The Fire and the Flowers

On January 2, 1904, St. Catharine Academy senior May Curry of Springfield was awakened by a muffled explosion and discovered the school was on fire. Nearly overcome by the smoke, she woke the Academy prefect, Sister Borgia McCann, who directed students to the children’s infirmary.  Sister Raymond Bird asked a novice to ring the summoning bell to call the novices to dress and assemble in the chapel. When it was apparent that the entire building was ablaze, sisters broke windows and tossed items to the ground in hopes of saving them. As flames advanced toward them, the sisters made sure that all students had vacated the school, then ran to escape the blaze. Many were still in their night clothes and reached for mantles from the chapel stalls to protect themselves from the cold.

Articles by Marilyn Rhodes, OPA

As Sister Mary Edward Prendergast ran from the fire, she saw the profession book, in which recorded the names of all those who took vows, on a desk. She placed this important piece of history inside the desk to protect it, and as she was dragging it to the stairway, a man stopped to carry the desk down the stairs. The last to leave, Sister Bernard Fogarty was trapped by flame and smoke. She fled by breaking a window and climbing onto the roof, shuffling her way to another building, breaking another window and climbing through to escape.

By the grace of God, there were no fatalities in the fire. Immediate shelter was provided for 75 girls and 56 sisters by the Dominican friars of St. Rose, the Sisters of Loretto, Sisters of Charity, and Springfield citizens. Clothing was provided as well as many escaped wearing only their night clothes.

The news reached Louisville the next morning, prompting the friars of St. Louis Bertrand to organize a relief committee. This group provided food, clothing, and shelter. The Louisville and Nashville railway dedicated a special train, free of charge, to the relief committee.

Donations and support poured in from many religious communities. St. Francis DeSales in Charlestown, Massachusetts offered their convent as a novitiate. Holy Rosary Academy in Louisville made room for the sisters in their convent and created a classroom for St. Catharine students. A public meeting was held in Louisville to raise funds for the sisters; even a benefit concert was held in New York.

Only two buildings survived the fire –  the chaplain’s four-room cottage and the laundry. The cottage became living quarters and the laundry served as kitchen and dining room as well as laundry. With help from the friars, the sisters built a framework house, covered with a tarpaulin, known as the paper house.

The St. Catharine Academy and Motherhouse after the fire.

Ten postulants quickly advanced to accept the habit to prevent them from having to disrupt their study by leaving the motherhouse. These women professed as sisters on March 8, 1904.  Holy Rosary Academy in Louisville hosted St. Catharine seniors’ graduation in the spring.

The loss of the Academy and the Motherhouse was profound. In addition to the buildings, art, and books, all records except the profession book were lost to the fire. It was heartbreaking for the sisters as they witnessed the burnt remains of their home and their work.

In the spring, however, jonquils again bloomed at Sienna Vale. These robust flowers of spring became and remain a symbol of hope, or a Sign of God, that the Dominicans should continue their ministry.

The “Paper House” where the Sisters lived and worked after the fire.

The discussion on where to build the new St. Catharine Academy and Motherhouse continued for months, with many options and opinions offered. But in the end, the Sisters felt that the rural site at St Catharine would be the best place to rebuild the school. As important, this sacred ground had become home, and the Sisters did not want to leave. On May 9, 1904, the community decided to build on their own land. Said to be the highest point of elevation in Washington County, Sienna Heights became the present home for Dominicans in Kentucky.

The Sisters were also looking ahead to the future. Within months of the beginning of construction of the new building, Mother Agnes purchased a harp and hired a professor to instruct one of the Sisters, so that she would be ready to teach new Academy students. She sent another Sister to Boston to complete her studies in vocal music. Both of these directives illustrate the Sisters’ dedication to the Academy, as well as the belief, held to this day, that art is a form of preaching. Today, Dominican Sisters of Peace preach by painting, singing, writing, weaving, and even through the creation of pottery and fabric arts.

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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 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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Dominican Sisters of Sinsinawa Premiere New Video

In 1847, two women responded to an invitation by Father Samuel Mazzuchelli, OP, and thus began the Sinsinawa Dominican Congregation of the Most Holy Rosary in southwest Wisconsin. Since that time, more than 3,400 women have made profession as Dominican Sisters of Sinsinawa and set out from Sinsinawa Mound to over 500 ministry locations in the United States and beyond to work in partnership with others to help build a holy and just Church and society. One hundred and seventy-five years later, the Sisters continue to preach and teach the Gospel in word and deed wherever they are called.    

