Home|South Africa
31 01, 2024

‘Through Shadows’ January 2024

2024-01-31T11:29:45+00:00January 31, 2024|Dominican News, Justice, Latin America, South Africa|

January 2024 ‘Through Shadows’

Link to English Edition  https://mailchi.mp/dominicansisters/january2024-through-shadows-justice-newsletter-8864220

Link to Spanish Edition https://mailchi.mp/dominicansisters/enero-de-2024-boletn-de-justicia-a-travs-de-las-sombras


14 12, 2023

December 2023 – Through Shadows

2024-01-31T10:27:00+00:00December 14, 2023|Ireland, Justice, Latin America, News, Our Regions, South Africa, Uncategorized|

22 07, 2015

Sr. Margaret Kelly OP

2023-12-01T14:38:06+00:00July 22, 2015|Ireland, Justice, My Vocation Story, News, South Africa, Stories|

My Vocation Story

This is the Vocation story of Sr Margaret Kelly O.P, a Cabra Dominican Sister, who lives and works in South Africa.  Sr Margaret is passionate about justice and peace issues.  She has served as Mission Area Prioress of South Africa in years gone by and she has also served as a Councillor in the Generalate.  She is currently the Prioress of St Dominics Priory in Port Elizabeth.

I was lucky enough to attend a Dominican school in Dun Laoghaire for most of my school life.  I remember in the Primary school several Nuns from different Orders came to tell their stories and to invite us to join them.  I remember thinking that if ever I decided to become a Nun I’d become a Dominican.  I found the Sisters gentle, encouraging and friendly…they seemed to assume that if they taught us well we would respond by learning well.  And they were right because they taught us above all to love and search for “Truth” – their Dominican Motto.

In High school we were treated more and more as responsible adults as we went up the ranks.  We had Dominican Priests to preach our Retreats and we could pop into the Convent chapel daily where we heard the Sisters praying the Divine Office.  As I moved up the school I needed to decide what I wanted to do and what subjects I needed to take.  With only two years left, I realised that I wanted to become a Dominican.  After some time I found a close friend of mine was also thinking of joining the Sisters.  Later we discovered that another friend had also decided to join the Order.  So after writing Matric and enjoying summer holidays, Dorothy Balfe, Cora McCullagh and I joined the Dominicans – and we are all still here today.  The initial inspiration came from God, but through sisters who were warm, friendly, intellectually challenging and committed to prayer, love of God and others and to education, as a way of preaching the Word of God.

At school I had also been very impressed when I heard stories of the Dominican Sisters and their ministries in South Africa and so after Novitiate responded to my second calling to Mission and I set sail for Cape Town.  I enjoyed my years at university both in Port Elizabeth and Pretoria even though because of Apartheid only White students were allowed there.  They too soon became friends even though they had been brought up prejudiced against Catholics as well as Blacks.  The search for Truth at many levels and in various ways brought us all together.  I then began my teaching career and after some years became School Principal in Holy Rosary in Port Elizabeth.  I had also joined the local Justice and Peace Commission and both ministries came together in 1977 when we answered the call to open the school to children of all races which was against the Apartheid Laws.  There were many threats and harassments from security police but the call to Justice was much stronger and we were bravely supported by many teachers, pupils and parents.  When I was called to serve on our Region Council I worked to extend the appreciation of different Races, Languages and Cultures in all our Schools.

In January 1987 I was invited to serve as Secretary to the Justice and Peace Commission of the South African Catholic Bishops Conference (SACBC) headed by Archbishop Denis Hurley.  Apartheid was at its worst and many of our workers were in prison so it was another challenging Call.  In my years there I saw the bombed out headquarters of those who resisted apartheid: the Trade Unions, the Council of Churches and our own SACBC.  But in spite of the brutality of the Apartheid System, it was a privilege to work with many stalwarts of the Liberation Struggle.  Alas, just as Mandela took over as President and the ANC as Government in 1994 I was called to take over the Leadership of our Sisters in South Africa.  Several different calls to Service and Leadership followed over the next two decades and to each I just said: “Yes Lord”.

Each day I just thank the Lord for His many different calls to me over the course of my life.  The calls of the Lord meant I had a rich, fulfilling and very happy life – far greater that I could ever have asked for or imagined if my life had been determined by my own silly whims.


