27 06, 2023

Sr. Sabine Schratz OP

2023-12-01T15:23:08+00:00June 27, 2023|My Vocation Story|

My Vocation Story

Sr. Sabine Schratz, finally professed, is a Dominican Sister in Ireland. What she finds challenging and enriching in the Dominican life is holding the balance between two worlds – the active and contemplative.

Sr Sabine“I always had a fascination for religion as far back as the beginnings of primary school in Germany, where I was brought up. When I made the decision to become a Dominican Sister my father dug out an early school report which stated that I had a great interest in religious questions. I presume that, even at age seven, I had already started my “expedition” to find God!

As a Dominican Sister, I do and do not lead a normal life. Like everybody else, I go out to work. At present I teach at our Adult Education Centre in Sion Hill, assisting others to understand their faith. My work also brought me to Dominican Publications where I am editing a book on the saints of the Order, and I regularly contribute homilies and meditations to journals and books. But underlying everything (at least ideally…) is the spiritual side. It has its supports in a daily routine of Mass, Divine Office with the community and time for personal prayer. One of the Dominican mottos is “to contemplate and to share the fruits of contemplation with others”. The constant challenge is to let one flow into the other and back again. A spiritual tidal plant!

Being one of the youngest members of the Congregation, I am part of a group which organises regular meetings and conferences. We bring together members of different religious orders from across Ireland and the UK who are, like myself, at the early stages of formation.

I first encountered the Dominicans in Maynooth, where I spent an academic year as part of my degree in Theology and History from the University of Münster in Northwest Germany. My time at university was a period of great excitement where I was able to explore my faith, learning from like-minded people around me who lived what they believed.

As a postgraduate, I was offered a research post at Münster University and worked for several years in the newly opened Archives of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in the Vatican. Rome was an amazing experience. For the first time, I really understood that the Church is a global institution. Besides the highly exciting archival work, my time in Rome was shaped by a deepening of my spiritual life. I got in contact with the Sant’Egidio Community and often joined them for prayer. On Sundays I loved to spend quiet periods on the Aventine Hill, which houses the Dominican Headquarters. One day, browsing through the shop, I came across a book by Timothy Radcliffe, former master of the Dominican Order. This prompted me to explore the Dominican spirituality, and, following the decision to spend some time off in Glendalough, I realised that I had met a Congregation of Sisters where I could find a spiritual home.

Becoming a Sister has been a hugely enriching experience. It hasn’t always been easy but has enabled me to discover a lot about myself. The Novitiate gave me a new kind of experience by working with people on the margins of society. Dominicans are preachers, literally by profession. The message I would love to be able to impart to the people I meet is the basic message of Jesus: that God cares about us and, in spite of everything, we can hope that “all will be well” (Julian of Norwich).

For any woman seriously considering religious life, I would urge her to have the courage to try it. My life as a Dominican and my work enables me to engage in dialogue, which has enriched my own faith and, hopefully, the faith of those around me.”

3 02, 2017

“Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment”

2023-12-01T14:34:55+00:00February 3, 2017|Justice, Preaching the Word|

Pope Francis has written a letter to young people as the Church prepares for a Synod of Bishops on the theme: “Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment”.

The Pope’s letter was published on Friday 13 January, ahead of a press conference at the Holy See Press Office to present the preparatory document for the Synod which will take place in October 2018.

Please find below the text of the Pope’s letter:

My Dear Young People,

I am pleased to announce that in October 2018 a Synod of Bishops will take place to treat the topic: “Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment.” I wanted you to be the centre of attention, because you are in my heart. Today, the Preparatory Document is being presented, a document which I am also entrusting to you as your “compass” on this synodal journey.

I am reminded of the words which God spoke to Abraham: “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” (Gen 12.1). These words are now also addressed to you. They are words of a Father who invites you to “go”, to set out towards a future which is unknown but one which will surely lead to fulfilment, a future towards which He Himself accompanies you. I invite you to hear God’s voice resounding in your heart through the breath of the Holy Spirit.

When God said to Abram, “Go!”, what did he want to say? He certainly did not say to distance himself from his family or withdraw from the world. Abram received a compelling invitation, a challenge, to leave everything and go to a new land. What is this “new land” for us today, if not a more just and friendly society which you, young people, deeply desire and wish to build to the very ends of the earth?

