Dominican Sisters of Sparkill Celebrate
60 Years in Pakistan
On Saturday, September 15th, the Dominican Sisters of Sparkill honored both their past and their present while celebrating a Mass of Thanksgiving for the congregation’s sixty years of ministry in Pakistan. What began as an invitation from the Dominican Friars in New York to Mother Kevin Sullivan to participate in building the Church in Pakistan grew into a life-changing mission, a true leap of faith, for many Sisters from the Dominican Congregation of Our Lady of the Rosary. Father Gregory Doherty, OP, who fittingly shares with the Sisters a history of ministering in Pakistan, celebrated the Mass of Thanksgiving. He described how on September 12, 1958, eight Sisters departed on the SS Constitution for Karachi, Pakistan with the intent to minister in whatever capacity was needed in Bahawalpur and Loreto in the diocese of Multan.
In her reflection before those gathered in Our Lady of the Rosary Chapel and watching via livestream, one the original eight Sisters, Sister Anne Tahaney, OP, reminded everyone that Jesus said, “You will be my disciples...to the ends of the world” and that, in 1958, the distance to Pakistan did feel immense. She recalled preparing for the journey by studying about the country and its customs and learning the Urdu language. Sister Anne described working in the English School in Bahawalpur and “establishing strong bonds with the Muslim parents of the children.” She also recollected that “reading unfamiliar characters and letters from right to left posed a special challenge, and many mistakes were made—some confusing and others amusing, but the language of love and concern was spoken and clearly understood by all.”
Sister Anne spoke of the Sisters’ understanding that their mission was not to proselytize. “We didn’t respond in telling others who Jesus was,” she said, “but rather we tried to show that our relationship with Him was to be like Him. Our lives are meant to be windows through which people can see Jesus – Savior of all people.” She offered that by sharing their gifts of themselves, their time and their presence teaching in schools, dispensing medications, or directing hostels for children, the Sisters were proclaiming the Kingdom of God.
The Sisters who took this leap of faith going to Pakistan all volunteered for the journey. Sister Anne Foley, OP, who spent thirteen years ministering in the country, felt the experience had unexpected effects on her life and shared that the journey matured her, taught her to be more flexible and to take comfort in that flexibility. Sister Rose Patrice Sasso, OP, another of the original eight Sisters on the SS Constitution, spent twelve years in Pakistan. She said the group was answering a call even though it felt “like we were being sent to the moon.” She recalled the hospitality and respect the Sisters were shown when they arrived to open both an English school for Muslim children and Urdu schools for the Christian children.
Closing her reflection, Sister Anne Tahaney said, “We must see Jesus with open eyes and hearts as the Messiah, and we must help others to do the same, not by our preaching but by our very lives, our actions, the way we each live. We must know Jesus, the Nazarene, in order for others to know Him.” Sister Rose Patrice agreed, reinforcing that the Sparkill Dominican Sisters’ mission was to spread the Gospel by example and “they came home with more than what we brought.”
From the beginning of this journey, the Sisters’ plan was to lay a foundation for a native-born Pakistani community of women religious to be a vibrant part of the future of the church in Pakistan. The seed planted in 1958 has borne fruit as there are now nineteen native-born Pakistani women in the Sparkill Dominican congregation, each continuing to minister wherever needed, each continuing to be a window through which people can see Jesus, each still speaking the language of love.
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