St. Catherine of Siena
The Dominican Sisters of the Congregation of St. Catherine of Siena
The Dominican sisters follow a tradition that is more recent in origin than that of the nuns. As with all followers of Dominic, contemplation is central to their Dominican life. But it is a life that seeks to blend contemplation with active apostolic work. It wasn’t until the 19th century that communities were established of sisters making public vows to follow such a life. Prior to that the only religious institutes that existed for Dominican women were monastic in character. The French congregation of the Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena was one of the first to be organised as a community of vowed apostolic life in the tradition of what was then called the Dominican Third Order.
The congregation has its beginnings with the desire of three sisters, the Bonnardels, to serve the poor and live the Dominican life as vowed religious. To enable this a remarkable woman, Mother Dominic of the Cross Gand, a Dominican nun from a monastery in Chalon, became the mother foundress of the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena at Bonnay, France. This was in 1854. The constitutions of the new congregation received papal approval in 1864, and so it was still a relatively young congregation that was invited to Trinidad by Archbishop Gonin, himself a Frenchman, and a Dominican, in order to care for the lepers who at that time were housed at Cocorite.
Later, when it was deemed necessary, according to the beliefs of the time, to isolate the victims of Hansen’s disease, the leprosarium was transferred to Chacachacare island, and the sisters moved there in order to continue their work. They remained there until 1950.
The sisters’ works expanded when other needs emerged. In 1876 they began working at St. Dominic’s Children’s Home at Belmont which was set up by Fr. Mariano Forestier OP in 1871. The Holy Name Convent School started in 1902 when the sisters were asked to look after the education of a young girl, Leonie Marie Raynaud whose relatives were killed in the volcanic eruption at St. Pierre, Martinique. Soon other parents heard of it and requested the same for their daughters. Holy Name Convent School began therefore as a private school. It became an assisted secondary school in 1955. The Holy Name Preparatory School continues as a private institution.
The early works of care and teaching of children continue today and have expanded. Care giving at St. Dominic’s Home now includes two family units in Arima and at Barataria. In addition there are the St. Dominic’s Convent Secondary School, St. Catherine’s Preparatory Schools and the Holy Name Training Centre.
There are newer works such as campus ministry, pastoral care and community based projects such as the St. Catherine’s Early Childhood Education Centre and the St. Catherine’s Centre for Integral Development, both at Gran Couva, and a home for battered women in South. Dominicans have traditionally been involved in the media, and Dominican sisters work both at the Catholic News and the Catholic Communications Studio. Dominican Sisters serve as nurses, teachers, social workers, care givers, parish and educational administrators, counsellors, retreat and spiritual directors, historians/archivists and journalists.
In these ways and in whatever ways that may yet emerge, the sisters strive to be true to their charism of being preachers of truth and so to respond in this own time as Dominic and Catherine did in their time in service of the people of God. They seek, along with the nuns, priests, brothers and lay members of the Dominican family, in the words of one Dominican motto “to praise, to bless, to preach.”