Sr Margaret Kelly O.P

15 06, 2015

Sr. Francis Cosgrove

2023-11-30T14:27:09+00:00June 15, 2015|My Vocation Story, News, South Africa, Stories|

My Vocation Story

This is the Vocation Story of Sr Francis Cosgrove, a Cabra Dominican Missionary Sister, living and working in South Africa.  Sr Francis specialises in Spiritual Direction and gives guided Retreats to individuals.

Sr. Francis Cosgrove OP

Sr. Francis Cosgrove OP

I give thanks to God for the precious gift of a Vocation to the Religious Life and I marvel at the wonderful ways in which I have been guided along the way.  I also give thanks for the many people who have encouraged me and supported me in it, for over 60 years; chief among them would be my family, extended family, friends, Dominican teachers and Community members.

I come from a very staunch Catholic family where the practice of our faith was second-nature.  Most of my school life was spent in Sion Hill, a local Dominican School.  I imbued the spirit of St Dominic from the Sisters who taught me, and was especially influenced by the example of their joyfulness, prayerfulness and kindness.  No wonder, then, that as I progressed up the school and began to think about the future, I gradually became aware of a gentle urge to “be a nun”.  All of this, of course, I kept to myself.

I spent the last three years of my school life in the boarding school, where we had more contact with the Sisters and could join them for Compline in the Chapel at night.  During these years, too, we had many visits from Sisters of other Congregations looking for young people to join them.  We also worked very hard for the annual Sale of work for the Missions, as well as for the Holy Childhood Association.  God was at work, and the urge to find out more grew!  This I did by praying to the Holy Spirit, going to Bookshops, picking up leaflets etc.  The turning point for me was when a dear Sister, who had known me from the Junior School, asked me one night, “Anne, have you ever thought of becoming a nun?”  My reply was, “No one has ever asked me!”  I was 16 years old at the time.  That for me was a sign from God that I was on the right path.  And so the search continued for another year and a half.

Finally, in my last year at school, we had a visit from some Sisters working in South Africa.  The whole School was assembled to hear them speak about their life and work there.  I cannot remember what was said, but I do know that at a certain moment during their address to us, I knew that I was being called to be a Dominican in South Africa.

Six months later, I was being interviewed by Mother Reginald and other Sisters in Cabra, Dublin.  In October 1952, I entered the Novitiate in Kerdiffstown and three years later, I arrived in Cape Town.  Many changes have taken place since then, both in myself and in the country, but I know that the decision to answer the call of God was the best one I have ever made!  It has brought me happiness and fulfilment.

As regards Ministry, I was a full-time teacher and cared for Boarders up until the early seventies when I was gradually led into a new Ministry of Spiritual Direction and Individually-Directed-Retreats.  At first, this could only be part time, as I had other commitments.  However, since 1992, it has been my main involvement in Pastoral Care.  For the past fifteen years, I have run our Retreat Centre here in Springfield.  It has been most enriching and life-giving experiences for me.

I pray that God will guide you as you search for His will for YOU.

Have YOU ever thought of becoming a Sister?

Sr Francis Cosgrove O.P



3 10, 2014

Interview with Sr. Martine Pillay OP

2023-12-01T14:54:45+00:00October 3, 2014|Dominican News, News, South Africa|

Twenty years on from the end of Apartheid in South Africa,  Sr Martine Pillay recounts the day she cast her vote in Middle Abbey St and how life has changed since

Sr Martine Pillay, a Dominican Sister based in South Africa recalls meeting a man on a plane who explained to her that he lived in fear of others because he lived separately from those around him. She has never forgotten that man. 1994 was a year full of promise in South Africa because it brought an end to this divide. People had lived in ignorance of one another for too long. The end of the apartheid regime meant that children could now go to the schools of their parents’ choice. They could go to the cinema and travel on any bus they wished.Martine Pillay

With this, came the opportunity to vote and Sr Martine Pillay who was based in Ireland at the time cast her vote in the South African elections at a polling station at the ATGWU district office in Dublin’s Middle Abbey St, where many anti-apartheid demonstrations had been previously held. She describes voting as a feeling of being baptised and cleansed. On this day, about fifteen Irish Sisters who had been based in South Africa at some point also voted, for them it was a symbolic act in support of a non-racial democracy. They were pictured on the front page of the Irish Times.

