Tag Archives: Nashville Dominicans

Welcoming the Nashville Sisters in Scotland: love conquers everything

You may seen the story in the Catholic press the other day that four Nashville Dominican sisters began a band new mission in the Diocese of Aberdeen Scotland.

Benedictine Bishop Hugh Gilbert preached the following brilliant  homily. He touches on the great humanity of the current situation and also on the theological underpinnings of what’s going on today. His homily is touch on the Pentecost experience (the coming of the Holy Spirit), what the nature of vocation, church, sacrament, Christian witness, hope, evangelization is, and how these facets are life-giving.

The Dominicans will be living at Greyfriars Convent in Elgin, a place found by the Franciscans in 1479. This latest Nashville Dominican venture adds to their mission in 19 US dioceses, plus Italy, Canada, Australia and now Scotland. At this point in their history, the Nashvilles boldly and yet humbly say that their numbers tally about 300 women.

Herewith is Bishop Hugh’s August 24th homily for your reflection today:

What is happening today?

I’m old enough to remember Westerns. And here we are, wagons drawn close, feeling our last days have come and our scalps about to be removed, when – lo and behold – the US 7th Cavalry appears over the hill. Here they are, armed not with carbines but rosaries. And we can breathe again.

What is happening today?

Well, first of all, a building, this place, Greyfriars, is coming to life again. It was founded thirteen years before Columbus touched land in the Americas and is now coming back to life thanks to Americans. It has been most thoughtfully readied by Deacon Vincent, Fr James and others. And now it is resuming its original purpose. This is something that always lifts the spirits. It has been the experience at Pluscarden, and twice now it has been the experience here – once in the 1890s thanks to the Marquis of Bute and the Sisters of Mercy, and now once more, after a few years of silence, thanks to the Dominican Sisters of St Cecilia. In a booklet about the parish of St Sylvester’s Elgin and St Columba’s, Lossiemouth, Fr Colin writes, ‘God is not in the business of letting people down.’ These revivals, resumptions, resurrections of holy places are a sign of that. ‘Yours is an everlasting kingdom’, said the Psalm, ‘your rule lasts from age to age’. Here let me tell a story. Last September I was at a course in Rome for new bishops. A new bishop from the States approached me. We have met before, he said. So it was. Before becoming bishop, he and another priest had visited Pluscarden, and I had met him then. He seemed to know the North of Scotland very well. It transpired he had friends among the Sisters of Mercy, in Dundee and here. I told him that the Sisters had now gone (as he knew) and (as he didn’t) that I had approached the Nashville Dominicans. Then he astonished me, ‘Do you know, ever since I heard that convent was empty I’ve been praying the Nashville Dominicans would fill it.’ And he went on, ‘If you want to re-evangelise Scotland, they’re the people who’ll do it. I’ll write to the Prioress General, tell her she must accept your invitation, and I’ll pay the fare over for one of the sisters.’ All of which he did. God seems to be in the business of answering prayers as well. So, at the back of today, there are the prayers of Edward Rice, Auxiliary Bishop of St Louis, Missouri. God bless him! And so on the feast of the Holy Rosary last year, the Prioress General, Mother Anne Marie Carlovic, and her Council flew in for a first visit. On the feast of St John Ogilvie this year, she and others flew in for a second. And on the feast of St Bernard, our US cavalry galloped over the hill, or more precisely descended from aeroplanes.

Yes, today this place of prayer is coming alive again – alive with God’s People, God’s Word, with the Body and Blood of the risen Christ, with the Divine Office, private prayer. And what happens when that happens? It means we ‘see heaven opened and above the Son of Man, the angels of God ascending and descending.’ It means that Jacob’s ladder, with its busy angels, after lying on the ground gathering dust, is being set up again. Surely the angels are delighted. Surely the stones are glad. Surely those buried here are pleased. ‘You will see heaven open’, Jesus tells that first little group, the beloved disciple and Andrew, Peter, Philip and Nathaniel (Bartholomew). You will see what Jacob really saw in his vision, without realising it. You will see the Son of Man lifted up, lifted up on the Cross, as on the Cross of San Damiano above the rood screen. You will see the union of man and God remade, the house of God rebuilt. You will see ‘Jerusalem the holy city, coming down from God out of heaven.’ In a living house of prayer, under signs and symbols, in the humility of faith, all this is verified. Here Christ can gather up what’s in our hearts and lift it up to the Father. Here God’s blessing comes down into our lives. I think the sisters still await their internet connection. There’s a far more effective connection already in place.

