One of the fastest growing orders of women religious in the United States is expanding to California where the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, took over administration of a Sacramento Catholic school this school year.
Perhaps more significantly, the Dominican Sisters have outgrown the motherhouse in Ann Arbor, Mich., and are planning to build two new houses of formation in California and in Texas. Each would hold about 100. The order’s lifestyle intrigued Oprah Winfrey, who featured the sisters twice on her show in 2010. As a result they have been nicknamed the “Oprah nuns.”
“We had 22 young women enter in August, and we have had between 10 and 20 new vocations per year for the past five years,” said Sister Thomas Augustine, director of California Mission Advancement. “It has happened to us before that by the time we finished adding onto the motherhouse in Ann Arbor we were already out of room! This time we are hoping to stay ahead of things so we are planning for two new houses of formation.”
Founded in 1997 by four Dominicans from the Nashville Dominicans, just 31 of the 110 Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, have made final vows so far. The remaining religious are in various stages of formation or education and discernment, said Sister Thomas Augustine.
“We’re not turning anyone away. We’ll sleep on the floor. We’ll live in kitchenettes, closets and landings. We have in the past,” Sister Thomas Augustine said.
The land in Loomis near Sacramento was purchased by Fred and Joan Cordova, a couple who received a direct-mail piece and called in 2005 to say they wanted the order to come to California and would buy the sisters land.
There are now eight sisters in the Sacramento diocese. Four are teaching at Presentation School, an elementary school that saw its enrollment jump by 44 students to 196 when the sisters took over in the 2010-11 school year, said Kevin Eckery, spokesman for Bishop Jaime Soto. “This is the first increase in enrollment in five years,” Eckery said.
Under the city of Loomis’ planning and building regulations, the sisters expect their application to be approved Jan. 18 and after negotiating details and meeting regulatory requirements to be able to build by 2012, Sister Thomas Augustine said. Funding for construction still needs to be raised, she said.
The religious’ primary apostolate is teaching. Sisters are sent out in small groups. They are teaching and administering Catholic schools in California, Texas, Arizona, South Carolina, and Michigan. A new mission will open next year in Columbus, Ohio, Sister Thomas Augustine said. Fifteen sisters are obtaining their teaching credentials this year and will go out to teach next year.
“We deliver a Catholic education because we are in the business of saving souls,” she said.
The order is part of a worldwide resurgence among religious orders who embrace the traditional religious life as part of Pope John Paul II’s call for a new evangelization, Sister Thomas Augustine said.
“The thing to note is what we all have in common: the habit, living a common life, devotion to the Eucharist and Our Lady, absolute fidelity to the Church’s teachings and the influence of John Paul II,” said Sister Augustine, who was a New York lawyer before she joined.
Printed with permission from Catholic San Francisco, newspaper for the Archdiocese of San Francisco, Calif.