As part of the Congregation’s 175th-anniversary celebration, the Sisters will publicly release a 30-minute video In Good Company: The Dominican Sisters of Sinsinawaas a free, interactive premiere on YouTube Thurs., Aug. 11 at 6:30 p.m. (Central) at

The premiere event will feature a live chat and question-and-answer session beginning at 6 p.m. The video follows the Congregation from its inception when most Sisters were educators through its expansion in the 20th century when many Sisters moved into other fields of work to the current realities of Sisters continuing the mission during complex times. What makes a woman want to become a Catholic Sister? “It was the Sisters’ love for one another and the Dominican way of life that really drew me,” said Sister Priscilla Torres, OP. “We are all different. And yet when we come together, we are one collective, faithful group of women.”  

Sisters continue to work for a more peaceful and just world by taking corporate stances as a Congregation to confront the evil of racism, mitigate the effects of climate change, support immigration reform, and call for an end to fracking, nuclear weapons production, the death penalty, gun violence, and human trafficking. As Sister Kaye Ashe, OP, stated, “The search—for self, for wisdom, for love, for truth, for justice, for God—is strenuous and unending. We need good companions in order to persevere in it. In good company, in a community of conviction, the quest never loses its relevance, its urgency, or its savor.”   

The video was produced by Loras College Productions of Dubuque and partially funded by a grant from the Fred J Brunner Foundation. The Dominican Sisters of Sinsinawa are part of a worldwide Dominican family, the Order of Preachers. For more information, visit    

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A Prayer for the Feast of St. Dominic

On August 8, we mark the Feast Day of our Founder, St. Dominic, or Dominic de Guzmán. We are blessed to have been called to be a part of his preaching ministry, and we call on Dominic and our sisters and brothers in Heaven for their prayers for our ministry and missions.

Prayer service for the Feast of St. Dominic
August 8

As we celebrate the Feast of St. Dominic together, we share this special prayer service that you can use for our own reflections. Please click here for a WORD formatted version of the service that can be edited to suit the needs of your event. Click here for a PDF formatted version of the service.

Both forms are formatted for regular 8 1/2″ X 11″ paper with no folding needed. It can be printed on both sides to save paper.

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Sister Margaret Ogechi Uche Professes Final Vows

Nurse, Hospital Chaplain Makes Commitment to Dominican Sisters of Peace

The Dominican Chapel on the Plains in Great Bend, KS, was home to a celebration of faith and commitment on Sunday, July 31, as Sr. Margaret Uche made her perpetual vows as a member of the Dominican Sisters of Peace.

Sr. Margaret grew up in Nigeria. While her family were devout Catholics, she was only able to attend a local convent school for a brief time, but that early experience was the beginning of a call to religious life.

Sr. Margaret earned her Bachelor of Science degree in biology from California State University. She began her career working in the lab, but found the work unsatisfying, and moved into nursing.

“I loved taking care of people, and was very fulfilled doing that,” Sr. Margaret says. She earned her RN from the University of Houston-Victoria and then worked as a pediatric nurse. She enjoyed her job and was fulfilled in her work, but something was missing.

“Something was not right. My Nigerian culture always says that you must get married, but the idea of marriage was not working for me,” Sr. Margaret said. On the advice of her sister in Nigeria, she began to pray in front of the Blessed Sacrament and sought the counsel of a spiritual director.

“After I began to pray in front of the Blessed Sacrament, I started to experience such peace. I felt something different … and I started to remember my time in the convent school. I kept feeling such peace and joy,” Sr. Margaret says.

Her spiritual director suggested the next step in her journey – that she investigate entering religious life. Sr. Margaret believed that because she was feeling such peace, this direction had to be from the Holy Spirit – and she started looking for a religious community.

Her first contact was with the Dominican Sisters of Great Bend, a founding congregation of the Dominican Sisters of Peace. Their long history of ministry in Nigeria was appealing to Sr. Margaret and she began to discern with a vocation director.