That is one thing happening today, from today.

And here is another. Sisters, thanks to you the religious life in this diocese is being enriched. And so we are all being enriched. By religious life, I mean the consecrated life, the life of those who profess the Gospel counsels of chastity, poverty and obedience, usually lived in community. In the Middle Ages, Elgin was full of such – Dominicans, Franciscans, the Cistercians at Kinloss, the Benedictines at Urquhart, the Valliscaulians at Pluscarden. It would be interesting to tell the history in the diocese since the 19th c. And certainly, we’re blessed for what we have now: the Sisters of the Sacred Heart and the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary, individual representatives of several congregations, the hermits, the Sons of the most Holy Redeemer and the brethren of Pluscarden. But would that there were more, may more! And it’s a very happy thing that now there are more. Four more, and not just four more. With you come your some 300 fellow-sisters, supporting you in thought and prayer. With you, Sisters, comes a whole tradition of holiness and spirituality. With you come St Dominic and Thomas Aquinas and Catherine of Siena and Meister Eckhart and John Tauler, and all the rest, a whole inspiration. We already have the monks, with antiquity on their side. We have disciples of the saints and founders of the 18th and 19th cc. But we have lacked the mendicants of medieval origin. And why is this coming a happy thing? Not just for those of us who are religious, but for all of us. The religious life, as history ancient and recent shows, is not all glory. Corruptio optimi pessima. But when it is good, it is very good. Every renewal of the Church has had a renewal of religious life at its heart. It is a barometer of the general state of the Church at any given time or place. I think a Church in which the consecrated life is weak or absent is like a Holy Trinity where the Holy Spirit is asleep. The Holy Spirit is the life and joy and generosity of God in person. He is the flowing love of the Father and the Son poured into one divine person. And so, as a created echo, is the consecrated life within the Church. It is all this in many human persons. There is a vision to suggest here. Through faith and baptism, all of us become sons and daughters of God in Christ, in the Son, the Second Person of the Trinity. We all become filial, Second Person-persons as it were. Then those who are ordained are given a share in the fatherhood of the First Person, the Father. And those who are consecrated somehow find themselves under the sign of the Third, the Holy Spirit. And the Holy Spirit is the Giver of Life, the Inspirer, the Comforter. He is from the Father and the Son and the Bond between them. And when the consecrated life is being lived by women or men with freshness and zeal, everyone – laity and clergy – is inspired and comforted, bonded and united. The Trinity is one, and the Church is one, and the different states of life flow in and out of one another, enhancing and enriching. Don’t we all feel this here and today? Isn’t it striking that such a small beginning can already have such an uplifting effect? That we already feel re-charged?

Scottish welcome of OP 2013I was wondering where in Dominican history there was a precedent for today. I have found one. One of St Dominic’s early foundations for nuns was in Rome, at San Sisto. Meanwhile, well to the north, in Bologna, a Lady Diana and some friends wanted to become Dominicans. We are in the 1220s. So Bl. Jordan of Saxony, St Dominic’s successor, pressed for four of the sisters in Rome to come north and help form this new community. Eventually Pope Honorius was persuaded to second the petition. He went to the convent in Rome to speak with the sisters. To quote the Chronicle: ‘the Pope said that he found it painful to drag any of them away from their monastery, but all the same it would be unfitting and improper to refuse to grant [such] a petition… So he commanded them, in virtue of the Holy Spirit and their vow of obedience, to choose four sisters who would be the most suitable to undertake this task, not forgetting that the eyes of God’s majesty were upon them. So four sisters, who had made profession in the hands of St Dominic and received the habit from him, came to the monastery of St Agnes [in Bologna] and remained in the community there until they died, mighty in the vigour of their holiness’.

So Sisters, your four predecessors from Rome to Bologna, and you, another Dominican quartet, from Nashville and New Orleans and Baltimore, to Elgin.

