Editor’s Note: This is a continuing series on religious orders serving in the Diocese of Charleston.
Dominican Sisters serve all over the world. Hundreds of different congregations exist, but they all harken back to St. Dominic.
Dominic de Guzman was born in Spain in 1170. His parents were Blessed Joan of Aza, renowned for her charity to the poor and her miracles, and the nobleman Felix de Guzman.
When he was about 14, famine struck his country and Dominic sold all his possessions to help the poor.
He was ordained into the Canons Regular, who customarily followed the Rule of St. Augustine.
In 1206, during the feast of Mary Magdalene, he received a sign from God that inspired him to begin the first foundation of Dominican nuns. The habit he created is still worn by some congregations today.
Roots in America
The first order of Dominican sisters to be established in the United States was the Congregation of St. Catharine of Siena in 1822. Nine women crowded into the initial convent, which was a one-room log cabin beside a creek in Kentucky, loaned to them by the Dominican friars. Their first school, St. Magdalene Academy, was an abandoned still house.
Mother Angela Sansbury, the first woman received into the Kentucky foundation, is considered the foundress of the Dominican sisterhood in the United States. Today there are over 30 congregations in America, according to their Web site.
Service in South Carolina
Over the years, South Carolina has been blessed with the presence of many Dominican sisters, most of whom are gone now. One of the most recent farewells occurred at St. Martin de Porres School in 1996 when the Sinsinawa Dominican sisters of Iowa left Columbia after 60 years of service.
Currently, four congregations have sisters serving in needy areas of the state. They are the Adrian Dominicans from Michigan; Our Lady of the Rosary Dominicans in Sparkill, N.Y.; Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, from Anne Arbor, Mich.; and Sisters of St. Cecilia, from Nashville, Tenn.
Across the State
Adrian Sisters can be found in communities throughout the state. Sister Pat Keating, a Sparkill Dominican who serves as coordinator for all religious women in South Carolina, said the Adrians first arrived in the early 1970s to serve in hospitals, schools and other areas of need. Sister Susan Kresse, who is retired, was a social worker at Mercy Hospice of Horry County. She said the Adrians still have about 11 sisters, working and retired, across South Carolina.
According to Sister Pat, they are: Sisters Mary Rae Waller, Columbia, chaplain at Sisters of Charity Providence Hospitals; Mary Ann Dardy, Columbia, USC counseling center; Mary Trzasko, Beaufort, Thumbs Up program; Beverly Stark, Beaufort, college ministry; Mary Lequier and Carol Dulka, Ridgeville (Givhans), Outreach to poor and Edisto Indians; Susan Kresse and Barbara Gentry, Myrtle Beach area, semi-retired, still doing outreach services; Sharon Culhane, director of Sea of Peace Retreat, Edisto Island.
The Sparkill Dominicans from New York have sisters from the east coast to the west, plus Pakistan and Peru, according to their Web site.
Two of those sisters are in Charleston: Sister Pat, who is the director of Neighborhood House; and Sister Joan Marie Looney at Our Lady of Mercy Outreach.
Sister Pat sat down with The Miscellany for about five minutes at Neighborhood House, where she had just finished cooking and serving the daily meal. From there she was going to take a senior citizen to the doctor.
As congregations face declines in vocations, fewer sisters are left to do even more work, she said.
She said the Sparkill congregation first came to South Carolina in 1997, and added that Dominicans had about 135 women religious here in a variety of ministries at one time, although that has dwindled to about 20 now.
On Hilton Head Island
The Dominican Sisters of Mary from Anne Arbor is one of the newest congregations to arrive here. Sister Mary Joseph Campbell said they came in 2006 at the request of Bishop Robert J. Baker, who was looking for teaching orders.
Sister Mary Joseph and three others — Sisters Maria Christi Nelson, Maria Rose Metzger and Victoria Marie Edge — all teach at St. Francis School.
“People think we play golf, but we don’t,” Sister Mary Joseph said with a laugh. “We actually study quite a bit.”
The sisters also spend a lot of time at school events and help the parishes of Holy Family and St. Francis by the Sea, she said.
The Sisters of St. Cecilia were also invited by Bishop Baker to teach in the state in 2006, said Sister Mary John Slonkosky, principal of St. Mary School.
Sister Mary John lives in community with three other sisters, who all follow the Dominican charism of the education of youth through service at St. Mary. They are Sisters Mary Lucy Sundry, Marie Isaac Staub and John Thomas Armour.
The Tennessee order is one of the few who still wear the habit of St. Dominic.
“It is a distinct, visible sign that reminds others, as well as themselves, about the life they are called to live,” Sister Mary John said.