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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


Blog by Mary Kay Wood, OPA

A number of years ago a few of us used to walk in a nearby cemetery due to the condition of the roads which were paved.  One evening in late August we happened to notice many Monarch butterflies flying over our heads.  We watched as hundreds pass by and determined they were in the process of migration.

Where do these Monarchs go, you may ask?  Well, Eastern North America monarchs have a second home in the Sierra Madre Mountains of Mexico.  Monarchs in Western North America overwinter along the Pacific coasts near Santa Cruz and San Diego.

The butterfly, the type of species it is, its habitat, and the time of year when it becomes an adult are factors.  Larger butterflies generally live longer than smaller butterflies.  But size is not a guarantee that a butterfly will live longer.  The average lifespan is one month.  Some types of butterflies such as Monarch and Mourning Cloaks usually live up to eight or nine months.

The Monarch is the only butterfly known to make a two-way migration as birds do.  Unlike other butterflies that can overwinter as larvae, pupae, or even as adults in some species, monarchs can’t survive the cold winters of northern climates.  They seem to have a built-in cue that tells them when it is time to travel south for the winter.  These butterflies use a combination of air currents and thermals to travel long distances.  Some fly as far as 3,000 miles to reach their winter home.

Some butterflies can enter a state of dormancy in their egg, larva, pupa, or adult state.  Those that can overwinter as inactive adults are Small Tortoiseshell, Comma, Peacock, and Brimstone.  They remain dormant in tree holes, rock crevices, and other shelters.  It is reported that the butterfly secretes a type of natural antifreeze in their body fluids to prevent the formation of ice crystals on the surface of their bodies.

Climate change and habitat loss are among the largest threats to monarch butterflies.  Colder wetter winters could destroy these creatures as well as hotter, drier summers.  In the USA, monarchs need places to reproduce and feed heavily on the plant milkweed.  Herbicides need to be discontinued on vegetation and milkweed.

In the whole world, there are 17,500 different species and in the United States, there are 750 species of butterflies.  The Monarch can fly up to 10,000 feet or more up in the sky, much higher than most birds do.

Those of us who witnessed a small bit of the migration of the Monarchs that day in the cemetery are very grateful that we were in the right place and at the right time.

U.S. Forest Service

Posted in Associate Blog


Blog by Associate Theresa Kempker, OPA

I spend a lot of time pruning fruit trees and bushes.  While I was tending my small orchard, I started to see God’s hand in my life reflected in the act of pruning.

When a gardener prunes, first she must look the plant over, inspecting the overall form and the growth of every branch.  Sun and air must be able to reach every branch and thus every fruit.  The inspection goes quickly for a well-tended plant, but longer if more work is to be done.  How, the gardener wonders, can I make this tree bear as much as possible for as long as possible?  The gardener must study the plant carefully before and after every cut.

Then, the actual pruning starts.  Shoots growing straight up out of a limb are all removed.  They suck the strength out of a tree, block sun and air, and rarely bear.  Doesn’t that sound like sinful habits?  It’s great if God can somehow lop them off and get them out of our life.

Then crossing branches must go.  There can be two lovely, strong, healthy branches, but if they cross, the gardener must choose one to remove.  To choose, the gardener has to predict the way the branches will grow in years to come.  Will one go on to shade another branch, to cross another, to droop too far when loaded with fruit?  Then that branch must go, and it often must be cut at its base.  But the branch doesn’t know why it is removed, and truly, it did nothing wrong.  The gardener, however, can see that removal will improve the plant.  While removing such a branch, I can see many times in my life when God removed something, and I thought it was so unfair and unnecessary.  Now, I can look at my life and be thankful that God let the better branch live for me.

Tree branches want to grow up, but they need to be spread out, again to get that sun and air.  So, a gardener can attach weights to branches to get them to spread.  These burdens have to be placed carefully so as not to break the branch with too much weight.  The weight is moved as the branch goes from 20 to 45 to nearly 90 degrees.  The weights stay through storms and through winter, sometimes for six months and sometimes for two years.  Have you ever carried a burden and later realized that the carrying opened you up to be a better person?

Throughout the pruning, a gardener must step back, over and over, to look at the whole plant, because each change effects the rest of the plant.  I think that if I can observe the needs of a plant, surely God sees what we need.  Know that God the gardener is studying you, deciding what to remove from your life and what to add so that you bear good fruit, fruit that will last.

Posted in Associate Blog, News

Guns – Another personal (but darker) Story

Blog by Rev. Ron Kurzawa

Previously, I shared with you the story of a time when, at least for a few hours, I actually possessed a gun.

This is a second story and this time about a gun that “possesses” me.

