Dominican sisters bring love for Christ and young people to St. Agnes classrooms

| Susan Klemond | November 6, 2018 | 0 Comments
Sister Mary Margaret O’Brien of the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist talks about her patron saint to fifth-graders in her religion class at St. Agnes School in St. Paul Oct. 29.

Sister Mary Margaret O’Brien of the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist talks about her patron saint to fifth-graders in her religion class at St. Agnes School in St. Paul Oct. 29. Dave Hrbacek / The Catholic Spirit

When Dominican Sister Mary Consolata Klucik walked through the St. Agnes School lunchroom on a recent school day, excited kindergartners and first-graders shouted, “Sister!”

For her, the moment exemplified the relationship she and three other Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist are building with St. Agnes’ entire K-12 student body, not only the older students they teach. The four sisters joined the school faculty this fall.

“There’s something about their love for the sisters that’s so natural,” Sister Mary Consolata, who teaches fourth grade, said of the students. “As witnesses of Christ, we’re supposed to be walking around showing who Christ is, and they get it right away.”

The sisters, in their 20s and 30s, established a mission at St. Agnes in August. Their witness to “showing who Christ is” shines not only through their teaching ability and charism for forming students in truth, but also their prayerful, structured community life, which they say prepares them for anything.

Sister Mary Consolata, mission superior Sister Teresa Christi Balek, Sister Mary Margaret O’Brien and Sister Mary Philomena Coon are now settled in a renovated convent on campus. With a motherhouse in Ann Arbor, Michigan, the Dominicans were invited to the archdiocese by Archbishop Bernard Hebda and Bishop Andrew Cozzens.

The sisters joyfully express a life fully committed to Christ, said Father Mark Moriarty, St. Agnes’ pastor and school superintendent. “To me, it seems very evident that they value their love of God and their love of their fellow sisters, as well as those whom God put in their lives, in particular the students who have been entrusted to their care,” he said.

Inspired by the “new evangelization” and a papal document on consecrated life, in 1997 four members of the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia congregation in Nashville, aka the Nashville Dominicans, founded a community in Ann Arbor. Today, the Michigan community has 140 sisters with an average age of 32. They are present in most U.S. states as well as in Canada, Europe and Asia — often in “missions” such as the one at St. Agnes.

The Ann Arbor sisters haven’t yet met the four Nashville Dominicans on staff at St. Croix Catholic School in Stillwater, but they hope to soon, they said.

The Dominican motto “to contemplate and to give to others the fruits of one’s contemplation” guides the sisters’ daily life, which includes praying the Liturgy of the Hours, Mass, eucharistic adoration and meals shared in silence. That structure prepares them to show “that religious life is supposed to be a radical witness of how you live in communion with one another and a foretaste of heaven,” Sister Mary Consolata said.

She grew up knowing Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist and joined the community after high school.

“I just remember having the desire as a first-grader that when I grew up I wanted to be a sister,” she said. When, as a teen, she wondered why God wouldn’t want her to have a family, she sensed his response: “Do you think if you belong to me I’d give you anything less?”

The eucharistic devotion that is part of the sisters’ daily routine factored into sixth-grade teacher Sister Mary Philomena’s decision to enter the community. Growing up in Binghamton, New York, she was encouraged to discern her vocation. At a retreat with the Ann Arbor sisters, she fell in love with the community, and, like Sister Mary Consolata, joined after high school.

Sister Mary Margaret teaches religion and Latin to third-through-sixth-graders. The Denver native thought about religious life in college while writing a thesis on happiness. When the sisters visited her campus, their joy convinced her to attend a community retreat. A year after college she joined them.

“I could tell that it came from Christ, from their prayer life, from their knowledge that they were doing his will, and I wanted that,” she said.

“I wanted to find my joy in Christ.”

Teaching is close to preaching — and the Dominicans are the “Order of Preachers,” noted Sister Teresa Christi, who also joined the community after college and teaches theology and history to eighth- and 10th-graders. Dominicans generally carry the initials “O.P.” — Latin for “Ordinis Praedicatorum” — after their names.

The sisters incorporate the faith into their lessons in all of the subjects they teach. The Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist have also developed a catechesis program called “Education in Virtue,” which the sisters at St. Agnes hope to introduce there.

Whether they’re in class, playing soccer or attending a homecoming game with students, the sisters seek to help St. Agnes’ students become saints, Sister Mary Consolata said. They want the same for the St. Agnes parish and school community, which they say have welcomed them warmly. “We pray for our benefactors and their intentions,” Sister Teresa Christi said. “We just know that people have been so good to us and … really what we can give back is our sincere prayer.”

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Category: Featured, Vocations