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On the shoulders of great women

By Sr Teresa Cardinez OP

The Dominican Sisters of St Catherine of Siena celebrated 150 years of mission in the archdiocese last Sunday, April 29, the saint’s feast day. In this combined celebration at St Finbar’s RC Church and the Dominican Pastoral Centre, we also marked the diamond jubilee of Sr Monique Moniquette, and the golden jubilees of Sr Laetitia Dookie and Sr Catherine Bernard Thomas. Archbishop Jason Gordon was the chief celebrant at the Mass. Various priests who have worked with our Sisters in some capacity also celebrated.

Archbishop Gordon spoke of the fruitfulness and renewal that result from an integral connection with God, the true vine. This has accounted for the “exemplary and heroic work” of our Sisters over the past 150 years. As Jeremiah did, the Word must be devoured. The difficult moments of pruning experienced by religious congregations are also opportunities for becoming more fruitful. This continues to be our call for the next 150 years!

Our Mistress of Ceremonies for the afternoon, Sr Renée Hall took us on a historical journey from France to Trinidad. We were invited to enter a truly Dominican experience of celebration, thanksgiving and dreaming.

Sr Therese Antoine, General Prioress, paid tribute to the intrepid, faith-filled and sacrificial character of the pioneering Sisters, who began arriving when the congregation was only 13 years old. Many volunteered to come, even after Sisters succumbed to yellow fever.

As Sr Therese pointed out, our jubilarians have not only collectively contributed 160 years of service but also together embodied the three major areas of ministry of pastoral care, social work and education in which, in response to new needs, our congregation’s apostolates have expanded since 1868.

Sr Laetitia has served in secondary education at Holy Name Convent, Port of Spain, and in the pastoral mission among the Caribbean community in Toronto, Canada.

Sr Catherine Bernard has been involved in primary education and more lately in parish administration, but also, in Sr Therese’s words, served as “intercessor, catechist, preacher, dramatist and even a dancer!”.

We recalled that Sr Monique cared for children at St Dominic’s Home before moving on to her trademark ministry at the chaplaincy of The University of the West Indies, where she contributed to the spiritual development of generations of university students, some of whom were present. Sr Monique has also been a novice mistress, prioress, and general counsellor for the congregation.

Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Fortunatus Nwachukwu, in his greetings, looked at the symbolism of 60 and 50 years and of the numbers 12 and 5, and reminded our jubilarians of their having been chosen and saved. This is not the time of rest but of jubilee celebration and renewal of their ‘chosen-ness’, keeping in mind that we have been healed by Christ’s wounds.

Our celebration was very beautifully complemented by the entertainment provided by tenor Nigel Floyd, the St Dominic’s Home Brass Band, instrumentalists Kelvin Brown and Incoma Alexander, both music tutors at St Dominic’s Home, and by calypsonian Myron B, who used his extempo prowess to serenade the jubilarians and salute the Sisters on their 150th anniversary.

Our celebration was an opportunity, which we hope to sustain, of pondering the theme Boundless in Trust, Creating the Impossible. As we do so, we continue to remember, in the words of Sr Therese Antoine that: “We stand on the shoulders of some very great, courageous, brave, generous, adventurous and extremely faith-filled women, whose sense of service, mission and call took them beyond their own comfort zones into the arms of the unknown frontiers of Trinidad and Tobago.”

Memento by Sr Marie Thérèse Rétout OP

157 Dominican Sisters contributed to the implantation and growth of the Congregation in 150 years in Trinidad and Tobago.  65 French Sisters died in Trinidad and were buried in the Lapeyrouse Cemetery and 10 Sisters who died in Chacachacare were buried in the island cemetery at Marine Bay.  Dominican Sisters who came from 14 countries other than France and worked in Trinidad were from Belgium, Poland, England, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Portugal, USA, Canada, Venezuela, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Grenada and Réunion.