The following reflection was delivered by Sister Irene Ellis to the Sisters and Associates at the Foundation Day/Diamond Jubilee Mass on May 7, 2023.
I offer my heartfelt, sincere congratulations to our Diamond Jubilarians! How amazing and wonderful to be celebrating the anniversaries of those who have lived the vowed religious life as Dominican Sisters of Sparkill for 60, 65, 70, 75, 85, and even 90 years! Congratulations, Sisters, as we honor you on this Foundation Day!
Thinking about and planning for our celebration of the 147th anniversary of our foundation led me to The Vision is Tremendous, by Sister Mary Lucille Collins published in 1975. I found myself re-captured by our story – the story of open, listening hearts and generous, steadfast love - an extraordinary story still so full of mystery. I find that I am attracted by and drawn more and more into Mystery – the mystery of the Universe, the mystery of the Divine in all of creation, the mystery of a seed coming into full flower.
Alice Thorpe, her sister Lucy, and our very early ancestors were the seeds that took root and gave rise to who we, Dominican Sisters of Sparkill have been for 147 years and who we, Sisters and Associates are today. This is truly amazing – a manifestation of the Divine in human history!
Who was this woman, Alice Mary Thorpe, born in England in 1844? Why did she, an Anglican from a devout family, convert seemingly out of the blue, to Catholicism? Why did she leave everything behind, her comfortable family life and her country of origin, to voyage across the Atlantic to New York City? Where did she find her courage and her strength?
The Vision is Tremendous sheds some light on these wonderings. According to this account, Alice Mary loved God and lived from a young age with an awareness of a deep sense of God’s call to a consecrated life to be lived in service to the poor. She told her parents that she wanted to become a nun. She was infused by the mystery of the Divine calling her to something new and unknown.
Is not the mystery that opened and prepared her heart to know and follow the inner voice of God, the same inner knowing that each of us has experienced?
We know that once in New York, Alice Mary and her sister Lucy met the Dominican Provincial of St. Joseph’s Province, Fr. John Rochford whom Alice Mary discovered shared her soul’s dream of providing refuge to destitute women and children. And the story continues and continues, or shall I say, the mystery of God’s Providence and the manifestation of God’s purpose became revealed.
The birth of the Dominican Congregation of Our Lady of the Rosary was not a well-thought-out, rational plan. Alice Mary and Lucy and those early sisters who joined them had nothing of material consequence. They endured disappointments, setbacks, and hardships, including the early and untimely death of Alice Thorpe in 1879. There was no map, no security. What these women, our ancestors, did have was an abiding sense of trust in God’s presence, and open, loving hearts willing to reach out in service to do whatever they could to help those most in need. This is the foundation upon which we stand. This is the foundation of our Dominican Congregation.
Today’s Gospel of John (14:6) has Jesus, the Christ, proclaiming “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” In the reading from the Letter of Peter, we are being called to come to Christ, a living stone, the cornerstone, rejected by some but chosen and precious to God (1 Pt. 2:7). Come to Christ, Peter preaches, and be “living stones” such that your lives will emerge into a “spiritual house,” chosen and holy, a people of God’s own – called to live in the light.
Alice Mary (Mother Mary Catherine Antoninus) and Lucy (Sr. Mary Agnes) of the Order of Preachers, through the living presence of Christ and the magnificent work of God in them, serve as our cornerstone. Along with more than 1000 women who followed in their footsteps, we are summoned to be the “living stones.” Dominican women, alive in the lineage of St. Dominic, under the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary we are called to seek Truth, to Praise, to Bless, and to Preach the Gospel with our lives. As Dominican Sisters of Sparkill, we are committed to our Mission to proclaim the Reign of God through a ministry for justice and reverence for all creation. We face forward encountering the signs of our times, responding with the same abiding trust in God’s Presence and the guidance of the Holy Spirit as did our founders.
At this point in our well-lived life as a Congregation, we are emerging into a new phase of our journey – we are the elders, the wisdom keepers. Living in faithful service to the Gospel and to our Mission has been shaping our lives, shaping our very beings such that our hearts, souls, and minds are being transformed. We have indeed become living stones. We have become the heart and hands and face of Christ for the world.
We have much about which to rejoice! We are in the hands and heart of God – the Divine Creator of All – the Great Mystery. We face forward as joyful women of prayer and compassion preaching the Gospel with our very lives.
Let us celebrate together today!
Let us celebrate God’s magnificent Presence and work in us!