Sr. Margaret was welcomed into the Congregation on November 1, 2014 and moved into the Congregation’s House of Discernment in New Haven. She entered the Novitiate in 2016 and made her temporary vows in July 2018.

Since her first profession, she has followed in the itinerant steps of our founder Dominic, working in health care in Garden City, Kansas, then in New Orleans, before moving to Wichita to study clinical pastoral education as a Chaplain Resident in a healthcare setting.

“Going through both formation and my training as a Chaplain Resident, especially during COVID, was so demanding – but I feel like if God knows what you are doing is good, God gives you that grace to do it. That grace is what is helping me do it.”

Fr. Bob Schremmer of the Dodge City Diocese presided at the Eucharistic Liturgy. Sr. Patricia Twohill, Prioress of the Congregation, received Sr. Margaret’s profession of vows. Many Sisters, Associates, and guests, as well as members of the Sacred Heart Sisters in Nigeria, participated in the joyous celebration.

Sister Margaret is in the final unit of her clinical pastoral education program as a Chaplain Resident. She hopes to continue her education to earn a master’s degree in Theology and remain in the ministry of healing of the body and the spirit.

Single Catholic women who are interested in learning more about religious life are encouraged to visit the Congregation on their website at, or on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

To watch the recording of Sr. Margaret’s Final Profession ceremony, please click here.

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A Call to Mercy

Articles by Marilyn Rhodes, OPA

Long before the formal training and regulation of nursing, the Dominican Sisters of St. Catharine provided care for those who were in need. The Sisters tended to the sick and dying through several cholera and yellow fever epidemics in Kentucky and Tennessee. They even gave up their own beds to nurse injured soldiers, both Union and Confederate, during the Civil War.

Springfield suffered mightily during the 1833 and 1854 cholera epidemics. This dreadful illness is characterized by violent gastrointestinal issues, muscle cramps, excessive thirst, and usually death within twelve hours. During the first cholera outbreak, there were only ten or eleven sisters, so they recruited lay women to work with them in the ministry of caring for the ill. Both sisters and lay women knew the dangers of this ministry. For over three weeks, day and night, these women worked with the sick and dying, and none contracted cholera. The 1854 cholera outbreak required weeks of caring by the Dominican sisters and their associates.

In addition to the sisters, an enslaved African American man named Louis Sansbury, remained in Springfield while most residents left to avoid the illness. He worked tirelessly to care for the sick and buried the dead and was recognized as a local hero. Upon returning the Springfield after the outbreak, the town’s residents were so grateful to Mr. Sansbury that they purchased his freedom after his owner died of cholera and helped him establish a blacksmith shop to support his family.

During the second outbreak, Mr. Sansbury again provided care and the dignity of burial to any person who needed him. An historical maker is dedicated to him in Springfield, and the city dedicated the celebration of the first annual African American Heritage Week in his honor.

In Memphis, the Dominican sisters opened an orphanage in 1853 to provide homes for children whose parents were lost to cholera, yellow fever, and smallpox. Due to the segregation of that era, the children were divided into groups of white boys, Black boys, Black girls, and white girls.

Yellow fever took over the city regularly for 4 decades, with painful symptoms and death within hours. The Memphis sisters cared not only for students, but for many who came to the school looking for assistance as well as members of the community.

At least five friars and ten sisters perished in the last outbreaks of yellow fever, but the Dominicans did not take time to mourn. After the yellow fever ended, the sisters returned to their work in Memphis, opening more schools for white and Black students, and orphanages for both. In gratitude for their service, for many years after the war, no sister in Memphis had to pay for public transportation.

Sadly, epidemics were not the only crisis calling out to our sisters during this time. The Dominican Sisters of St. Catharine did not take a side in the Civil War, but rather, cared for Union and Confederate casualties both in Memphis and in Sienna Vale. The wounded were sent to Memphis by boat and train, where the sisters from St. Agnes and LaSalette school and orphanage cared for them. Sixteen sisters dedicated themselves to this difficult and draining ministry; one of them, Sister Alberta Rumpff, found and cared for her own brother among the war wounded. General William Tecumseh Sherman, whose wife attended St. Mary of the Springs, was instrumental in obtaining the supplies that the sisters needed to nurse the ill and wounded.

