150 years of reasons to celebrate

| January 15, 2016 | 1 Comment

 

In the early days of Bethlehem Academy in Faribault, MN, the Dominicans Sisters who taught there lived in the school building. Courtesy the Sinsinawa Dominicans

In the early days of Bethlehem Academy in Faribault, Minnesota, the Dominicans Sisters who taught there lived in the school building. Courtesy the Sinsinawa Dominicans

 

Dominican Sisters who taught at St. Albert the Great School in Minneapolis, date unknown. Courtesy the Sinsinawa Dominicans

Dominican Sisters who taught at St. Albert the Great School in Minneapolis, date unknown. Courtesy the Sinsinawa Dominicans

They came by steamboat and stage coach, those first five dauntless Dominican sisters to serve in Minnesota.

The year was 1865. Their mission: bring Catholic education to the pioneer town of Faribault.

Looking back 150 years later, Sinsinawa Dominican Sister Doris Rauenhorst said one thing stands out about the beginning of her congregation’s ministry in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis: “The courage of our sisters who came into a territory that was not yet civilized and founded schools and helped to imbed the faith among the people.”

PrintThousands of Sinsinawa Dominicans have followed in the years since, and sisters, friends and supporters will celebrate 150 years of their service and presence in the archdiocese Jan. 23, at 5 p.m. Mass at St. Albert the Great in Minneapolis.

The congregation’s prioress, Sister Mary Ellen Gevelinger, who formerly served in the archdiocese as principal of now-closed Regina High School in Minneapolis and as director of planning and personnel for Catholic Education and Formation Ministries in the archdiocese, will speak at the Mass.

A festive supper is to follow, and the evening’s entertainment will feature a collage of pictures, stories, reflections and memories.

Sacrifice in early years

Established in southeastern Wisconsin by Dominican Father Samuel Mazzuchelli with just two sisters in August 1847, the Sinsinawa Dominicans had grown to 23 sisters by 1865 when Bishop Thomas Grace of the then Diocese of St. Paul — himself a Dominican — invited the congregation to open a Catholic school in Faribault.

The congregation wasn’t all that strong at that point, Sister Doris noted. Both Father Mazzuchelli and the community’s mother superior had died in the previous year. The fact five sisters accepted the mission to open Bethlehem Academy in Faribault took courage on the part of the whole congregation, Sister Doris said.

The founding sisters lived in the school building, too; three taught at Bethlehem Academy and two taught across town at Immaculate Conception parish’s grade school.

“I’d hope people would realize what a sacrifice it was for them,” Sister Doris said. “Those early sisters were so poor they didn’t have wood to heat that building. They didn’t have food. They scratched out a living. They had stick-to-it-tiveness.”

Fourteen years later, the sisters were invited to open schools in Minneapolis at Holy Rosary and later Incarnation, and their education ministry through the years spread to founding more schools — including Regina High School — plus serving at other schools and expanding into a variety of ministries.

Sister Doris, for example, served for 18 years as one of the vicars for religious in the archdiocese, founding the Council for Religious as an advisory group to the archbishop, as well as the annual celebration for jubilarians that will take place again Jan. 31 this year.

Sister Ruth Roland was instrumental in the founding of Catholic Eldercare to serve the needs of seniors, and Sister Martha Wiegand started the ministry to Spanish-speaking immigrants at Holy Rosary Church in Minneapolis’ Phillips neighborhood, work carried on for many years by Sister Margaret McGuirk.

Working for immigration reform and combating human trafficking in the Twin Cities, the sisters are “living in tune with the times,” Sister Carol Bongaarts wrote recently in the congregation’s newsletter.

She noted, “The Sinsinawa Dominicans have continued to respond in new ways to the needs of the people of God in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis with the hope that our presence and ministry in this local Church is a spirit-filled participation in ‘the building of a holy and just Church and society,’ ” quoting from the congregation’s mission statement.

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  • Helen Huene Finegan

    I graduated from St. Patrick’s Grade School in Rockford, IL. in 1957. I would love to see pictures from that school if possible. My favorite sister was Sister Verona, I loved her then and still do.