* See below for link to a PDF of the religious jubilarians of 2015
For 125 years, the Sisters of St. Dominic of Blauvelt have cared for the less fortunate and spread the Good News.
The place where they begin is their motherhouse, St. Dominic’s Convent in Blauvelt, where the congregation was incorporated in 1890.
Mother Mary Ann Sammon, who was first stationed at Holy Rosary Convent in Manhattan, founded the order. She wanted to find a location outside of New York City where orphan children could live and be educated. The Rockland County site was chosen and the Dominican Sisters of Blauvelt became a separate congregation with its own apostolic mission.
“The celebration of our 125th anniversary of incorporation as a Dominican congregation is a reminder of the many transitions that we, in religious life, experience,” said Sister Catherine Howard, O.P., president of the Blauvelt Dominicans.
“The act of incorporation enabled us to serve the needs of others in many ways.”
At first the sisters cared for the needs of orphan children at St. Dominic’s Home in Blauvelt. St. Dominic’s has expanded and now serves more than 1,800 children, teens, adults and families with locations in Rockland and Orange counties, and the Bronx.
The sisters now serve in Rockland and Westchester counties, the Bronx, Manhattan and Staten Island, and in New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Oregon and Florida. There are 122 sisters in the congregation.
In the archdiocese, the sisters serve as educators at Dominican College in Orangeburg, which the order founded in 1952; Maria Regina High School in Hartsdale; St. Raymond Academy for Girls in the Bronx; St. Luke’s, Christ the King, St. Brendan’s and Holy Cross elementary schools, all in the Bronx; De La Salle Academy in Manhattan and St. Anthony’s School, Nanuet.
They are involved in parish ministry at St. Margaret Mary-St. Gabriel’s in the Bronx, St. Charles on Staten Island and Holy Innocents in Pleasantville, to name a few.
The sisters also serve as chaplains at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility; The Dwelling Place (a home for women); and Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center, among others.
Along with Sister Catherine, the leadership team includes Sister Michaela Connolly, O.P., Sister Anne Daniel Young, O.P., and Sister Joan Agro, O.P.
Sister Jennifer Schaaf, O.P., who entered the order in 2011 and professed first vows last year, now serves as assistant chaplain at St. Thomas More, The Catholic Chapel and Center at Yale University. She told CNY that she studied theology in graduate school at the University of Portland, where some of her professors were Dominican sisters. She also met other religious including Holy Cross and Jesuit priests, and Holy Name sisters. Those experiences, especially her time with the Dominican sisters there, were important to her vocation.
“The charism of Dominicans is to preach the Gospel, literally, to bring Good News to people wherever we are,” she said. “We talk about four pillars of Dominican life: prayer, study, community and preaching. My own love of study, in combination with the other pillars, made the Dominicans seem like a good fit.”
Throughout the anniversary year, the Blauvelt Dominicans have celebrated with entertaining and spiritual events, including a special Mass with Cardinal Dolan on Nov. 2, which Sister Jennifer called a “blessed” occasion.
She also noted an interesting fact about the anniversary year, saying, “This year is both the 125th anniversary of our congregation’s foundation and the 800th anniversary of the Order of Preachers-Dominicans.”
“Our foundress, Mother Mary Ann Sammon, took in immigrant orphaned children. Orphans are cared for through social services but there are many others who are orphaned in this time, whether refugees, migrants or those who are on the margins of society. This reflection on the past is not specific to our anniversary celebrations, but it is continually part of our call as Dominicans to examine the past and bring the charism into the future.”
Another member of the congregation, Sister Lauria Fitzgerald, O.P., who celebrated her 25th jubilee this year, spoke with CNY about what initially drew her to the congregation and what kept her committed to religious life. “The Blauvelt Dominicans’ compassion for the lost, least and less was the mission I wanted to share in,” she said. “Their hearts were always summoned by love in service to the signs and needs of the poor. They were women filled with hope.
“The sisters’ generous spirit and unconditional support fills my life with happiness,” she said.
Sister Lauria serves in the Bronx at Siena House, a shelter that provides care and services to homeless pregnant women and their young children. “When we find ourselves feeling like we are home then we are in the right place to find God’s presence,” she said. That is what she finds on the streets of the Bronx.
“Our legacy is reborn each and every day when we see God through the eyes of those we serve,” she added. The anniversary year, she said, has reminded her of that fact. The year “has been about reflection, gratitude and celebration,” she said.
As for the Mass with Cardinal Dolan, she said, “The cardinal’s presence brought light, joy and deep enthusiasm for all those that participated. He began by saying he explored our rich history and was in awe.”
She said she will always remember the cardinal’s “thankfulness for the courageous pioneer sisters whose vision brought life to orphan children and the amazing journey of faithful sisters who embraced their vocation of care and compassion.”