Thursday, December 5, 2013

Regrouping and New Missions

By 1983 in Puerto Rico as well as in New York the Sisters faced the inevitable decision to withdraw from the institutions where they could responsibly do so and focus their efforts in those that most needed the kind of service they were still able to offer.  “For ten to fifteen years the Sisters faced closures/retrenchments of schools and convents from a positive standpoint.  In other words the process of retrenchment made the remaining projects stronger.”  

At Santa Rosa at Bayamón and San Vincente at Cataño the convent was given up to provide much needed space for the school and the process of turning over the school new management began.  With the loss of their institutions the Sisters began to question their identity and their relevance. In a letter to the community in 1982, Sister Dismas Marschhauser, Regional Director in Puerto Rico wrote the questions many were asking at that time, “Who are we?  What is our identity? Are we answering the needs of the Church in Puerto Rico?  Why are there no vocations?” and with that climate of self-doubt came deeper concerns about their relationships with each other. 

With what they learned about themselves and each other they gave renewed energy to formation programs and vocation work, and some began to look to a future elsewhere, in missionary work in other lands, or in life outside the convent.  Sister Dismas herself followed her passion for missionary work to the island of Culebra.  New missions were begun in Santa Ana, Colombia and the Dominican Republic.  Often these were joint ventures with Sisters of other Congregations.  Other Dominicans were spurred by missionary fervor to serve in Puerto Rico.  Once released from the need to reinforce the ranks in their own established institutions, Dominican Sisters set off alone or in small groups to found new ventures and new missions. 

Other Dominican congregations had been involved in ministry in Puerto Rico since World War II.  The Dominican Sisters of the Congregation of the Most Holy Rosary (Adrian Dominicans) sent Sisters to teach at St. Anthony’s in Guayama in 1946; to the Catholic University of Puerto Rico in Ponce in 1948; and to Sacred Heart in Santurce in 1948.  In 1949 Bishop McManus of Ponce, Puerto Rico requested Mother Anselma to sent Sister M. Dominga Guzmán to Yauco to establish a Community of Puerto Ricans for Social Work.   

Sister Dominga was born in Rio Piedras and entered the Amityville Dominicans in 1925, serving in Bayamón, San Juan and Yauco.  “Deep in her heart was the yearning to do something to help revive Christian values, apparently disappearing from many of these families.  This was the spirit that impelled her to found a native Congregation of Dominicans whose primary ministry would be to evangelize the poor in their needs of body and soul.  The motto of her Congregation became, ‘To bring Christ to the Family and the Family to Christ’.”

Mother Dominga’s community was aggregated to the Dominican Order in 1954.  Formally known as the Dominican Sisters of Our Lady of Fatima, and locally as the Fatima Sisters, the community grew to about seventy Sisters and was approved by the Holy See in October of 1965.   After much deliberation Sister Dominga officially left the Amityville Dominicans in obedience to the request of Archbishop Aponte of San Juan to whom she would then report instead.  Sister Dominga herself remained close to her Amityville Sisters and is remembered fondly by them as a humble gracious woman obedient to her Dominican vocation.  However, because the Fatima Sisters began as a pious sodality that was dependent financially and spiritually on the parish rather than the congregation in New York, the community is technically not a “daughter house” of the Amityville Dominicans.