Left: Sr. Anne Catherine, OP, of the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia, is principal of St. Cecilia Academy in Nashville. (Credits: all photos from www.nashvilledominican.org and www.stcecilia.edu)
Sr. Anne Catherine, OP, is a member of the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia (www.nashvilledominican.org) and is principal of St. Cecilia Academy in Nashville (www.stcecilia.edu). The academy is a girl’s Catholic high school that is over a 150 years old, having been founded in 1860.
Nashville Dominicans are a traditional Catholic community who wear the
full habit, and with 300 sisters, are well known in the Catholic world.
In Tennessee, however, they are very much the minority. Sister
Catherine reports that the state is a mere 3% Catholic, the lowest
percentage of any state in the union.
Sister Catherine is one of seven sisters at the academy, five of whom are teachers. She recently spoke with CWR.
CWR: How did you come to join the Dominican Sisters?
Sister Catherine: I’m
originally from Cincinnati, Ohio. I attended Catholic schools, but I
didn’t learn much about the Catholic faith. I was taught by a sister in
both the 1st and 4th grade, but otherwise did not have too much exposure to sisters.
I went to college at the University of Dallas (www.udallas.edu),
and first met the Dominican Sisters while I was a senior there. One of
my roommates at the university had entered the community. It was a
surprise to me at the time, because I didn’t think women still became
I thought I was called to marriage, but the Lord had other
plans for me. I visited the community, and found I was drawn to the
beauty of their life. The sisters loved the Faith, and practiced it
with joy. They loved Our Lord, they loved the Blessed Mother, and they
loved the Holy Father. They led a balanced life and were dedicated to
study. Their community life was strong.
I had begun teaching elementary school, and the Nashville Dominicans were teachers. I thought it was a good fit for me.
CWR: Who is joining the Nashville Dominicans today?
Sister Catherine: We
attract all kinds of women. Our community is really very diverse.
When we have a vocations retreat, young women come from throughout the
country and from other countries. Some are teachers, but most are from
other fields. But we’re not a one-mold-fits-all kind of community.
there is one thing we all have in common: a wholehearted desire to give
ourselves to the Lord, and an acceptance of his call to poverty,
chastity, and obedience.
CWR: Many Catholic schools in the
United States have closed in the past 50 years, and far fewer American
children are attending Catholic schools today. Why do you believe there
has been a decline in Catholic schools?
Sister Catherine: It
would seem the days of a parish school on every corner are gone. There
are many reasons I could point to, but the one I would start with is
that schools are not easy to operate. It is a demanding apostolate.
There are lots of headaches. It is difficult to get the funding needed,
as well as finding committed teachers.
It is also a physically demanding apostolate, which can be difficult to continue in as one gets older.
CWR: What is the basic history and background of St. Cecilia Academy?
Sister Catherine: The
academy began in 1860, when the bishop of Nashville asked some sisters
from Ohio to move into his diocese and found a boarding school. Our
community’s current motherhousewhich you see on our websiteis the old
Today, we’re located in an affluent suburb of
Nashville, not far from downtown. The school is owned and operated by
the Nashville Dominicans. We serve 260 girls, grades 9-12, 75% of whom
are Catholic. About 80% of our students are whitealthough there is a
diversity that does not meet the eyeand 20% from a variety of other
races. Students wear a uniform; tuition is $16,000 per year.
school has an appeal to the community because of its academic
excellence, nurturing environment, and the appeal of being taught by
CWR: What do you find to be the greatest challenge in teaching in Catholic schools?
Sister Catherine: It
varies from school to school and student to student, but we’ve found
that some of our parents are ignorant of the Catholic faith. They are
part of a whole generation of Catholics who did not receive a proper
formation in the Faith. Not only must we educate our students, but
gently reach out and instruct some of our parents as well.
Our sisters are well equipped to teach the faith; in fact, all religion classes are taught by our sisters.
CWR: What successes have you seen in your apostolate?
Sister Catherine: On
the “worldly” side, we do very well academically. Here at St. Cecilia
Academy, 100% of our girls who graduate are college-bound, some going to
top-tier universities. They can compete academically with anyone.
importantly, we’ve made much progress in equipping them to go out and
transform the culture for Christ. In whatever field they choose, this
is most important. The Lord needs workers in all areas of his vineyard,
and our girls bring the message of the Gospel to whatever they’re
doing. I’ve seen the faith really impact their lives.
our students return and thank us for our work. We’ve had retired
sisters in their 90s who’ve had students come back and say, “You’ve
changed my life.”
Sometimes we see conversions. It could be a
non-Catholic becoming Catholic, or a Catholic not practicing his faith
who discovers that his faith has become more living and real to him.
times, we don’t know exactly what happens with our students. But part
of teaching and what the Lord asks us to do is plant a seed which we
don’t have the opportunity to see full grown.
CWR: Do any of your students become Dominican Sisters?
Sister Catherine: Yes. I won’t say it happens a lot, but when it does, it’s a beautiful thing to see.
CWR: Where are your sisters teaching?
Sister Catherine: Many
bishops have welcomed us into their dioceses. In fact, we’re blessed
to have more requests that we come to a diocese than we have the numbers
We teach in about 40 schools in about 35 or 40
different states. We also teach in Australia, Scotland and Canada. We
teach at the elementary and high school level, as well as at our Aquinas
College (www.aquinascollege.edu) in Nashville. We work in partnership with lay faculty, and have from three to eight sisters per school.
find that with the sisters, committed lay people and, hopefully, a
priest to serve as chaplain, the fullness of the life of the Church will
be reflected in that school.
CWR: Do the sisters have a philosophy of education which they follow?
Sister Catherine: The
Dominicans were founded in the Middle Ages for the preaching and
teaching of Sacred Truth. Dominicans have always been involved in
teaching in some way. Some of our communities have diversified into
other areas as well, but the Nashville Dominicans have always been
devoted to teaching.
One of our Dominican mottos is veritas,
truth. As Dominicans, we contemplate the truths taught to us by
Christ, and pass the fruits of our contemplation on to our students.
Our teaching, in fact, is an overflow of our prayer and community life
Study plays a vital role in our charism. We’re
committed to academic excellence. We study to attain knowledge, then
use that knowledge to attain wisdom. Our sisters go through all the
training a lay person would undergo to teach in a public school, plus we
do studies in philosophy and theology. In fact, most of our sisters go
on to get advanced degrees in theology.
In the end, we all know
that our schools exist to evangelize. We want our students to see that
their call is to holiness, and that they respond affirmatively to that