By GRETCHEN KEISER, Staff Writer | Published June 21, 2012
This religious community is racing to keep up with the numbers of young women who wish to enter.
The Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, is only 15 years old, but has received 100 sisters at its Ann Arbor, Mich., motherhouse since 1997. The community is fundraising to build another priory in Texas that could provide a similar number of future sisters a place to live and receive their religious formation.
The four Dominicans who began the community wanted to spread the Gospel in the new evangelization of Blessed Pope John Paul II while retaining the traditional religious charism of the Dominicans.
Mother M. Assumpta Long, one of the founders, said in an interview that when they began, they hoped “to pepper the country with religious” at a time when sisters were disappearing in many places in the United States.
“With the decline of religious life in our country, we thought it would be better to go to different parts of the country, to spread out with this beautiful charism of religious life … the beautiful gift we’d been given,” she said.
A speaker at the 2012 Eucharistic Congress, Mother Assumpta was accompanied by Sister Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz, who is also a founder and the vocations director.
In a hallway of the Georgia International Convention Center, the sisters said the community came about in a way that is natural in the Dominican tradition. They were from the Dominican Sisters of Nashville, Tenn., which is a vibrant community in its own right of teaching sisters.
“We believed God was calling us to spread the Dominican charism further in the world. The way (Dominicans) have always done that was for a small group to break off from a strong group,” Mother Assumpta said.
Grain is meant to be scattered, St. Dominic said.
“God blessed us immediately,” she said.
In fact, response to the young community has been so rapid, they are walking by faith as fast as they can to keep up, Sister Joseph Andrew said.
“You have to say yes continually and keep running. He has us on top speed,” she said of the Lord. “He asks for great holiness. He asks us to walk on water.”
Their mission statement says their primary apostolate “flows from contemplation nourished before the Eucharist.” The community keeps the monastic observances of the Dominican tradition of the cloister, community life, times of silence, a habit, and praying the Divine Office, along with daily Mass and adoration.
The community’s apostolate is to teach the faith to young people, especially by placing consecrated women back into schools.
“We are totally committed to Catholic education,” Mother Assumpta said.
Responding to requests for sisters, the community has sent them to eight dioceses in seven states to teach in Catholic elementary and high schools from California to South Carolina. They started and staff two private Catholic elementary schools in Ann Arbor. Another outreach is a 25-part religious education series for children the sisters teach, which is distributed by Eternal Word Television Network. Sisters also speak on college campuses.
Their website shows 35 solemn professed sisters, 37 temporary professed sisters and 24 novices. The average age is 28. In addition to the flow of young women to the community, which has brought its own share of attention, Oprah Winfrey featured them on her show. Attention also came to them when a Harvard University scholar entered the community after giving the Latin commencement address at her 2010 graduation. The religious name of novice Sister Maria Veritas includes the Latin for truth, taken from Harvard’s motto.
The sisters say that most of the inquiries come through their website. They also offer several vocational discernment retreats a year where women come to begin considering all life’s options.
“The John Paul II generation is searching for authenticity. They will give their lives completely to God. They want the visible habit, Eucharistic adoration … (a) common apostolate. They are very open, very capable of great sacrifice if challenged,” Mother Assumpta said.
About 400 young women come to the vocational discernment retreats each year.
“Their hearts are very open,” Sister Joseph Andrew said.
During the retreats, “we help them find God’s will” whether that is marriage, ministry or a religious vocation to another community, she said. “Some are our community.”
“The outreach is very hands off. Let God speak to your hearts,” she said.
“We are getting them from all over … from families that are not very religious.”
Slender, in brown and white habits, the sisters’ Tennessee accents are warm even while they offer a serious assessment of the challenge they believe is before the church.
In the new evangelization, Mother Assumpta said, they are open to a range of methods, but the teaching of the truth of the Catholic faith is their mission.
“We have had generations that have not been catechized. You are beginning almost from the beginning. Teach them the basics of our faith. They have just not been catechized,” she said.
Sister Joseph Andrew spoke of it as “new vulnerability” where young people who may not have heard the Gospel before are found to be very open to it and receptive.
“We have to bring the children back to the knowledge and love of the Catholic faith,” Mother Assumpta said. “You cannot love what you do not know. Know her teachings and fall in love with her and follow her faithfully.”