Dominican Sisters Welcome the Public for Solemn Evening Prayer October 7

Like all Catholic sisters around the world, the Dominican Sisters of Springfield gather at least twice a day for Liturgy of the Hours, a prayer tradition that pre-dates Christianity. The sisters’ prayer incorporates psalms, canticles, and sacred texts from Jewish and Christian scriptures.

Springfield Dominican Sisters are known among Dominicans nationwide as “the songbirds of the order.” For that reason alone, you’ll not want to miss the chance to sing prayer with them at 6:30 p.m. Sunday, October 7, when the sisters welcome the public for solemn evening prayer. The 30-minute service is the capstone event of Sacred Time, Sacred Space, the 50th anniversary celebration of the dedication of Sacred Heart Convent Chapel. Sister Rebecca Ann Gemma, the prioress general of the congregation, will preach.

Music and sung prayer has been a hallmark of Springfield Dominican life since the congregation was founded in Jacksonville in 1873. “In our records we can see, going back to the 19th Century, every time we started a new mission, there was the purchase of a piano,” said Sister Phyllis Schenk, the pastoral associate at Holy Spirit Parish, Carterville, Ill.

Sister Phyllis was in the first class to make first profession of vows in the new chapel in 1968. “Music has been an important heritage for us,” she said. “Not only did it help us financially (with income from piano lessons), but it was also the way we expressed our prayer.”

The same day Sister Phyllis professed her first vows, Sister Karen Freund made her perpetual profession, vowing a life of poverty, chastity, and obedience until death. “Our sung prayer is what integrates all the aspects of our religious life,” Sister Karen said.

Modern science—and some French movie stars—agree with her. Scientific studies show that singing with others improves breathing and heart rate, releases endorphins to battle depression, reduces pain, and synchronizes the choristers breathing, creating an overall sense of well-being and unity. To say nothing of the way it elevates the heart to a relationship of union with God and with all the suffering and joys of the world.

“To chant psalms together is to share the Breath of Life”

Two French actors who played Benedictine Monks in the award-winning film Of Gods and Men came to that conclusion too. The film is based on the true story of monks in Algeria, some of whom were assassinated by extremists in the midst of the Algerian civil war in 1996.

The actors did their own singing in the film. They expressed surprise at the effect it had on them personally. “Through songs that elevate and unite us, we became brothers,” said Lambert Wilson, who played Abbot Christian.

“To chant psalms is to breathe together, to share the Breath of Life,” said Olivier Rabourdin, who played Brother Christophe. 

“Singing is a kind of language that speaks to your heart,” said Sister Karen. “It doesn’t speak to your mind alone. It’s not just words or reading, it’s the language of prayer.”

“On October 6, 1968, our beautiful chapel was formally dedicated. It is the center of our shared life, our prayer life, and our vowed life as Catholic Sisters,” said Sister Beth Murphy, OP, the Dominican’s communication director and coordinator for Sacred Time, Sacred Space. “For a half-century this stunning place has shaped our prayer and Eucharistic celebrations. It holds all the joy of our communal celebrations, and all our tears of our grief for the suffering of the world. We welcome all to celebrate that and to join our voices in a common prayer for the healing and well-being of the world.”

During the day on October 7, visitors to the convent can tour the chapel, learn more about the Dominican Sisters’ life and ministry, and visit with the sisters and their associates in an exhibit space beneath the chapel. There are activities for children, and light refreshments. Doors open at 11:00 a.m. The first tour is 11:15. Tours are offered at 45-minute intervals. The last is scheduled at 3:00 p.m. Tour group size is limited, so pre-register for a tour time at springfieldop.org/chapel50 to assure entry.

The Dominican Sisters of Springfield are part of a worldwide Dominican family, the Order of Preachers. For more than 800 years, Dominicans have prayed together and preached the Gospel in word and deed. The Springfield Dominicans were established in Jacksonville, Illinois, in 1873 and relocated to Springfield in 1893. Today, thousands of Dominican sisters, nuns, priests, brothers, associates, and laity minister in more than 100 countries around the world. Want to join the Dominican Family? Be in touch!

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“To chant psalms is to breathe together, to share the Breath of Life.”

–Olivier Rabourdin, Brother Christophe in the film Of Gods and Men