Whether intentionally or not, the opening hymn chosen for Mass at Our Saviour Parish, Jacksonville, Ill., on April 22—a day for celebrating 150 years of the Springfield Dominican Sisters’ mission—was the same one sung 25 years ago when the sisters and the parish celebrated the 125th anniversary of the Dominican Sisters’ founding.
“River of glory, springs of our birth…” the assembly sang as they welcomed a procession of Springfield Dominican Sisters and Associates carrying festive banners and leading the way for concelebrants, Fathers Adam Zawadzki and Alan Hunter.
“We are born from the darkness and clothed in the light!” they sang.
It was true. 150 years ago, on August 19, 1873, the new congregation of Dominicans was born in the darkness. It wouldn’t be until two years later, June of 1875, that their mission in Jacksonville would be completely illuminated: they were to begin a new Dominican foundation on the Illinois prairie. They would not return home to Kentucky, as they thought, after two years teaching immigrant children at St. Patrick School.
For this reason, Jacksonville is also, for the Dominican Sisters, “the springs of our birth.”
More than 60 Dominican sisters and associates marked the occasion with a full day of celebration. The morning began with Jacksonville Mayor Andy Ezard’s proclamation on the steps of the Jacksonville Area Museum, in honor of the sisters “as a special tribute and recognition of their 150th anniversary For the Life of the World, and for their contribution and ministry to the people of Jacksonville, Illinois.”
Inside the museum, Springfield Dominican Sister Susan Karina Dickey, one-time archivist for the diocese, helped put the celebration in context for the people of Jacksonville. “What I see unveiled in the story of the Dominican Sisters of Jacksonville is complete trust in God’s providence,” she said.
Sister Karina noted that God has guided and continues to guide the community as they make corporate stances for justice, steward and share their financial resources, work to dismantle racism and care for creation as they do at Jubilee Farm and in other ways. “These are visible manifestations of the commitment we Dominican Sisters vow to God and to each other,” she said.
Then there is the part of the sisters’ lives that is largely hidden from view, she added: “Daily personal prayer and the communal celebration of the Liturgy of the Hours. The daily celebration of the Liturgy of the Eucharist, the regular celebration of the sacraments of reconciliation and anointing of the sick…Our reliance on personal and shared contemplation, both of the Word of God and the long loving gaze on the world around us, trying to see as God sees, to love as Jesus loves.” This part, too, is integral to the sisters’ mission For the Life of the World.
In early afternoon the celebration moved to Jacksonville’s Calvary Cemetery, where the sisters recalled their founding sisters and the many benefactors who made possible the congregation’s growth and development in the early years. Sprays of flowers were placed on the graves of four sisters buried in Jacksonville and on the nearby grave of Charles Routt, a church trustee at Our Saviour, whose decades-long commitment to the sisters led to the gift of the land in Springfield on which Sacred Heart Convent and Sacred Heart-Griffin High School stand today.
The celebration culminated with the Mass at Our Saviour and a celebratory meal at Routt High School. Preaching on St. Luke’s story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus, Father Adam invited the congregation to reflect on where they might see God walking beside them, where they have found Christ speaking to them through friends and family members. “In their many years of service the Dominican Sisters may have been that presence in your own life,” he said. “They may have been the ones who were a guide during a difficult time for you. We are overjoyed with all the time and the love the Dominican Sisters have given, and continue to give to this community through the Dominican associates. We are thankful for the Dominican Sisters who have been our guides and our friends. We are thankful for what they have taught us and how they have formed us to be disciples of Christ.”
At the end of the liturgy Sister Rebecca Ann Gemma, prioress general of the Dominican Sisters, also addressed the congregation. “With gratitude, we sisters…unite our voices in thanksgiving to our loving God who continues to call us forth to preach the word, even when there is sorrow,” she said, acknowledging the recent death of two Our Saviour’s parishioners. “We thank you for how you have touched our lives…. we say thank you to you and to your ancestors who welcomed us into this community of faith.”
After the Dominican sisters and associates blessed the assembly with Sister Mary Jean Traeger’s musical version of the 13th century Dominican blessing, everyone was welcomed to Routt Catholic High School for a meal and an opportunity to share stories and reminisce about the 142 years of Dominican presence in the parish.
“We couldn’t have asked for a more joyful, beautiful celebration,” said Sister Mila Diaz Solano, a member of the Dominican Sisters’ leadership team and chair of the 150th anniversary ad hoc committee. “So many sisters, associates, and friends of the community worked together to make it possible. The cooperation of Father Adam and his staff, parishioner and caterer Sue Tapscott and her crew of helpers, the support of Routt principal Dan Carie and the rest of the team at the school—their kind welcome and hard work all conspired in the creation of this marvelous celebration of the mission God has given us to accomplish.”
The event was also made possible with donations from the parish chapter of Catholic Daughters of America and several sponsors: O’Shea Builders, Prairie State Plumbing and Heating, Mid-State Acoustics & Sound, Henson Robinson Company, KEB, and LSV Asset Management.
The celebration continues
You can learn more about the Springfield Dominican Sisters’ 150th anniversary celebration at springfieldop.org/150years, where you will find stories, prayers, and details about the culminating celebration, a public Mass at Sacred Heart Convent on August 19.
An interactive exhibit and artifacts from the Dominican Sisters’ archives are on display at the Jacksonville Area Museum through July 30, 2023. Visit jacksonvilleareamuseum.org for details.
Read about the impact of the Dominican Sisters’ ministry and share your own story at springfieldop.org/150stories.