In 1873, six Dominican sisters were sent from the Convent of St. Catherine of Sienna, near Springfield, Kentucky, to Jacksonville, Illinois, for the purpose of teaching a large population of Irish immigrant children whose fathers were building the railroad.
A rough start
Living conditions in those early days endangered the sisters' health; conditions in their four crowded classrooms weren't much better. What kept them going was their commitment to the Dominican mission and the promise that after two years in Jacksonville they'd return home to Kentucky for a summer vacation with their families and their communities.
At the Crossroads
That was, until it didn't happen. The very day they were packing for the long journey home the parish priest revealed that the plan all along was for them to establish a completely new congregation, separate from the Kentucky Dominicans.
The sisters, now at a crossroads, faced an uncertain future. They were being asked to sign a legally binding contract that they were only just made aware of. This contract would officially end their relationship with the sisters in Kentucky. How to move forward?
Heart, Zeal, Vision
“This was a decision that could not be made as a collective group,” wrote Sister Thomas Aquinas Winterbauer in a 1973 history of the Springfield Dominicans, Lest We Forget. “It was a matter in which eight people [there had been a change in the number of sisters on the mission] had to act as individuals. Each one had to search her own heart, weigh her own zeal, and measure her own vision.”
This was the heart of the matter. To do this, the sisters gave themselves over to a day of silent prayer.
The consequence of their deep prayer? “...fear had been lost in the magnitude of the commitment to which they were being called," wrote Sister Thomas Aquinas. "Like the Apostles, they felt drawn to witness Christ as He was asking them to do. One by one, each affixed her name to the document that sealed their acceptance of the trust of founding the congregation.”
Only the beginning
That's the story of how we got our start. Who we are today, where we go tomorrow, and however the Holy Spirit guides us to our future rests on the shoulders of our founding sisters' vision, courage, heart and zeal. It also rests on our shoulders, and those of the women and men God is calling to join us as sisters or associates. Could you be among them?