AVONDALE — Nashville is Music City so it’s no surprise the trio of Nashville Dominicans now living in the Diocese of Phoenix came with singing voices.

They use them purely to glorify God and at distinct times throughout the day.

(Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)
Sr. Mary Brigid Burnham and Sr. Mary Jordan Hoover, both Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia, pose in their Avondale convent Aug. 25. They, alongside Sr. Mary Gertrude Blankenhage, OP, who is temporarily teaching at St. John Vianney in Goodyear, will staff St. John Paul II High School when it opens in 2018. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)

They chorally pray the Divine Office at 6 a.m. and attend daily Mass each morning. They live their lives in prayer while serving at 27 elementary and 13 high schools in 28 dioceses nationwide. That doesn’t factor in Canadian, European or Australian apostolates.

Wherever the sisters serve, vespers at 5 p.m. and a Rosary precede dinner. Chanting the Compline, the night prayer of the Church, round out their day at 7:45 p.m.

The sisters — properly referred to as the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia — also sing “Salve” and the “O Lumen,” in accordance with the ancient tradition of the Order, one with eight centuries of history. At least that’s the schedule they will keep once the trio officially moves into their convent.

The Dominican Sisters have been boarding with the Society of the Lady of the Most Holy Trinity Sisters — who appropriately serve at Most Holy Trinity Parish and School — since their arrival this summer. Sr. Mary Gertrude Blankenhagen, OP, set foot on Arizona soil July 31 with Sr. Mary Jordan Hoover, OP, and Sr. Mary Brigid Burnham, OP, joining Aug. 13.

The Dominican Sisters will permanently settle into their Avondale convent near St. Thomas Aquinas once a few more necessities come through.

MaryBeth Mueller, superintendent for the Diocese of Phoenix, stands with Sr. Mary Jordan Hoover, OP, April 5 during a site blessing at the forthcoming St. John Paul II Catholic High School in Avondale. (Billy Hardiman)
MaryBeth Mueller, superintendent for the Diocese of Phoenix, stands with Sr. Mary Jordan Hoover, OP, April 5 during a site blessing at the forthcoming St. John Paul II Catholic High School in Avondale. (Billy Hardiman)

Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia

The order was founded in 1860 and has more than 300 sisters in teaching apostolates today.

“Our first priority is to get a chapel so we can live our religious life. When we have a chapel, then it’s a convent,” Sr. Mary Jordan explained to The Catholic Sun Aug. 25. At the time, the Avondale home was only furnished with three white plastic lawn chairs handed down from a neighbor.

“Our life is rhythmed by the order of the prayer of the Church,” Sr. Mary Jordan continued. “That’s essential before we can really make any progress with the school.”

That place of learning, St. John Paul II Catholic High School, is scheduled to open in 23 months. Getting it off the ground, literally, is why Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted invited the sisters.

He wanted to continue the tradition of allowing Catholic school students to benefit from the unique witness to the gospel and “the strong and faithful leadership of religious and priests.” The sisters will complement the many contributions of the lay faithful, the bishop said.

Principal Sr. Mary Jordan Hoover, OP, meets with St. John Vianney students during the site blessing for St. John Paul II Catholic High School April 5. (Billy Hardiman/CATHOLIC SUN)
Principal Sr. Mary Jordan Hoover, OP, meets with St. John Vianney students during the site blessing for St. John Paul II Catholic High School April 5. (Billy Hardiman/CATHOLIC SUN)

Students at nearby St. John Vianney School in Goodyear, which will be among the new high school’s feeder campuses, have already gotten to know Sr. Mary Gertrude. She is teaching art and middle school religion until the high school opens.

The greater community is becoming more familiar with the habited sisters too. Shoppers often approach them at the local grocery store to thank them for being in Arizona and opening the school. A grocery clerk, noticing the interactions, told the sisters, “You all bring sunshine wherever you go.”

About the congregation

800 years of Gospel mercy

Characteristics of their charism

Apostolate

History

The Dominican Order is celebrating its 800th anniversary this year with the St. Cecilia Congregation coming on board in 1860. The Phoenix Diocese is one of four new U.S. apostolates this school year with a fifth in Ireland. So far, the Dominican trio — who all made final vows on the same August day in 1993 — is embracing Arizona life.

“I have enjoyed very much the natural sunsets and the storms and threats of storms,” said Sr. Mary Brigid. She grew up one of 10 children in Farmington, New Mexico.

The sisters already have two local workshops scheduled for helping families pray together. They’re available in English or Spanish and draw upon content from a book on the topic the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia released in English or Spanish at the World Meeting of Families last year.

Hear the Nashville Dominicans on SoundCloud

As the sisters continue to settle in, they will begin meeting with diocesan staff and volunteers who have laid the groundwork for St. John Paul II High School. Bishop Olmsted noted the sisters’ years of proven leadership experience. That includes Sr. Mary Jordan, who will serve as principal, “comes directly from having founded and very successfully led the first St. John Paul II High School in the United States.”

There are currently just over 300 Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia with 24 new postulants last month — just above the average. Still, the community receives more requests to serve in schools than they’re able to answer.

“We are humbled by how many bishops have a strong desire to foster Catholic education in their dioceses and especially seek the presence of consecrated religious as teachers and administrators in their schools,” said Sr. Anne Catherine Burleigh, who handles media inquiries for the Nashville Dominicans.

The Diocese of Phoenix has religious men and women serving at all high schools and at least eight elementary schools.

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