These days as we recall gun tragedies in schools, our stories go back usually to beginning with Columbine and the student massacre that took place there. And while it is probably true that the horrid tales of modern day school massacres should be traced to Columbine, the reality is that  there is to be found a long history of gun violence in our schools.

And while this is not a tale of mass shootings or multiple deaths, it is a tale of a gun tragedy in a school and in our time. It is the tale that, for me, personally, marks the saga of modern day school gun violence.

This story unfolds in late April of 1984 on the West Side of Detroit in Precious Blood Grade School.

It was Holy Week and for the students Easter Break was right around the corner. In fact the final half day of classes before the Great Easter Break was coming to its final minutes. No doubt, with Springtime and Easter heavy in the air, the excitement among the students had to be running very high.

Minutes to go!

And in the eighth grade classroom one  young lad at that moment proudly decided to produce a unique token of his excitement.

He had brought a gun to school!

And this, minutes before that final bell, was the perfect time to produce this item and allow his friends to be properly impressed.

And, indeed, they must have been.

All the while, that is, until, somehow that gun went off. That weapon discharged.

A single bullet.

Just enough to tear across the room and lodge in the skull of an unsuspecting eighth grade girl, a young lady named Kelly.

And in an instant Kelly was gone.


I was the pastor of Precious Blood Parish at that time and, thus, that school was directly in my care. One of “my kids,” Kelly, was dead and still another, perhaps a couple of others, responsible for her death.

In an instant what had promised to be a calm and quiet few hours before entering the Easter Triduum suddenly turned into nothing short of a nightmare not just for me but for so many.

There were grieving, shocked parents and frantic, fearful parents and bewildered, dazed boys and girls and sirens everywhere and police and media and questions – questions mostly  with no answers right then.

Try, just try and sit down on an evening like that with parents who have just lost their daughter and try, just try and find some words to make sense!

And the next day, with media still hounding and legal authorities still searching for answers, that day that in our calendar is called Holy Thursday, I and the faculty and the parish staff spent in sessions with grief counselors, all just trying to put our own spirits and souls somehow back together.

And on that Friday which we call “Good” there was the usual Service that focused on that long-ago cross and death even as we continued to deal with a right-here-right-now senseless death.

In the evening the church building was filled to overflowing, not for prayer and worship, although there likely was plenty of that present in  hearts and minds, but rather for a neighborhood and community meeting to gather and talk about what had happened and how some healing might begin.

And in Easter Week – the Funeral!

And a whole lot of years have passed  since that moment, those days and yet, in all honesty, every time a new story of a school and youngsters and a gun or guns emerges, well, for me it is like tearing a bandage off an old wound and opening it yet again.

I continue to be called to grieve and so I do.

And as I do, I can only imagine what some parents are going through and some kids and some teachers and some First Responders. Sandy Hook! Uvalde! And so many others!

And I can also suspect that, even after all these years, there are those who were part of this story who, likewise, still feel the pain and those wounds. This sort of hurt just does not heal.

A single bullet has taken one life.

It has also wounded countless others.

I know.

I continue to be one of those.

Posted in Associate Blog, News

Reflection on the Scripture, Acts 15:1-2, 22-29

Blog by Pat Schnee, OPA

How did you feel when you heard the report that Ukrainian forces had sunk the Russian battleship, Makarov?

My immediate response was YES!  Then I heard a journalist reporting that though it’s easy to make jokes given the history of that battleship, “Still, there were 500 sailors on board and many of them are now underwater.”  It was an important reminder.

Like many of us, I was raised on good guys and bad guys, cops and robbers, heroes who saved the day with “POW” and  “BAM.”  Characters who brought peace and justice through violence.

Now, I believe that in Europe right now Russia is a violent aggressor. And I believe that Ukrainians have a right to protect their homeland. And I believe that it is incumbent upon us to support them.  But I am also reminded that “War is Hell” and always to be mourned.

In today’s gospel Jesus tells his followers, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you.” The peace that Christ gives is more than the cessation of violence, but a world where all share in the gifts of our Creator. It is an interior peace that grounds us in the knowledge that we are held in God’s hands and sustains us in the hard work for justice.

What can we do? Certainly, we can pray for peace at the international level. We can support political leaders who understand that the long-term effects of climate change makes large areas of the world unlivable and plants the seeds for violence. We can work at the local and national level to dismantle the structures of greed and racism which make human thriving difficult and peace impossible.

And we can remember the important truth that peace on earth begins with each of us. We can build bridges of dialogue with those with whom we disagree. We can speak our truth without being hurtful and belittling.

Today’s first reading tells us about an early controversy in the Christian community. And how staying with the conversation, dialog, and listening led to a resolution. Imagine how different Christianity would look today if Paul and those early Gentile converts had simply taken their marbles and gone home!

Posted in Associate Blog