Three women on a mission


HILTON HEAD — Students at St. Francis by the Sea School have a new influence in their lives.

Sister Ave Maria Hayes, 34, Sister Maria Rose Metzger, 27, and Sister Mary Joseph Campbell, 27, came to South Carolina to serve as missionaries and to teach at St. Francis. They are from the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist in Ann Arbor, Mich.

The sisters are glad to be in South Carolina and are a welcome addition.

“We really want everyone to know just how excited we are to be here,” said Sister Ave Maria.

Bishop Robert J. Baker sought out the order’s ministry after St. Francis School submitted a formal request to the diocese. The mother superior visited the area and sent the three nuns.

Sister Ave Maria teaches pre-kindergarten and has undergraduate degrees in theology and nursing from Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio. She was raised in Michigan in a devout Catholic family, and said she had dreams of running away to join Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity at age 5. It was at Franciscan University that she fell in love with her faith for the first time, she said.

In 1996, Sister Ave Maria saw an announcement for a new order of sisters in Ann Arbor. The name of the order — Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist — caught her attention immediately. She entered the convent in 1999 and professed her final vows in July 2005.

Sister Maria Rose Metzger teaches middle school science at St. Francis and has a degree in elementary and special education from Millersville University in Pennsylvania. She grew up in Harrisburg, Pa., and her older brother, a Franciscan Friar of the Renewal, helped her discern for religious life. She made her first profession of vows in August 2005.

Sister Mary Joseph Campbell teaches middle school math and has an undergraduate degree in elementary education — with an emphasis on physics, astronomy and mathematics — from Eastern Michigan University. A Michigan native, Sister Mary Joseph entered the Dominican Sisters of Mary in 1997. She is currently working on a master’s degree in liturgical studies.

The three are close in age and have spent time together at their convent. Coming to South Carolina has been a bonding experience for them.

“Your religious community is your family,” said Sister Ave Maria.

She said the order now has a relationship with the diocese and St. Francis School that will allow sisters to continually serve in the area. Whether the three will return for another school year will be determined by their mother superior.

Their home on the island, paid for by St. Francis and Holy Family churches, has been transformed into a convent. The sisters said they have been enjoying their new home and love the beauty of Hilton Head. They arrived August 10, and school started August 16.

Teaching the students at St. Francis has been a rewarding experience.

“These are the most open and attentive students we have ever taught,” said Sister Mary Joseph. “They ask deeper questions. They are hungry for the truth.”

The sisters said their primary focus is to be religious and prayerful. Teaching flows from that, said Sister Ave Maria.

“If we don’t pray first, we don’t have anything to give to these kids,” she said. “All the people have been so welcoming. We have definitely felt the Southern hospitality all around us.”