Coming ‘in virtue of the Holy Spirit and their vow of obedience’ – the Holy Spirit again.

‘Not forgetting that the eyes of God’s majesty were upon them’ – the God who loves you so much that he cannot keep his eyes off you.

‘Mighty in the vigour of their holiness’ – surely so!

And those hands of St Dominic… Benedictines make profession before the altar (super altare), Dominicans in the hands of their superior (in manibus), and ultimately ‘in the hands of St Dominic.’ The eyes of God’s majesty and the hands of St Dominic – may they keep you! And as so often in Dominican iconography, may Mary wrap you in her cloak!

What is happening today – thirdly and lastly? There’s a clue in today’s Collect for St Bartholomew / Nathaniel: ‘Grant that through the help of his prayers your Church may become for all the nations the sacrament of salvation.’

A ‘sacrament of salvation’. It’s a very Vatican II phrase, found in the Council four times, I think. ‘Christ founded his Church as the sacrament of salvation’ (AG 5). She was ‘solemnly manifested as such’ at Pentecost (LG 59). ‘Lifted up from the earth, Christ has drawn all to himself; rising from the dead he has sent his life-giving Spirit on the disciples and through that Spirit has established his Body the Church as the universal sacrament of salvation; sitting at the Father’s right hand he is continually at work in the world, so as to lead human beings to the Church, joining them more closely with himself through her and nourishing then with his own Body and Blood making them sharers in his glorified life’ (LG 48).  She is, then, ‘the universal sacrament of salvation’, ‘at once showing forth and putting into effect the mystery of God’s love for human beings’ (GS 45).

It’s this, this reality that, however discreetly, is being rekindled here today. It is, of course, always there, always true, always so. The Church is the sacrament of salvation. But we know, we’ve been reminded most bitterly recently, how that can be tarnished or obscured, how people’s experience of the Church – or at least of her representatives – can be of anything but salvation. That’s why today on the feast of an apostle, one of those twelve foundation stones, we pray that the Church ‘may become the sacrament of salvation’, may become more radiantly in our experience what she really is, what Christ established her and the Spirit anointed her as. And this not just for some, but ‘for all the nations’. I’m not saying this, Sisters, to lay an impossible burden on you. I’m simply trying to capture what your coming and presence is evoking in me, and not just me, I think. It’s a great hope. It’s a new evangelisation. It is a resurrection of the Church’s mission. It is everything implied in the ‘apostolic life’ that you as Dominicans strive to embody. ‘The Dominican Order exists to be useful to others’, a Dominican has written. Sisters, we are sure that you will be useful to us: with your faith, your youth, your healthy orthodox doctrine, your freedom of spirit, your initiative, your prayer, your love of Christ. It’s not going to get easier in Scotland being Christian and Catholic. And we are tired, very tired, of bad news. But love conquers everything. You, of the Order of Preachers, bring us Good News! Help us fall in love again with the Church. Help us and many others experience her as the sacrament of salvation ‘for all the nations’. Help us ‘see greater things’. Help us ‘see heaven laid open, and above the Son of Man, the angels of God ascending and descending.’

The witness of a vocation

Reading this article on vocations made terrific sense and corresponds to what I’ve been thinking about for some time. It is clear to me now there are some things are necessary for verifying a vocation to a religious community (diocese?) without which it would be difficult for me to see how one can fulfill the destiny God has planned. That is to say, if a vocation candidate does not see in a particular order just what Sister Catherine says below, namely, that there needs to be an evident sense of tangible joy, youthful zeal for the Kingdom of God, a realization that God has a plan, and fearless love then one does not have a vocation to that charism (religious order). Ask the question: What is the long history of faithfulness of this group that I am looking into? Is it faithful to the papal magisterium or not? Let me also say that Sister Catherine is right when she points out that the job of the vocation director is not to make a sales pitch (yuck!!! how repugnant to think that a vocation director is making a pitch to join a community, but it is true) but to expose the vocation seeker to the beauty of serving God and the beauty of that particular charism in the Church. If you are being recruited, run away fast!!!


