Dominicans today: Q & A with Sister Jeri Cashman

| January 15, 2016 | 0 Comments
Sinsinawa Dominican Sister Jeri Cashman, left, and a novice in the congregation, Sister Christin Tomy. Courtesy Sister Jeri Cashman

Sinsinawa Dominican Sister Jeri Cashman, left, and a novice in the congregation, Sister Christin Tomy. Courtesy Sister Jeri Cashman

As the Sinsinawa Dominican sisters prepare to observe the 150th anniversary of their ministry and presence in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, The Catholic Spirit asked Sister Jeri Cashman questions about her vocation and about the future of communities of women religious such as the one to which she’s devoted herself for the past 50 years. She’s been a teacher, a missioner in Bolivia and Mexico, a campus minister and a social worker, currently at the Hennepin County Family Enhancement Center working with women and children who have been physically or sexually abused. Below is an edited version of that email interview.


Q — Would you please share some specific personal information: age, age you joined the community, what attracted you to the Sinsinawa Dominicans?

A — I’m a sixties kid (graduated grade school in 1961, high school in 1965 and college in 1969). I joined the Dominican Sisters of Sinsinawa, Wisconsin, after high school because, as a sixties kid, I, too, wanted to “set the world on fire” and do it in the context of community, service, compassion and justice. My life was Incarnation Grade School and Regina High School, so my Catholic family community, the Sinsinawa Dominican teaching community, and an unmistakable flame deep in my soul led me to vowed life.


Q — Is that any different from what attracts women to religious life today?

A — Women today are looking for community, purpose and an answer to the question, where do I want to spend the one precious life that I have been given.


Q — The parents of your congregation’s founder, Father Samuel Mazzuchelli, feared that he was joining the Dominincans as religious orders were threatened with dissolving. Some voices today cry that the religious orders are dying, except for the more conservative ones. How do you respond to that? Does it come up in your experience in vocation work?

A — Religious orders have never died out. Because they are formed to respond to the signs and needs of the time, the numbers will wax and wane as our cultures warrant. Vatican II asked us to take a new look at our Dominican mission, update our baptismal call, and align our name and identity with the people we serve. Women, and religious women today, are now able to choose among several different phenomenal orders and, in vocation work, the mutual discernment process — on the part of the woman interested and the congregation itself. This is a wonderful dance to decide the call of God together, to see if we can live and work together, to help find the right fit: the joy and affection they experience among our sisters, a passion for our mission, the diversity of ministry possibilities.


Q — Would you share some specifics about the ministries/jobs new and younger members of the congregation do? Are many in parish work, other Church ministries, or more in the secular world?

A — The many numbers who responded to a religious vocation call came from the baby boomer growth, and religious women answered that and taught for years in the massive parish-school system. The 1960s brought us many changes: [Before then,] women were teachers and secretaries and nurses, and now the doors were open wider to us in business, law, journalism, medicine, etc. New communities grew out of the Peace Corps, Doctors Without Borders, Vista, etc. Even with ecumenism, women ministers moved us in a new direction, women could now find community and ministry in several avenues previously unheard of. As the need for Catholic schools diminished, as Vatican II radically changed us, new and younger members joined us as they felt compelled to join us in our love for one another and in our passion for service. We are all educated and move to where we can minister, fewer these days in parish work and Church ministries, and more in the world we live in, the world (as we learned from Vatican II) called the “people of God.” We still stand by the Gospel of Jesus: “Blessed are the merciful for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called the children of God.”

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