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Star Struck: Visiting the Nashville Dominicans, part 1 of 3

Mary Rose Bacani Valenti

Thursday, November 20, 2008

God works in mysterious ways, as you all know. The story I’m about to tell you now has a special link to my past….
About 12 years ago, I was living in a house full of consecrated women in the Regnum Christi Movement. I don’t remember exactly how it came up, but one young woman said to us, “Oh, have you heard of the Nashville Dominicans? WOW, they are DYNAMIC! And so many young women entering the order! ... It’s incredible to watch them playing sports in their full habit, which is so beautiful...”
I don’t know what else she said, but I must have tuned out, because I had my own biases about religious life. Really? Dynamic young religious? Playing sports in full habit? What a crazy story!
And then, about two years ago, Fr. Glenn McDonald, a good friend of mine and a recently ordained priest, visited me in my little Salt + Light cubicle with a book in his hands and said, “Oh, Mary Rose, I have just visited with the Nashville Dominicans. Have you heard of them? They are amazing ... I’m talking to Fr. Tom now about them. We have to do something about them! It’s all part of this vision I have of creating programs to help renew the religious life...” And then he proceeded to open up his book, which is a pictorial history of the Nashville Dominicans. There was such excitement in Fr. Glenn’s eyes, an excitement for a dream that carried over to reality: Fr. Tom was so moved by Fr. Glenn’s euphoria, a documentary on the Nashville Dominicans began to take shape (Fr. Tom has a history with the Nashville Dominicans, by the way, since some of them worked with him during WYD 2002).
In the summer of 2007, a crew went twice to the Motherhouse in Nashville, Tennessee and filmed two ceremonies (First Professions and Final Vows) as well as several interviews, under the leadership of Fr. Glenn McDonald and Sr. Catherine Marie Hopkins of the Nashville Dominicans. About a year later, I was asked to carry out the project to completion, and proceeded to watch all the tapes several times and have regular phone and e-mail exchanges with Sr. Catherine Marie, who filled me in on what I didn’t know. It was a huge challenge because not only had I not been involved in the pre-production and production process, I had never even visited the Motherhouse in Nashville!
I called on all the Dominican saints in heaven (St. Dominic, St. Cecilia, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Catherine of Siena, Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati and the gang) and I said, “Look, this is about you. So please guide our every move, our every thought, and make this an inspiring and beautiful project. Amen!” I have been calling on heavenly Dominicans help ever since! I should mention that though they are commonly known as the Nashville Dominicans, their “official” name is the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia, a saint whose feast we celebrate this Saturday... I'll have more on her next week!
All the time that I had been working on the project, one thought that kept occurring was, Wow, I am working on this documentary and yet I have never even met these women. And then, surprise, surprise! Salt + Light agreed to book another trip to the Motherhouse for additional footage we needed to finish the rough cut of the documentary. And this time, I was going!
You have to understand how I felt about going to the Motherhouse in Nashville for the first time. I have watched and listened to the interviews on tape, and all this time, I have been so touched by the Sisters’ personal stories, their joy, and their fidelity to their vocation. Also, I have been in communication with Sr. Catherine Marie Hopkins, but we had never met! Oddly enough, she also has a link to my past. I had heard about her 12 or so years ago because her three brothers, who are Legionaries of Christ priests, had mentioned that they have a sister who is a Nashville Dominican – and that happens to be Sr. Catherine Marie! More than that, Sr. Catherine Marie and I share some Dominican roots together -- we went to the same College, Thomas Aquinas College, in California!
On Tuesday, November 11th, 2008, I arrived at the Motherhouse. And I have been star-struck ever since. They all thought I was crazy, going around and saying, “Oh, Sr. Marie Vianney, thank you for your wonderful artwork --- what’s that? You’d like to show me your studio? How exciting! Oh, Sr. Mary Peter, it’s you! It’s quite impressive that you were a lawyer with your own law firm before you entered! Oh, Sr. Anna Laura, I love what you said in the documentary, you were wonderful, I got chills up my spine whenever you talked! Oh, and you, Isr-kateri-rose-me-and-sr-marie-laboure-2.JPG recognize you, because you went through First Professions two summers ago! Oh! Oh!! Oh!!!”
Of course, none of them knew who I was, but I knew them all, heard their stories, watched them in their moments of spontaneity, and grew to love them! I asked if I could take their pictures so that I can tell everybody I’ve met these famous Sisters, and they just laughed. Nothing I said would get to their head, which was great!
I left the Motherhouse on Thursday, November 13th. It was such a short visit but oh, so wonderful! The documentary is nearing completion --- stay tuned to Salt + Light for updates. If you’d like to find out more about the Nashville Dominicans check out their website:

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