By Sister Beth Murphy, OP
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — A yearlong sesquicentennial celebration of the founding of the Dominican Sisters of Springfield begins this summer.
The celebration opens at 6 p.m., Friday, Aug. 19, with a Mass livestreamed from Sacred Heart Convent Chapel. The celebrant is The Most Reverend Thomas John Paprocki, Bishop of the Diocese of Springfield-in-Illinois. The year will include multiple prayerful and celebratory events, culminating in a public Eucharistic celebration on Aug. 19, 2023, to mark the 150th anniversary of the arrival in Jacksonville of the pioneer sisters in 1873.
“Looking back over the span of our history is an exercise in gratitude, humility and awe,” said Sister Rebecca Ann Gemma, OP, the prioress general of the congregation. “I am grateful to those six women who, with 48 hours’ notice, said yes to a mission they could never had imagined. I am humbled by God’s continued fidelity. I stand in awe of the mission to which we are called for the life of the world.”
“This time of prayerful contemplation on our history is as much about looking toward the future with hope as it is about reflecting back on a storied past,” Sister Rebecca Ann insists. “As it was for our founding sisters 150 years ago, our mission of standing in solidarity with persons on the peripheries of our nation, church, and world is ongoing and responsive to the needs of the world today.”
In the past, being in solidarity with the rostros concretos — as it is expressed in Spanish — meant building educational and healthcare institutions to serve a growing nation of immigrants. With the institution-building phase of the U.S. Catholic Church’s story now long past, an authentic response to the world’s needs looks different that it did in the 19th century.
In 2014, when he declared a year dedicated to consecrated life, Pope Francis told the church’s religious women and men — sisters, brothers, and priests — “Come out of yourselves and go forth to the existential peripheries.” He asked religious women and men to go to those who have lost all hope, feel abandoned, without purpose, and “thirsting for the divine.”
Since 1873, Dominican Sisters from the Springfield-based congregation have done just that at hundreds of ministry sites in 21 states and multiple locations in Peru.
Current ministries on the peripheries include education and advocacy for racial justice, immigration reform, accompaniment of Native Americans and literacy education centers. Springfield Dominican sisters are engaged in the support of asylum seekers, persons with mental illness, and children living in impoverishment. Though no longer sponsors of health care institutions, Dominican sisters continue in healthcare ministry as hospital chaplains, home visitors, clinicians, lab technicians, and providers of nursing care.
In addition, the educational mission begun by the founding sisters continues on through three sponsored high schools, two literacy centers, a program of formation of associate candidates, and in multiple other ways of educating, forming, and supporting the faith journeys of individuals, families, and parish communities.
Since 1999, when the sisters took responsibility for Jubilee Farm on Springfield’s western border, the congregation has grown increasingly active in educating and advocating for personal and policy changes that will mitigate the climate crisis and support a healthier planet. The sisters and their associates are active participants in the Vatican’s Laudato Si’ Action Platform.
In 2022 the sisters have been among several dozen communities of women religious to broaden the reach of the global synod of the Catholic Church, an ongoing process initiated by Pope Francis to transform the way the church approaches self-governance and its mission of evangelization.
Visit https://springfieldop.org/150years for more about the Springfield Dominican Sisters’ response to God’s call, their history, and all the events planned for the anniversary celebration throughout the year.
(The Springfield Dominican Sisters are members of the global Order of Preachers founded by St. Dominic de Guzman in 1206. For more than 800 years, Dominicans have preached the Gospel in word and deed. Today, thousands of Dominican sisters, nuns, priests, brothers, associates and laity minister in more than 100 countries around the world).