Saturday, January 4, 2014

Dominican Missions in the Caribbean

A grant from the Mariological Society of America supports my study of Mary and Evangelization in the Foreign Missions of U.S. Dominican Women.  I conducted the initial research at the McGreal Center for Dominican Historical Studies in River Forest, IL and grouped the missions to be studied into five regions: the Caribbean, Asia, Latin America, Oceania and Africa. This year I focused the on five missions to the Caribbean: Cuba (1901), Puerto Rico (1910), Jamaica (1911), the Dominican Republic (1945) and Haiti (2010).  I will report my findings at the annual meeting of the Mariological Society in LaCrosse, Wisconsin this May.  In the coming weeks I will post the fruit of my study, a work in progress, here on this blog.  I hope you enjoy reading it and I welcome your comments.  My policy is not to post my readers' comments.  However, I do read them, and treasure your thoughtful responses. 

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

First Dominican Sisters sent to the Caribbean

Dominican presence in the Caribbean predates the presence of the Order in the rest of the American hemisphere.  The Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine de’ Ricci were the first to send American Dominican Sisters to the Caribbean.  This is the story of their foundation, their call to establish a mission in Cuba, the religious and political situation in Cuba, their use of devotion to Our Lady as a means of spreading the Gospel, what transpired politically, the current state of devotion to Our Lady and the Catholic faith in Cuba and recommendations for future missions. 

Born into a Protestant family in 1845, Lucy Eaton Smith, later known as Mother Catherine de’ Ricci, the foundress of the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine de’ Ricci (Elkins Park), converted to Catholicism in 1865 and received her first communion at the age of 21.  In 1872 she first met the Dominicans on a trip to Europe where she had been sent by the family physician to the take the baths for her health.  She made a retreat in France and was deeply impressed by the spiritual retreat ministry of the Ladies of the Cenacle in Fourviere.  She confessed to her Spiritual Director Pere Augustine that she wished to make vows as a Dominican tertiary and enter with the Ladies of the Cenacle or with the Dominican Sisters in England.  Pere Augustine received her private vows as a 3rd Order Dominican but dissuaded her from entering the novitiate in Europe.  Instead he advised her to return home to New York to start a new foundation saying.  “Your own country needs you; bustling America needs just such a tranquillizing work as you propose.” 

Firmly intent on establishing a new foundation to provide spiritual retreats for women in America similar to those she had experienced in Europe, Lucy sailed for New York in July of 1876.  Her youngest sister, Isabelle, whom the family called Lillie was baptized that same year and received into the Catholic Church just in time for her Lucy’s return.   She shared Lucy’s plans for a new foundation but their plans were thwarted temporarily by Father John Rochford, OP, the provincial in New York, who suggested she enter a congregation newly approved to be founded by Catherine Antoninus Thorpe in 1877.  She obeyed the Provincial’s advice, but much as she loved Mother Antoninus, the mission of her congregation (later known as the Sparkill Dominicans) was to care for the children of indigent immigrants and the orphans left in the aftermath of the Civil War.  

Lucy’s dream of a congregation to provide spiritual retreats for women persisted and she resolved to see it through.  Three years later on May 24, 1880 on the feast of Our Lady Help of Christians, Lucy made religious vows and took the name of Sister Maria Catherine de’ Ricci of the Heart of Christ.  She returned to Europe for further guidance and visited Lourdes and the monastery of St Vincent in Prato, Italy where the body of her patroness St. Catherine de’ Ricci lies incorrupt beneath the altar.   In 1887, she finally won the approval of the Bishop of Albany, NY, Rev. Francis McNierney to found a new Dominican Congregation with the purpose of offering spiritual retreats for women.  She dedicated it in honor of St. Catherine de’ Ricci.  Her sister Lillie joined her and together they took possession of the Monastery of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart in Albany with the help of a gift in the amount of $5,000 from an anonymous benefactor.