But unfortunately, today, “Go!” also has a different meaning, namely, that of abuse of power, injustice and war. Many among you are subjected to the real threat of violence and forced to flee their native land. Their cry goes up to God, like that of Israel, when the people were enslaved and oppressed by Pharaoh (cf. Ex 2:23).

I would also remind you of the words that Jesus once said to the disciples who asked him: “Teacher […] where are you staying?” He replied, “Come and see” (Jn 1:38). Jesus looks at you and invites you to go with him. Dear young people, have you noticed this look towards you? Have you heard this voice? Have you felt this urge to undertake this journey? I am sure that, despite the noise and confusion seemingly prevalent in the world, this call continues to resonate in the depths of your heart so as to open it to joy in its fullness. This will be possible to the extent that, even with professional guides, you will learn how to undertake a journey of discernment to discover God’s plan in your life. Even when the journey is uncertain and you fall, God, rich in mercy, will extend his hand to pick you up.

In Krakow, at the opening of the last World Youth Day, I asked you several times: “Can we change things?” And you shouted: “yes!”. That shout came from your young and youthful hearts, which do not tolerate injustice and cannot bow to a “throw-away culture” nor give in to the globalization of indifference. Listen to the cry arising from your inner selves! Even when you feel, like the prophet Jeremiah, the inexperience of youth, God encourages you to go where He sends you: “Do not be afraid, […], because I am with you to deliver you” (Jer 1:8).

A better world can be built also as a result of your efforts, your desire to change and your generosity. Do not be afraid to listen to the Spirit who proposes bold choices; do not delay when your conscience asks you to take risks in following the Master. The Church also wishes to listen to your voice, your sensitivities and your faith; even your doubts and your criticism. Make your voice heard, let it resonate in communities and let it be heard by your shepherds of souls. St. Benedict urged the abbots to consult, even the young, before any important decision, because “the Lord often reveals to the younger what is best.” (Rule of St. Benedict, III, 3).

Such is the case, even in the journey of this Synod. My brother bishops and I want even more to “work with you for your joy” (2 Cor 1:24). I entrust you to Mary of Nazareth, a young person like yourselves, whom God beheld lovingly, so she might take your hand and guide you to the joy of fully and generously responding to God’s call with the words: “Here I am” (cf. Lk 1:38).

With paternal affection,


January 13th, 2017

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

7 07, 2015

Sr. Joan O’Donovan OP

2023-12-01T14:39:22+00:00July 7, 2015|Dominican News, Ireland, My Vocation Story, News, Stories, Uncategorized|


My Vocation Story

A family story, that I was never too happy to hear repeated, was about my being brought as a small girl to visit a convent. One of the Sisters asked me what I would like to be when I grew up and my reply was “I would like to be a Reverend Mother”! Let me hasten to add that I do not proffer the story as an early indication of a religious vocation, but rather because it suggests, correctly, that convents and sisters were a familiar and positive part of the ambience I grew up in, as were churches and priests, Mass, Benediction, Sodalities, other Church devotions.

In other words, I was lucky enough to grow up at a time in Ireland when for many people God was acknowledged as the ultimate context of life, even though they probably wouldn’t have expressed it in so many words.

I went to school first to the Ursulines in Cork and later, as a boarder, to the Loreto Sisters in Dublin. I remember my school days as happy and in hind-sight I realise that, as well as being well-taught, I learned a great deal about my faith through the example as well as the teaching of the Sisters. Their lives had a certain mystery about them too, which like many other girls, I found intriguing. In fact in many ways they became my role models. Which was, I suppose, why in my final years in school I found myself seriously considering whether I was being called to become a sister myself.

However, when I told my father about it, he was quite adamant that I should go to College first. And so I went to UCC where doing an Arts Degree, making new friends, and being part of various College societies and wider student social life absorbed all my time and energy for the next four years. All thought of religious life faded into the background. After that I had the good fortune to be invited to teach in a newly opened and innovative lay Catholic school and so to begin my professional career in a dynamic setting which I found challenging, absorbing and fulfilling.

