Who are we? We are the English Dominican Congregation of St Catherine of Siena, a religious community of apostolic life, following the rule of St. Augustine as Dominican Sisters. As Dominicans we strive to follow in the mission of St Dominic in the four-fold dimensions of prayer, study, community life and mission.
Prayer is essential to our way of life, as, according to one of our mottoes, we ‘contemplate and pass on to others the fruits of contemplation.’ Deepening our relationship with God lies at the heart of our life, as we pray both privately and as a community.
Study is not done for its own sake, but has the two-fold purpose of deepening our relationship with and knowledge of God and His creation, and furthering His Mission. Each sister is encouraged to study deeply to the best of her ability, and this study will also include gaining professional qualifications where appropriate.
As religious we live in community. We live, eat and pray together and support each other in our various missions, but the ‘living together’ as sisters is itself a sign, a ‘Holy preaching’ We have houses in Stone (Our mother house) Stroud, Leicester and Cambridge. The sisters in these houses support their local communities in a variety of missions including chaplaincy and hospital work.
Throughout our history we have enjoyed a close association with the Dominican friars, and at present we share some studies in the novitiate, and many of the brothers in formation have been taught by the sisters, and vice versa.
‘Preaching’ is the general title of our mission. We understand this very broadly, and sisters work in a broad field of differing apostolates. The golden thread which links all of these is the recognition of the goodness of God’s creation, and the essential dignity of humanity made in His image.
From the mid C19th several congregations of Dominican sisters were founded in England, at Stone, Stroud, Leicester, Harrow and Portobello Rd. The Founder sisters of the various Congregations spread the Gospel by answering crying social needs, ministering to the poor, the sick and the uneducated. They contributed to the 'Second Spring', a movement among English Christians which brought many new converts into the Catholic Church, most famously Saint John Henry Newman. The contribution of the sisters was to bring to the people the splendour of the liturgy and public devotion to the Mother of God. They also helped revitalise the faith by publishing books of spirituality and on the lives of the saints.
The present Congregation was formed under the guidance and encouragement of Fr Bede Jarrett in 1929 by the amalgamation of five Congregations of Dominican Third Order Sisters under the title of the Dominican Sisters of the English Congregation of St Catherine of Siena.
'The congregations that amalgamated were as follows:
i) The Congregation of St Catherine of Siena founded at Coventry by Mother Margaret Hallahan in 1845, after she had received an invitation in 1841 from the Rev. William Bernard Ullathorne, to assist in the Catholic mission there;
ii) The Congregation of St Rose of Lima founded at Stroud, Gloucestershire, by Mother Mary Teresa Matthews in 1857;
iii) A further group of Third Order Sisters was established by Mother Rose Corbett at the invitation of the Dominican Fathers, at Leicester in 1875;
iv) The Congregation of the Holy Rosary, founded in Flanders about 1871 by Mother Catherine Philip Bathurst and transferred to Harrow in Middlesex in 1880 at the invitation of Cardinal Manning;
v) The French Congregation of Our Lady of Grace at Chatillon-Sous-Bogneux, invited by Cardinal Vaughan to send sisters to his diocese, and Mother Cecilia Marshall established a community in London in 1896. After official separation from the French congregation in 1912, the London house in Portobello Road became the Mother House of the new Congregation of St Vincent Ferrer.
The longest established convent, which happened to be the one at Stone in Staffordshire, was designated the Mother House.1
All of the sisters were united in a common inspiration drawn from the breadth of St Dominic's vision and his joyous spirit.
Some needs have changed with the passing of time and call for new approaches and ways of preaching to make the Gospel understood. The truth that people continue to need and thirst for, their legitimate wants and necessities must be tackled realistically, and with the same undaunted spirit today as that with which St Dominic met the challenges of the C13th.
Our message is still Christ Incarnate, Who died for our sins and rose in Glory, Whom we strive to recognise and serve in those we minister to.
Mother Margaret Hallahan, Servant of God, 'was born in London in 1802. By 1811 she had been admitted to an orphanage for destitute girls but after a short period became a servant girl working for an English Catholic family who settled in Bruges in 1826. In 1829 Margaret tried her vocation at the English convent there, but she did not stay very long. She became a Dominican Tertiary in 1835 and in her spare time gave herself to works of apostolic charity. Because of her great reputation in the apostolic field, in 1841 she was invited by Father Ullathome to help in his work at Coventry. When Father Ullathorne was consecrated Vicar Apostolic of the Western District, a small group of professed Dominican Sisters, under the leadership of Mother Margaret, transferred to Clifton in 1846 in order to remain under the Bishop's direction. Here the first convent was built. Mother Margaret founded five convents and these formed a Congregation directly under the jurisdiction of the Master General of the Order of Preachers who appointed Bishop Ullathorne to be his Vicar with regard to the newly established Congregation, in 1859. Mother Margaret died at Stone in 1868.