But how much has changed in South Africa over this period? During Apartheid, jobs were reserved for white people. Sr Martine explains, “it was always a white person managing a black person working.” After returning from Ireland to South Africa in 1999, the first thing she observed, was a white person cleaning the plane. However, other change has been much more gradual to take hold and that “is the change of attitude and heart”. For so long, people had internalised what apartheid was teaching and they began to believe it. “The change of attitude is still at a very slow pace. While blacks and whites can now live in the same areas, many people still have to grapple with the untruths created by Apartheid.”

The biggest division now in South Africa is the divide between rich and poor, whether black or white. After 1994, people began to migrate into urban areas but they didn’t have the means to build houses. The housing situation remains dire. There is a continued lack of suitable housing due to worsening unemployment. In some of the remaining Dominican schools now, teachers and older children are involved in “Habitat for Humanity” an organisation which supports volunteers to build homes for the very poor. This initiative also builds awareness amongst children.

Sr Martine explains that with the ending of Apartheid, new injustices have emerged. Poor black people have now been joined by a growing number of impoverished white people. “These are the group who are now forgotten within South African society,” she says.
There is also evident nepotism across the public service, with many people employed because of their connections but who lack the basic qualifications and experience to do the job. A glaring example of this was the man who did the signing for the Deaf at Nelson Mandella’s funeral. This caused huge embarrassment to South Africa. Overall, the situation is causing unease. People are not receiving an adequate level of public services and Sr Martine believes that this will cause increased instability in the country.

This has also crept into the third level education system. Education has become a problem area for the government, not only have they had to make education available to all, but they have also had to break down apartheid in education. The introduction of quotas in Universities has caused its own problems, resulting in students gaining access into third level, again without adequate qualifications.
A huge change in South Africa has also been the opening of borders to other Africans. Many of these people are entrepreneurs who have set up small businesses to survive. This however has caused a certain level of jealousy amongst native South Africans and has resulted in friction between different groups.

The Cabra Dominicans have a strong legacy in South Africa, having committed their lives to setting up hundreds of schools and educating thousands of children. Last year was the celebration of 150 years in the region. While many of the Sisters are now retired, their legacy is strong with the Dominican ethos evident across these schools. The Sisters are ensuring now that they continue to make their presence felt in the education field, having secured vacant convent buildings and land for education purposes and also by making bursaries available for teachers. They are also involved in the area of child safeguarding by holding w orkshops for the staff and governing bodies.

Other Sisters are involved in the alleviation of the effects of HIV and Aids by raising funds for child headed households. Others are involved in work in the parish and in preparing families for baptism and communion. The older Sisters are committed to prayer, keeping them aware of what is happening in the outside world is important so they can pray to alleviate the hardships, especially with the current situation in Iraq.
Martine herself knew she wanted to become a nun from an early age, converting to Catholicism when she was 14. The rest of her family followed suit. Sr Martine taught all her life apart from when she served on the region council in South Africa. She was also the first non-Irish person on the general Council.

Like all other regions, the Sisters are experiencing decreasing numbers in South Africa. However Martine believes that God is perhaps calling for another way of serving the needs in society. Sr Martine says that living in a convent is different now. She says that her life as a Sister has resulted in her living with the most fantastic women that she would never have met had she not become a nun.

11 09, 2013

Evening Prayer, Cathedral, Cape Town

2023-12-01T12:08:10+00:00September 11, 2013|Dominican News, Events, South Africa|


Evening Prayer, Cathedral, Cape Town


This year 2013,as we know, was designated by Pope Benedict XVI as a Year of Faith.  The quotation chosen for the Year of Faith was from the Acts of the Apostles: Chapter 14, verse 27, it states “They called the church together, and reported what God had done with them, and how he had opened the door of faith.”


Today in this Cathedral of Cape Town we recall with a deep sense of gratitude and humility those first Irish Dominican sisters who came from Cabra, Dublin in 1863, a hundred and fifty years ago, and all those who followed in their footsteps over those one hundred and fifty years – Irish and South African women.  We give thanks for their faith, for how they responded to the gift of faith and how they were willing to share it with others.  They have indeed opened the door of faith over many faith filled years.


