|Margaret Simpson, kneeling at right, visits with her aunt, Sister Marie Vianney, O.P., during the Dominican Motherhouse open house on Sunday, Feb. 8. As part of the Year of Consecrated Life, the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia hosted a community open house to show visitors their home and talk about their daily life of prayer and community. Photos by Theresa Laurence
As part of the celebration of the Year of Consecrated Life, the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia hosted an open house at their Motherhouse on Sunday, Feb. 8.
It was the first time in recent memory that the Sisters had opened their doors to “anybody and everybody,” from the community, according to Sister Mary Rose Bingham, O.P., director of Aquinas College’s Office of Catechetics, who was welcoming visitors in the “Oratory” room of the Motherhouse, which served as the Chapel from 1888-2005.
The special year dedicated to consecrated life was announced by Pope Francis last fall; it started Nov. 30, 2014, the first Sunday of Advent, and runs until Feb. 2, 2016, World Day of Consecrated Life. The special themed year aims to help lay Catholics gain a deeper understanding of religious life, priests, brothers and women religious. One way to do that was for religious congregations to open their convents, monasteries, abbeys and houses to the public on Feb. 8.
“This gives people a glimpse into … the treasure of our life, the contemplative side,” said Sister Mary Rose.
While many people know the Sisters from their teaching endeavors, far fewer have actually been into the place they call home to learn about their daily life away from the classroom. “This is the core of our life where our joy and zeal flourishes,” Sister Mary Rose said. The contemplative and communal life of the Motherhouse “is the source of our ability to go out and teach.”
One of the biggest draws to curious visitors was the chance to get a glimpse of some “cells,” or personal living spaces, where individual Sisters sleep, study and pray. The small, sparse rooms containing a bed, dresser, bookcase, desk, and little else are generally not open to visitors, even to family members of the Sisters. During the open house, many young children, some of whom were students in Dominican-run schools, enjoyed getting a rarely seen peek into the usually off-limits space.
|Sister Meagan Marie, above left, a Dominican postulant, talks with children who were visiting the open house on Feb. 8. The Dominican Sisters welcomed many families with young children to the open house so they could see where and how the Sisters live.
During the open house, visitors spent time with Sisters who were family members or former teachers; much of the socializing centered in the Recreation Hall, part of the original 1862 building.
From there, many visitors headed to the St. Cecilia Chapel, dedicated in 2005, when a major Motherhouse expansion was completed, to see where the community gathers to pray together every morning, evening and night. Some of the Sisters offered a sacred music concert in the chapel during the open house.
The Dominicans joined religious communities around the country that are part of the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious in hosting the first of its Days with Religious events to give people the opportunity to take tours of the communities and learn more about religious life.
Sister Marie Bernadette Thompson, O.P., the council coordinator of the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious, said the purpose of the open house gatherings was to provide people with an encounter with men and women religious and also an encounter with Christ. “We are excited to highlight this unique opportunity to participate in the Year of Consecrated Life,” she said.
The open house was especially an opportunity for young people to see how men and women religious live. The Sisters were excited to see many families with young children visit the Motherhouse, and welcomed more than 200 visitors to the Feb. 8 open house.
Some further activities that are part of the Year of Consecrated Life include “Days with Religious,” which will give laypeople the opportunity to join men and women religious in works of service throughout the summer of 2015.
The third major initiative for the year is a day of prayer scheduled Sept. 13, 2015.
Prayers intentions, prayer cards, a video on consecrated life and other resources are available at: www.usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/vocations/consecrated-life/year-of-consecrated-life/index.cfm.