohio offer compassionate care for both Sisters and laypersons.

Our four eco-spiritualty ministries hold more than 1000 acres of land for sustainable food production, ecological education, and the enjoyment of God’s precious creation.

Our community outreach and retreat centers in Kansas, Louisiana, New York, and Ohio work with their local communities to promote physical and spiritual health and community peacebuilding.

Across the country, our sisters’ personal ministries include spiritual guidance, pastoral work, health care, teaching, service to the poor, immigrants, enslaved and imprisoned persons, and preaching of every kind.

Around the world, we collaborate with partners in Africa and Jamaica to offer education, healthcare and hope.

The Dominican Sisters of Peace presently have 10 women in various stages of formation, who bring a variety of gifts from medical care to administration, to teaching. The Congregation is active in national and international planning for the future of the Order’s women religious and continue to preach the Gospel of Christ’s peace in word and in action, in our lives and our ministries.

The future of religious life is one that will require resilience – the strength to move past obstacles both secular and clerical to preach Veritas, the truth who is Christ. As we look forward to the next two hundred years, we women of the Dominican Order in the United States, we hope that we can be as the jonquils that our foremothers loved so much, and like the spirit of our beloved founder St. Dominic – joyful, faithful and resilient in the service of God and God’s people.


Posted in Celebrating 200 Years, News

Dominican Sisters of Peace Memorialize Enslaved Persons at Prayer Service

Sr. Rosemary Rule, OP, opens the prayer service honoring the enslaved persons who helped to build the St. Catharine Motherhouse and farm during the early days of the Congregation. Program speakers, from left, included Barry Burton and Marshall Fields, as well as vocalist Dr. Michael Preacley.

As the Dominican Sisters of Peace celebrate the 200th anniversary of Dominican Women Religious in the United States, the Sisters of the Congregation have also chosen to recognize the sin of slavery.

In an October 2, 2022, service at the Congregation’s Motherhouse in Springfield, KY, the Sisters offered a memorial to the enslaved men and women whose labors supported the young women from St. Rose Parish who founded the first congregation of Dominican Sisters in the United States.

This memorial service was created and presented in collaboration with the “I Was Here” Project, a Kentucky-based art exhibit that seeks to reframe the conversation around racism and slavery through the lens of art.

The service included music by nationally recognized vocalist Dr. Michael Preacley and from Congregational vocalists, comments by Marshall Fields, founder of F.R.E.E.D.O.M. from RACISM Training, and by Barry Burton, a Kentucky-based writer. Sr. Rosemary Rule served as the host of the ceremony.

Recent historical research done in the Springfield area allowed the Sisters to recognize a number of the formerly enslaved persons by name during the ceremony.

Angela Crenshaw, OPA; Sr. Mary Louise Edwards, OP, and Sr. Louisa Derouen, OP, sing the Litany of Blessing of the Enslaved.

Sister Barbara Sullivan, OP, worked closely with the “I Was Here” project team to present the prayer service. “Working with “I Was Here” was a blessing.  We were able, for the first time,  to name and honor some of the enslaved African-American women and men who were here with us at St. Catharine in founding the first mission of Dominican Sisters in the United States. Through the power of the arts, we are able to see others for who they were and are, and to help in healing the legacy of racism.”

The Dominican Sisters of Peace have conducted a number of congregational studies on racism over the past years, and in 2017, welcomed Shannen Dee Williams, associate professor at the University of Dayton and author of Subversive Habits: Black Catholic Nuns in the Long African American Freedom Struggle, to address Sisters.


To view the “I Was Here” memorial service on the Dominican Sisters of Peace YouTube channel, please click here.


Posted in Celebrating 200 Years, News

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