I first visited South Africa in 1991 and among many things that impacted upon me then, was the magnificent beauty of the country – the mountains, the sea, and the flora, the birds and animals; this beauty and diversity contrasted sharply with the pain and suffering of the structured apartheid system. The other lasting impression was the vocation and life stories of our older sisters, of how they left their country to come so far away.


The origin of our Congregation stems from a robust, strong faith in a God who pervades history.  It began in Galway, a small fishing village in the West of Ireland in 1644, at a time of great religious persecution which continued for centuries.  To choose to be a Catholic, much less a vowed religious was akin to death, torture or exile, in the political and social structure of their day.  We refer to those darkest days as the Penal Times because of the restrictions placed upon Catholics.  They were not allowed to own property, practise their religion openly or speak their native language.  Yet their faith survived and their belief in a faithful God.


Catholic Emancipation came in 1829 and the years following saw a great flourishing of the Catholic Church and that of the priesthood and religious Orders.  It heralded in a blossoming of new Missionary Orders and many men and women going to countries all over the world to spread the Gospel.  It was from this time that the first Irish Dominican Sisters came to South Africa.  They came from a very small island, (one could today, drive the length and breadth of Ireland in a day)! I don’t know how many times Ireland would fit into your beautiful country?  Many times I am sure.  They came by boat, leaving their homeland forever, imbued with the understanding that their faith was a gift, a gift not to be hoarded but to be shared with others.  Those early pioneers came from a tradition where their ancestors suffered in order to hold on to their faith and who had nothing else but a belief in a loving and compassionate God who would save them one day.


These women came not only with their gift of faith but also with their formation and education as Dominican women.  They were trained in prayer, study, community living and ministry – ministry which was expressed in education – schools at all levels and schools for children who were deaf.  over the last 150 years, the sisters have opened approximately 79 schools in South Africa and today there are 23 Dominican Schools. We can truly say with St. Paul “ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God’s people, I have not stopped giving thanks for you.”


St. Paul not only gives thanks as we do this day but he prays for his hearers and we Dominican Sisters pray with St. Paul for all of you present here, for all who over the years have supported us, walked with us, in our schools, parishes, and in our works for peace and justice.  We pray “that the God of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance and his incomparable great power for us who believe.”


Not only is this, the Year of Faith in the Catholic Church but we are also called to be participants in a New Evangelisation in a world whose rate of change is exponential and which has far reaching effects on us as humans,on our flora and fauna, on our environment, traditions and cultures, indeed on our very existence.


Our Baptism, as Christians, calls us to evangelise, it reminds us that we share in the life of God and we share in the mission of Christ.  We are all co-creators with God.  We are called to be generative, men and women who bring forth life in others and in the world around us, wherever we find ourselves.  I like to think of Baptism as a signpost which sets us on a path of being attentive to God in our lives; attentive to a journey of self-discovery and God discovery.  Meister Eckhart, the medieval Dominican, reminds us that we are “human with the seeds of the divine within us”. I heard Bishop Kevin Dowling, speak in Cape Town some years ago and he said that “apartheid has bred a very violent society in South Africa because as a system it showed no respect for human dignity.  And yet it raised up a man who understood what it was to be human and who never allowed evil or suffering to extinguish his hope or his dignity – Nelson Mandela.  Mandela, a man who knew himself and recognised the humanity in others. Meister Eckhart also said that “we know so many things but we don’t know ourselves” and yet here was a man who became an icon of hope, possibility and integrity for the world. A man who held up true human values which are the bedrock and inspiration of religion in its purity.


We give thanks today for those who have gone before us who in the Dominican tradition and charism tried to uphold the dignity of the person and her unique contribution.  I am sure that with successes we also failed along the way and as a representative of the Dominican Congregation I ask pardon for failures and any wrong we may have done.


Today we pray that we may know the hope to which God has called us and like Mandela and our wonderful Dominican Sisters we may be a light shining in the darkness of ignorance, war and greed and we may speak a word of truth and love that will help to restore right relationships between God, people and the earth. We pray that we may keep the door of faith opened for ourselves and for others so that we may create a more human society. Let this be our legacy.


Sr. Helen Mary Harmey OP,

Congregation Prioress.


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