Bright rays of hope: Dominican sisters bring joy and love of Christ to classroom
When Principal Diane Price sees the white-robed Dominican sisters bustling down the hallways of St. Joseph Catholic School, she can’t help but smile.
“I see them as bright rays of hope as they move about the building,” she said.
Their floor-length white habits set them apart, but they are remarkably “normal,” the administrator explained.
“They are part of our community. They play volleyball, join the class in PE, and hula hoop at recess,” Price described. “The students see that you can devote your whole life to God and still be normal.”
The pre-K4 – 8th grade school in Arlington, along with St. George Catholic School in Fort Worth, was the first to welcome the Dominican Sisters of Mary Immaculate to the classroom when the religious women came to the diocese in 2011.
In the nine intervening years, the number of Dominican sisters living in the Diocese of Fort Worth has grown from four to 10, and the schools served will grow to seven this academic year.
Mary Burns, principal of St. Rita Catholic School in Fort Worth, said the sisters are “a wonderful gift for Catholic schools. They help us remain true to our Catholic identity.”
Dominican sisters have taught at the school for several years. According to Burns, “They model Christ’s teachings. They model Christ’s love. They challenge me to be better.”
Sister Ann Nguyen, OP, teaches third grade at the school, and Burns noted that her gentle manner with the students “lets them know they are loved.”
Sr. Ann teaches all the major subjects to her pupils, but both principal and teacher agree that religion class is where the sister excels. Burns said students “build a relationship with Christ and with their faith” due to hands-on lessons from Sr. Ann, who uses kid-sized vessels and diminutive priest garments to spark the children’s understanding of Mass. The classroom’s miniature saints make the heroes of the faith come alive.
Sr. Ann laughed when she described why religion is her favorite subject to teach. “I have no lesson plan; it just comes out,” she said. “Everything else I have to prepare.” Burns laughed, too, although she suspects that Sr. Ann has a plan, even when she follows the Holy Spirit’s lead.
In teaching, “I have found the vocation within my vocation,” explained Sr. Ann. She weaves religion into every subject she teaches, especially science, where she can explain that God established and maintains the natural order.
The Dominican Sisters of Mary Immaculate, known informally as the Vietnamese Dominicans, have a provincial house in Houston of about 100 women.
The order established a presence in the U.S. in 1975, when seven sisters fled their war-torn homeland of Vietnam and eventually made their way to the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.
The U.S. province often bridges the culture between the old and new homelands for Vietnamese immigrants. The sisters are bilingual, and they preserve the culture and cuisine of their Southeast Asian heritage.
Principal Price appreciates their connection to both cultures at St. Joseph, where a Dominican sister has served as an aide in the kindergarten class for several years. The Arlington school has many families of Vietnamese origin.
“For some of our youngest students and their families, it provides comfort to see a Dominican sister. Some of the kids have been raised speaking Vietnamese, and kindergarten is the first time they are setting foot in a classroom. It’s helpful that the sisters can speak Vietnamese and understand the culture,” Price said.
Whether in the U.S. or Vietnam, the Dominican sisters structure their days around prayer, study, community life, and their apostolate, or ministry. For most, that ministry is teaching.
“I love teaching,” said Sr. Ann. “St. Dominic [who founded the Dominican Order in the 13th century] taught that contemplation and the active life go hand in hand. We are to share the fruit of our contemplation with others.”
Nine of the ten sisters in the Diocese of Fort Worth teach in Catholic schools. The tenth serves as the elementary formation director at St. Jude Parish in Mansfield.
Although students are the primary beneficiary of the sisters’ apostolate, both principals acknowledged the quiet guidance they provide the faculty and staff. Burns said the religious women are humble and meek, but they “help us redirect” when daily concerns become distracting.
Price said, “They bring a sense of peace and calm to the school, like guiding lights at times when we are struggling with anything. They bring us back to ‘All things are for God. Why are you worrying? Do all that you do for God.’”
One of those struggles was after spring break, when schools shifted to virtual learning because of the coronavirus pandemic.
At Blessed Imelda Convent, where the sisters live on the campus of Nolan Catholic High School, eight religious women taught classes on web-based platforms, often simultaneously. “It was loud,” said Sr. Ann, who is the prioress. “We were all in different rooms, but we learned to cope with it,” she said.
Sr. Ann calls it a privilege to serve the Diocese of Fort Worth and appreciates the opportunity first given by former Bishop Kevin Vann and expanded by Bishop Michael Olson.
She gratefully listed what the sisters have been provided to help in their ministry, from teaching materials to a chaplain (previously Father Anh Tran, and now Father Thu Nguyen). “The bishop gives us the tools and means to work. We try to behave,” she said, bursting into laughter again.
Laughter is common for the prioress.
“Even when we are doing different tasks, our responsibilities, we find joy in our work,” she said. “Jesus is the source of our joy. We believe Jesus is our bridegroom. We hope the faithful can see the joy of consecrated life.”