The Dominican Sisters in the 19th Century

This article is the third of twelve, one per month, celebrating the Bicentennial of Dominican Women in the United States.  This series celebrates highlights of Dominican Sisters, whose history hails from Washington County, Kentucky.

From the founding of the Congregation in 1822 until the end of the nineteenth century, the mission of St. Catharine of Sienna grew by leaps and bounds, founding additional convents and schools. In 1830, Bishop Fenwick, founder of Dominicans in the United States, requested sisters to travel to Somerset, OH, to teach in his diocese.

Four sisters, including Benvin Sansbury, left to create the first daughter foundation, St. Mary of the Springs. Under the auspices of the Dominican Provincial, another new mission was developed in Memphis, TN in 1851. Three sisters from each St. Catharine and St. Mary of the Springs traveled to Memphis to begin St. Agnes Academy, the first Catholic girls’ academy in the state of Tennessee. In 1888, St. Agnes became permanently affiliated with St. Catharine to share mission and resources. By the end of the century, sisters from St. Catharine of Sienna near Springfield, KY had established Dominican Mother Houses in Nashville, TN, St. Cecilia Academy, Our Lady of the Sacred Heart in Springfield, IL, and St. Catharine of Sienna in Fall River, MA.

St. Mary of the Springs convent in Somerset, OH, was established and a school for girls opened. As in Kentucky, the number of Dominican novices grew as did the number of students taught by them. In Memphis, St. Agnes Academy doubled in size by the end of the first academic year. In addition, the St. Agnes sisters later opened orphanages in Memphis and helped to maintain another in Nashville during the yellow fever epidemics. In Nashville, St. Cecilia Academy grew along with the new Motherhouse.

The Dominican sisters earned a reputation for excellence in teaching early in their history. They were the first to teach both boys and girls and demand for their mission grew.

St. Patrick School, Watertown, MA

The sisters in Springfield, IL, opened Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Academy in 1873. In 1888, St. Catharine of Sienna in Fall River, MA opened St. Patrick School in Watertown to 400 students. The following year they opened St. Michael in Lowell, added boys to the student body in 1890, welcoming 475 students. Other schools opened in Massachusetts include St. Francis DeSales and St. Catharine of Sienna.

Holy Rosary Academy in Springfield

In Kentucky, St. Catharine Academy grew, and a new building was erected in Sienna Vale. The Dominican sisters of St. Catharine opened Holy Rosary, a school for black children in the Rosary Heights area of Springfield in 1877. In 1880, the sisters began teaching in Kentucky’s Washington County public schools, St. Agnes, Cecilville and Smith, which later merged and became St. Rose. They established St. Dominic School in Springfield in 1882; St. Bridget in Louisville and Holy Trinity in Fredericktown in 1886; and St. Louis Bertrand and Holy Rosary Academy in Louisville in 1866 and 1867.

Early in the twentieth century, the Dominican Sisters of St. Catharine instituted elementary and secondary schools in many states including Iowa, Illinois, Nebraska, West Virginia, Arkansas and New York. Their first college was located in Memphis, opening before St. Catharine College in  Kentucky. In the 1950s, the sisters expanded their educational efforts into Louisiana, New Jersey and Puerto Rico.

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Dominican Sisters of Peace Share 200 Years of History in “Building Peace” Podcast

As the Dominican Sisters of Peace celebrate the 200th Anniversary of Dominican Women Religious in the United States, the Congregation will release a new podcast: “Building Peace: 200 Years of Catholic Dominican Nuns in the United States,” on Saturday, June 25, 2022.

The podcast shares the 200-year history of the founding congregations of the Dominican Sisters of Peace, beginning with the Kentucky Dominicans, the first congregation of Dominican Sisters, founded in Springfield, Kentucky in 1822. Subsequent episodes will examine the histories of the other Congregations that constitute the present-day Dominican Sisters of Peace, including the Dominican Sisters of St. Mary of the Springs; the Congregation of St. Mary; Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine de’ Ricci; the Dominican Sisters of Great Bend, Kansas; the Eucharistic Missionaries of St. Dominic; the Sisters of St. Dominic of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and the Congregation of St. Rose of Lima.

Each Congregation will be featured in a single episode. Other episodes will look at the Congregation’s work in education, social justice, missionary work, and more. The podcast has been written and recorded by members of the congregation and offers a unique look into religious life and the women who have dedicated their lives to service to the Church and her people.

“The story of Dominican Women Religious in the US is literally the story of America,” said Sr. Barbara Kane, OP, who has spearheaded the effort to create this podcast series. “From our earliest days of teaching children on the frontier to our work today in education, medicine, ecology, and social justice, our Congregation has helped build this country, and we believe that we will also be a positive force in our nation’s future.”

The first episode of “Building Peace: 200 Years of Catholic Dominican Nuns in the United States,” will be available Saturday, June 25. It can be found on the Congregation’s website at, at the website celebrating the 200th anniversary of Dominican Women Religious,, and other podcast services.

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