So, the beauty of the life lived alone and with others, the beauty of the liturgical life according to the mind of the Church (and not some trendy, self-serving liturgist or superior) and personal prayer, the beauty of the particular observance and the religious habit, the beauty of the service rendered to the Church…is what will lead others to this form of consecrated life. The 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s are over; they have not borne much fruit; the Church wants priests and sisters who are joyful and faithful to the Lord and the sacrament of the Church. It is time to go to the sources, to live according the Gospel and the way the founders wanted without romanticizing the life… Sorry, Sister has the right way of proceeding.


By Kathleen Naab

NASHVILLE, Tennessee, JULY 27, 2008 (Zenit.org).- There are three high priorities in fostering vocations to the religious and priestly life, said a Dominican sister with 15 years of experience in vocational work.

Sister Catherine Marie Hopkins is now the executive director of the Dominican Campus in

Sr Catherine Marie Hopkins, OP.jpg

Nashville where the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia own and operate Overbrook School, St. Cecilia Academy and Aquinas College.

Recently named a member of the U.S. bishops’ national advisory council, Sister Hopkins suggests the three highest priorities in fostering vocations: education, sacramental devotion and youth ministry that exposes young people to both prayer and evangelization.

ZENIT spoke with Sister Hopkins about supporting young women who are discerning a vocation to the consecrated life, and about how she discovered her own call.

Q: You worked for 15 years as vocation director for your order. What was the key to finding your own vocation? Did your own experience help you to aid other women in discerning theirs?

Sister Hopkins: The key to finding my own vocation was the realization that God had the plan and I just needed to discover exactly what that plan was. It began with inner turmoil at the thought that God could ask such a thing of me, but I very quickly found out that if he were calling, everything that I needed in order to respond would be provided by him as well.

That brought me tremendous freedom and my turmoil was replaced by a very strong attraction.

I was 24 years old and very happy, but not at peace since I couldn’t say for sure what God’s will was for my life. All I knew with certainty was that daily Mass had made me hunger for more, and so I went in search of where I could best root a growing desire to give of myself. I finally investigated religious life so that I could rule it out and marry with a clear conscience. When I actually visited our community and saw very tangible joy, youthful zeal and a long history of fidelity, fear was reduced by a newly formed conviction that this is what God had created me to do.

I would say that my own experience made me sensitive as a vocation director to the fact that successful discernment takes place apart from any pressure and within the challenging silence of prayer. When I looked for God’s will, I sought advice and asked lots of questions, but I wanted to make a decision that, while informed, drew strength from an interior conviction that I recognized as coming from God.

The Dominican Sisters in Nashville understood that it wasn’t a matter of recruitment but of exposure.

As a vocation director, I made it a point always to respect the delicate interior struggle through which most people must pass. My job was not to make a good sales pitch, but to convey the beauty of our life and to expose young women to it through a visit or retreat experience. I had to help those who had the inclination, but struggled with uncertainty, realize that the simultaneous fear and attraction they felt was normal; and that a sense of unworthiness is not a bad thing since really none of us is “worthy” of divine espousal! Making the choice entails a movement away from a career mentality to the realization that religious life is about giving yourself to a love that is without limit.

Q: You have three brothers that arepriests. Do you think there is a different strategy for discerning and fostering the vocation of young women than for young men? In what ways?

Sister Hopkins: My experience has been that, in general, men take a lot longer in the discernment process, whether it regards marriage or religious life. Once a woman has “conviction” she is usually impatient to begin a process.

I wonder if men tend to intellectualize it in the beginning, whereas most women religious begin intuitively and very privately. They may struggle longer before admitting they are considering the idea, but once they discern, it is very much a matter of the heart and they are propelled past fears and natural ties to offer that gift of self without reserve.  New priests.jpg   

Men need to balance their discernment with devotion and women need to consciously anchor the process with an intellectual understanding of the call.

In guiding women in discernment, the idea of espousal is a considerable attraction since we are all programmed by our feminine nature to love and to nurture in a unique way. I had aspirations of a big family and came to understand that God wasn’t asking me to deny that desire but to expand it!

Both men and women need to know that a desire to enter into the married state is not only good, but is even necessary if one is considering religious life. The absence of such natural desire may signal a problem of selfishness or difficulty in giving or receiving love. Such an emotional handicap would make happiness in the religious life impossible.