One of the most ferocious battles of the Civil War occurred in Perryville, Kentucky, less than thirty miles from the St. Catharine Motherhouse. Although Kentucky remained neutral, both armies traveled through the state, sometimes taking clothing, food, and other resources from their residents. Legend has it that Confederate General John Hunt Morgan raided the Motherhouse of her horses, but his neighbors, who were students at St. Catharine, shamed him into returning them.

All twenty-four sisters at St. Catharine were involved in providing care to the wounded and comforting the dying after the battle, regardless of their military affiliation or religion. The sisters nursed the injured in Perryville and brought many home to the Motherhouse, converting it into a military hospital.

Many years later, the Dominican Sisters of St. Catharine were recognized for their works of mercy during the Civil War. The Auxiliary of the Ancient Order of Hibernians erected a monument in Washington, DC in 1918. In 1961, the Catholic Hospital Association awarded plaques to fourteen religious communities for their work on the battlefields and in hospitals during the war. The plaque awarded to the Sisters of Catharine of Siena, now the Dominican Sisters of Peace, hangs in the Sansbury Care Center, where many retired Sisters live. The inscription reads:

For outstanding service during the Civil War. Presented to your Order by the Catholic Hospital Association, June 14, 1961. They comforted the dying, nursed the wounded, carried hope to the imprisoned, gave in His name a drink of water to the thirsty.

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A Prayer for the Feast of Mary Magdalene

As we celebrate the 200th Anniversary of the founding of the first community of Dominican Women in the United States, we celebrate, in a special way, the Feast Day of our patroness, St. Mary Magdalene.

Called “The Apostle to the Apostles,” Mary Magdalene was the first person to see Christ after His resurrection. She ran to the disciples and was the first to preach the Gospel of the risen Christ. She is very much a woman of her time, and a woman of our time.

Our special prayer service for the Feast of St. Mary Magdalene can be downloaded in a PDF format here (not alterable) and in Word format here (for modifying should one wish to add, subtract or substitute) and will be located on the Anniversary Webpage. The PDF formatting fits standard letter size (8 1/2” x 11”) paper with no seams or folds needed when printed.

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Paula Danforth Enters the Dominican Sisters of Peace as a Candidate

New Haven, CT – In the Catholic Church, St. Matthew is the patron saint of accountants. He was originally called Levi; however, this follower of Jesus took the name Matthew – the gift of God – when called to be a disciple.

Paula Danforth

Paula Danforth, a finance specialist from Fair Haven, VT, has followed in her patron’s footsteps, choosing to follow God’s call to enter the Dominican Sisters of Peace in a July 14, 2022, ceremony.

Paula worked in the Finance Department of the Slate Valley Unified Union School District, Fair Haven, VT, for more than five years. She began to attend retreats at the Dominican Retreat and Conference Center in Niskayuna, NY, where she met members of the Dominican Sisters of Peace, who founded and still run the Center.

“I found myself inspired by the ability of the sisters to respond to the needs of the times,” Paula said. “I wanted to be a part of a community that was open to change.”

Paula holds a degree in Business Administration from Castleton University in Vermont and believes that her professional and spiritual skills will be of use to the Congregation and its mission for peace.  “I have always belonged to God and have a strong desire to use my Spirit-given gifts to serve God’s people,” she says.

Like many of the young women who have entered the Congregation in recent years, Paula was attracted to the obvious joy of the women who are part of this religious community. “I saw their joy and passion for their ministries,” Paula said.

New candidate Paula Danforth is welcomed by Prioress Pat Twohill, OP, at a ceremony on July 14.

Paula is the daughter of the late Warren and Rejane Danforth. She has four siblings: Carol Saltis, Susan Beayon, Cathy Genier, and Brian Danforth, and one adult daughter, Janelle Cahee. She grew up in the Our Lady of Seven Dolors parish in Fair Haven, Vermont. She plans to continue her professional practice in school finance or accounting while living at the Dominican Sisters of Peace House of Welcome in New Haven, CT

The Dominican Sisters of Peace have an active Vocations and Formation ministry, with four women candidates, two Sister Novices and four having taken Temporary Vows.

To view a video of Paula Danforth’s Entrance Ceremony, click here.

To view a copy of her Entrance Ceremony program, click here.

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