'Mother Mary Teresa Matthews was born on 17 November 1815, the eldest daughter of a mill-owner resident at Wooton-under-Edge in Gloucestershire, and christened Elizabeth. After her father's death, which distressed her considerably, she was invited by a friend of the family, Edwin Bucknall, to join his wife and family in Stroud, Gloucestershire. While she was there curiosity compelled her to enquire about the Catholic Church. The Bucknalls at that time belonged to a non-Catholic sect and she was left free to follow her own family's practices. In 1850 she was received into the Church by Father Honorius C. P., the parish priest of the mission at Woodchester. There was no Catholic Church at Stroud at that time. Elizabeth soon became acquainted with a Mrs D. Sandys, a widow and great benefactress of the Catholics in Stroud, who had just opened a small school for Catholic children in the London Road and needed help with the work. She had collected around her several ladies dedicated to visiting the sick and the poor and to giving religious instruction. Within a short time Elizabeth asked to join this group of apostolic workers who later became Dominican Tertiaries. Elizabeth felt herself further drawn towards conventual religious life and so applied for admission to the Second Order of Dominican Nuns at Hurst Green (later removed to Carisbrooke) but she was not accepted by them. This led her to consider approaching Mother Margaret Hallahan who had recently established a community of Dominican Sisters in the Clifton diocese; but the Dominican Fathers recommended her to wait. This she did and continued to work with Mrs Sandys and her group. On 2 February 1857 Elizabeth was clothed in the Dominican habit and in November of that year her companions also received the habit. The Bishop of Clifton appointed Father Dominic Aylward O.P., Prior of Woodchester, to be their director, and under his guidance the conventual tertiaries made their canonical novitiate. (They did not wear the habit openly until 1859). Not long after this, Mrs Sandys decided that she was not called to the religious life and so she withdrew from the group; ill health dictated that she should live abroad and on 21 June 1878 she died. Soon the original group broke up and Elizabeth, who was by then nominated the sister in charge, found herself almost alone, although Sister Rose Corbett remained. However, others joined them and in 1863 a creche for children of the poor was organized. Within the next few years a small boarding school was started, then an orphanage and work school. The premises were enlarged and the new building was begun in 1867. These years were dogged by poverty and innumerable difficulties. Elizabeth, now known as Mother Mary Teresa Matthews, always had a deep desire to recite the Divine Office in choir and this was realised in 1871 when on the feast of the Most Holy Trinity the community recited all the Canonical Hours. Between 1866 and 1884 three daughter houses were established and the first General Chapter of the Congregation of St Rose of Lima was convened in 1889, when Mother Mary Teresa was elected the first Prioress General. The Congregation was finally approved by Rome in 1896. Mother Mary Teresa died at Stroud in 1905.
'Mother Rose Corbett. We have very little documentation concerning Elizabeth Corbett, later known as Sister Rose Corbett. All that we can be sure of is that in 1855, as a young woman, she was sent by the Rev. Bernard Morewood O. P. to help Mrs Sandys in her newly opened Catholic School in London Road,Stroud, Gloucestershire, where she met the future Mother Mary Teresa Matthews. In November 1857 Elizabeth was clothed in the Dominican habit at Stroud and given the name of Sister Rose. When in 1866 the Rev. Dominic Aylward O. P. requested help from the Sisters at Stroud for his mission in Kentish Town, London, Sister Rose with five other choir sisters, two lay-sisters and a postulantwere sent to give assistance. Sister Rose was appointed to be in charge of the London community. This foundation, however, did not succeed and in 1868 several of the sisters returned to Stroud while Sister Rose and three companions decided to accept an invitation from the Dominican Fathers to teach in the parish schools of St Patrick's and Holy Cross in Leicester. This necessitated official separation from the Stroud community. Thus a new group of Dominican Sisters was formed in Leicester in 1875. From this foundation three daughter houses were established; at Bridlington in 1895, and at Leyburn and Redcar in 1896. This group of Sisters, though never officially designated a Congregation, chose as its patron our Lady, Help of Christians.
'Mother Catherine Philip Bathurst, the youngest daughter of Sir James Bathurst K.C.B., was born at Wookey in Somerset in 1825 and christened Catherine Anne. She became a Catholic when she was twenty-five years old and soon after her reception met Pere Lacordaire O.P., and also Dr John Henry (later Cardinal) Newman. She entered religious life with the Dominican Sisters at Stone in 1861 but ill-health soon obliged her to leave. Later, as a Dominican Tertiary, she met a Miss Dunford and, under the guidance of the Dominican Fathers, they visited the sick and the poor of Kentish Town and gave religious instruction. By 1868 she, Miss Dunford and two young friends formed a Tertiary group in Belgium and with the permission of Mgr Bracq, Bishop of Ghent, founded a convent for Tertiaries who wanted to live a full religious life in community. This community was affiliated to the Order of Preachers. Cardinal Manning, a personal friend of many years standing, asked her to make a foundation in England. Some of her Sisters arrived at Harrow, Middlesex, in 1878 and the novitiate was transferred there in 1880. From this foundation issued five daughter houses; at Kilbum 1881, Watford 1883, Shoreham 1886 (transferred to Bognor 1896), Sale near Manchester 1891—1897 and at Beccles1897. This new Congregation, under the patronage of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary, was erected in 1890, the house at Harrow being named its Mother House, and Mother Catherine Philip Bathurst was elected its first Prioress General. She died in 1907.
'Mother Mary Cecilia Marshall was born at Brighton in 1851. Her mother belonged to a recusant family who had never lost the faith, and later in life her father, an architect, embraced the Catholic religion.While still a young woman, Elizabeth Lucy Marshall, who later became Mother Mary Cecilia Marshall, joined the Dominican Tertiary community at Clichy in France in 1876 — this community was from Chatillon-Sous-Bogneux. A month after making perpetual profession, Sister Mary Cecilia was sent to be Superior of a small group of Sisters at Mirecourt. After several years, and successive appointments as Superior, Mother Mary Cecilia Marshall was sent, in1896, to make a foundation in London at the request of Cardinal Vaughan. By 1910 it was obvious that separation from the French Congregation was desirable, although the Deed of Separation was not signed until 1912. Several daughter houses were established from this foundation and the London House in Portobello Road, W 10, became the Mother House of yet another Congregation of Dominican Sisters, under the patronage of St Vincent Ferrer.
Each of these Congregations, some of Pontifical Right and others not,continued to establish daughter houses. Those that flourished were incorporated at the amalgamation in 1929.' 2 Since then further closures and foundations have been, and continue to be made.
1 S.M. Crispin o.p., Catholic Archives 1986 - WordPress.com