Regarding my brothers, each of them was different in his discernment. A discussion about them is a real study in temperaments. I used to hold them up as examples to illustrate that there is no “one type” that God calls, but that each of us with our unique characters can contribute in unique ways. And yes, my brothers are “unique characters.” We weren’t born religious and occasionally have to remind people that we were in the mainstream in our youth and that none of us was voted “Most likely to become a religious” in high school. There is hope in that fact.

Q: There are certain orders of both men and women religious — including your own — that have enjoyed tremendous growth in the last decades. What do you see at the key to this growth?

Sister Hopkins: I believe the key to growth in vocations is found in the witness of joyfully living an ideal that is single-hearted, Eucharistic, faithful to the Church and her teachings. It is lived in the vibrancy of community life while rooted in prayer. That was what I experienced with the Dominican Sisters in Nashville.

I believe that young people today are as idealistic as they always have been and they are looking for a way to channel their zeal and to find support in a desire to grow in holiness. I do not think it is fancy programs or complicated spiritualities that attract, but rather simple fidelity.

There are movements of the Holy Spirit lighting fires in many directions today that are picking up significant momentum and should fill us with hope. The Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious is an organization of religious communities who are committed to living the essentials of religious life and are supportive of one another. I would recommend that young women exploring a religious vocation visit the CMSWR Web site to see the many communities which are growing today, in spite of reports to the contrary.

Q: There is much talk of the vocations crisis and whether or not it is nearing an end for priestly vocations. How about vocations for women religious? Is the crisis nearing the end?

Sister Hopkins: Women religious have been the backbone of social service, education and health care in this country. The drop in the number of women entering religious life has impacted these fields and it will take many years to see a significant return.

I am reminded, however that the Holy Spirit is not limited by Gallup Polls or the predictions of sociological studies.

Mother Teresa.jpgConsider the simplicity and tenacity of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta at a time when the numbers of women religious were declining. Her response to God’s call yielded a new religious order that grew to over 4,000 sisters, an associated brotherhood of 300 members, and over 100,000 lay volunteers, operating 610 missions in 123 countries.

What our world needs is more Mother Teresas, people with zeal, humility and a fearless love. Over the past 20 years I have seen the numbers of women inquiring into the religious life grow both in numbers, quality and openness. Given the fact that our culture is not supportive of such ideas, nothing short of grace can explain it.

Q: You were recently named to the U.S. bishops’ national advisory council. On the heels of Benedict XVI’s visit to the United States, what do you see as the priorities for fostering vocations in the States?

Sister Hopkins: I think that in order to foster vocations to the priesthood and religious life the three highest priorities should be in the areas of education, sacramental devotion and youth ministry that exposes young people to both prayer and evangelization.

Young people are hungry to learn the faith and quickly recognize the unreasonableness of relativism. They have a natural desire to “know” God and will be more likely to devote themselves to a life dedicated to him if they have been educated in the faith. I think that this generation is quick to identify the need for such an apostolic focus since the lack of it has produced such confusion and suffering. It is important that the Church continues to strengthen Catholic education that is focused, faithful and rooted in excellence.

Devotion to the sacraments is key to discovering as well as nurturing a vocation. When young people benefit from regular reception of the Eucharist, confession and begin to develop a prayer life, then God’s call has a chance of being heard. Eucharistic adoration is drawing many vocations to the priesthood and religious life, a fact which makes sense if you consider that such time spent in God’s presence brings light and warmth to our souls.

There is a movement of the Holy Spirit in progress that increases in intensity whenever youth affectively influence one another. There is nothing more powerful than the witness of young people striving to know and do God’s will. Love is not meant to be contained, and so when we discover the Person of Christ, it is natural to experience an interior compulsion to share that discovery with others.

Substantial youth ministry which prompts conversion, devotion and exposure to positive peer influences has been successfully producing vocations to the priesthood and religious life. Of course, it is important for young people to be exposed to priests and religious who are joyfully and faithfully living that commitment.

Pope Benedict put it best to the youth he spoke to in Dunwoodie when he challenged them saying, “Strive for a pattern of life truly marked by charity, chastity and humility, in imitation of Christ, the eternal High Priest, of whom you are to become living icons.”

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]yahoo.com.
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