Dominican Sisters’ Influence in Louisville

In 1866, Bishop Lavialle of Louisville asked the Dominican Friars of St. Louis Bertrand Church to open a parish school. The friars turned to the sisters at St. Catharine, who sent two sisters to begin the elementary school of St. Louis Bertrand and plan for a boarding school to be named Holy Rosary Academy.

Articles by Marilyn Rhodes, OPA

St. Louis Bertrand opened its doors in an abandoned barracks building on Seventh Street. Students ages 6-18 were welcomed to the school, and so many attended that it was not long before the Sisters needed to expand. A third sister from St. Catharine arrived about six months later, and the school acquired a nearby cottage to create a third classroom. The school educated of some of Louisville’s historical business and professional leaders.

In 1892, the St. Louis Bertrand school moved into the Dominican priests’ home, a newer and therefore more modern school. There the school remained until it closed in the mid-1960s as families moved into the suburbs and new schools opened.

 St. Louis Bertrand school housed people who were driven from their homes by the Ohio River during the historic floods of 1937, when nearly one million people were left homeless. One classroom was used as a field hospital, while the women of St. Louis Bertrand Church prepared meals in the priory. Volunteers transported these meals to the school on a makeshift bridge of wooden planks laid across old school desks to stay out of the flood water in the school’s yard.

Holy Rosary Academy was established in 1867 and experienced several financial setbacks in its early years. The first building, located near St. Louis Bertrand at Sixth and St. Catherine Streets, accommodated both day and boarding students in grades 1-12. The sisters were unable pay the mortgage, and the school property was foreclosed upon.  In 1868, the sisters purchased a residence at Eighth and Kentucky Streets and reopened the school. Financial difficulties compelled the sisters to frequently solicit assistance from the community, in addition to holding a fundraising picnic, but by 1880, the school was self-supporting.

tudents from the Dominican Sisters’ School, St. Louis Bertrand, in Louisville, enjoy a picnic at Cherokee Park in 1920.

The community around the second home of Holy Rosary Academy began to deteriorate, forcing the school to close in 1894 until 1896, when the academy moved to the former Greystone Apartments on West Ormsby Ave. It was to this address that students and sisters from St. Catharine retreated when their school burned in 1904.

The academy moved again in 1915 and grew to four buildings within two years. Here, Holy Rosary shared its auditorium for several civic events, including a concert with a famous South American pianist.  The school was also used by the sisters to provide care for soldiers at Camp Taylor during the Spanish Influenza pandemic. In 1955, Holy Rosary Academy moved to its largest, most modern, and final facility on Southside Drive and Kenwood Way, accommodating 400 students.

The first Holy Rosary Academy offered courses in composition, literature, mathematics, music, drawing, sewing and needlework. In the twentieth century, the curriculum added full preparatory academic and business courses, preparing graduates for college or futures as administrative assistants. The academy was first accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools (SACSS) in 1929. Along with the SACSS accreditation, Holy Rosary Academy was accredited by the Kentucky State Department of Education with an A rating from the academic year 1933-34, until it closed in 1977.

Holy Rosary Academy, shown at its location on South Fourth Street in Louisville, was more than just a school – its auditorium hosted local artists and the building was an infirmary during the 1918 pandemic.
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Dominican Sisters of Peace Memorialize Enslaved Persons at Prayer Service

As the Dominican Sisters of Peace celebrate the 200th anniversary of Dominican Women Religious in the United States, the Sisters of the Congregation have also chosen to recognize the sin of slavery.

Sr. Rosemary Rule, OP, opens the prayer service honoring the enslaved persons who helped to build the St. Catharine Motherhouse and farm during the early days of the Congregation. Program speakers, from left, included Barry Burton and Marshall Fields, as well as vocalist Dr. Michael Preacley.

In an October 2, 2022, service at the Congregation’s Motherhouse in Springfield, KY, the Sisters offered a memorial to the enslaved men and women whose labors supported the young women from St. Rose Parish who founded the first congregation of Dominican Sisters in the United States.

This memorial service was created and presented in collaboration with the “I Was Here” Project, a Kentucky-based art exhibit that seeks to reframe the conversation around racism and slavery through the lens of art.

The service included music by nationally recognized vocalist Dr. Michael Preacley and from Congregational vocalists, comments by Marshall Fields, founder of F.R.E.E.D.O.M. from RACISM Training, and by Barry Burton, a Kentucky-based writer. Sr. Rosemary Rule served as the host of the ceremony.

Recent historical research done in the Springfield area allowed the Sisters to recognize a number of the formerly enslaved persons by name during the ceremony.

Angela Crenshaw, OPA; Sr. Mary Louise Edwards, OP, and Sr. Louisa Derouen, OP, sing the Litany of Blessing of the Enslaved.

Sister Barbara Sullivan, OP, worked closely with the “I Was Here” project team to present the prayer service. “Working with “I Was Here” was a blessing.  We were able, for the first time,  to name and honor some of the enslaved African-American women and men who were here with us at St. Catharine in founding the first mission of Dominican Sisters in the United States. Through the power of the arts, we are able to see others for who they were and are, and to help in healing the legacy of racism.”

The Dominican Sisters of Peace have conducted a number of congregational studies on racism over the past years, and in 2017, welcomed Shannen Dee Williams, associate professor at the University of Dayton and author of Subversive Habits: Black Catholic Nuns in the Long African American Freedom Struggle, to address Sisters.

To view the “I Was Here” memorial service on the Dominican Sisters of Peace YouTube channel, please click here.

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Dominican Sisters of Peace Welcome New Candidate

The Chapel at the Columbus Motherhouse of the Dominican Sisters of Peace was the site of the Welcome Ceremony for the Congregation’s newest candidate, Terri Schell. Terri is a native of North Carolina and holds a degree in environmental science.

Terri is ministering at Shepherd’s Corner Ecological Center in Blacklick and will be living at the House of Welcome in Columbus, OH. Please pray for Terri and for her Formation Mentor, Sr. Gemma Doll, as Terri begins this phase of her discernment journey.

To view photos of the ceremony, please click here. To view a video of the ceremony, please click here.

Candidate Terri Schell, center, enters the Columbus, OH, chapel as her discernment companion, Sr. Mai-dung Nguyen, OP, left, and her formation companion, Sr. Gemma Doll, OP, right, look on.
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