Around the same time, my brother, who had entered the Dominican Order some years previously, was ordained. Attending his Ordination and his First Mass were very happy and significant family events. In the succeeding months I found myself, possibly because questioned by my brother’s life and values, beginning to revisit my own attraction to religious life. But not only was I very happy in my job but I had just begun a 2-year Master’s degree course in French. This gave me a further reason for deferring the decision I now knew had to be made. When I did finally face it, it took me a further two years of indecision before I finally applied to be admitted to the Congregation of the Irish Dominican Sisters and was accepted. This Dominican Congregation, in contrast to the two congregations with which I was familiar, was almost completely unknown to me.

That was in July. There were still three months of inner churning, where I lurched from making necessary preparations to enjoying, what I saw as for the last time, a hill-climbing  holiday with friends, and visits to places I thought I would never see again. I have a vivid memory of free-wheeling one day down a long hill enjoying, though with a certain sadness, the wind in my face and the sense of utter freedom. Yet the inner call remained insistent.

It was altogether unexpected then on the day we entered the Novitiate and all the goodbyes were over and my family had departed for Cork that my immediate sense in this unknown place among so many strangers was of total peace of mind. It was not so much an experience of being confirmed in the choice I had made with so much difficulty,  as a sense of having landed in the way of life that God had chosen for me without my realising it.

Although like everybody else I have had my share of major and minor crises and of dark times of suffering, I have never even for a single moment doubted that I was in the place where I belonged. Sixty years later I am still amazed at having the good fortune to belong to the Dominican Order.

There followed three years of initiation into the particular way of following Christ shaped by St. Dominic our founder, which is summed up in one of the mottos of the Order as: “To praise, to bless, to preach.” So from the first day we new arrivals learned the meaning of “To praise” by being absorbed actively into the community liturgy, singing with them the praises of God in the Eucharist and the Divine Office, and in class being instructed in the Scriptures, in particular the psalms, as well as in the chanting and singing of the Gregorian Chant. (In those days the Office was recited or sung in Latin). I found this all most enriching. I grew to love it and continue to be sustained by it as a sharing in the prayer of Christ with the whole Church.

In the same way we learned by the way daily life was organised that “To bless” meant in practice putting others, and first of all the community before oneself, being “time-tabled” rather than organising one’s own time, for example, and more demanding still, learning to love one’s neighbour as oneself. A life-long work, for sure, but for us young people living with others of our own age and in our first fervour, it did not seem too difficult.

The teaching of the formation community both by their example and by their class work was my first initiation into what it is for Dominicans “To preach.” Then after those first three years I was back to the field of education myself and had my first experience of the particular quality of Dominican education as a member of a very creative staff of sisters and lay teachers. I was constantly surprised by their readiness to try out new ideas such as taking part in pilot schemes for curriculum development, and by their ability to draw out the potential of their students by their respect and trust in them.

After some years I became involved in other expressions of the Dominican preaching charism, first as member of a formation team privileged to help young women discern and test their own call to religious life, and later as member of the Council of the Congregation where I had the opportunity of visiting our sisters working in other parts of the world, and of being introduced by them to different contexts and experiences of Church in South Africa, Argentina, Lisbon and Louisiana as well as in Ireland.

My last preaching ministry was a return to teaching, this time to adults, in an Institute founded by a Dominican Friar whose vision it was to put together the insights of modern psychology and the insights of the great religious traditions. I was part of a team made up of Dominican brothers and sisters, lay men and women. As teachers, guides and therapists we worked with the many people who found being introduced to this particular map of the person through a reflective methodology helpful in making sense of their lives in the rapidly changing Ireland of today. It was for me a profound experience of Dominican preaching.

The words of T.S.Eliot: “In my end is my beginning” come to mind when I reflect on my experience of living out the call “To praise, to bless, to preach” in old age. In some ways with the falling away of outer ministries, the mission area is more and more the local community with all the joys, challenges and difficulties that this entails as we struggle to become together a community of holy preaching. Yet we never cease being called to bear witness to God’s compassion for the world and opportunities to do so in our daily comings and goings keep taking me by surprise.

I am grateful to be part of a community where the example of others in their fidelity to the praising of God in the liturgy, and to the blessing of each other in community, encourage me to keep going, and, more importantly, to keep remembering the truth I glimpsed on the day I entered: I am of God’s making, not my own. St. Paul puts it so much better than I can: “We are God’s work of art, created in Christ Jesus to live the good life as from the beginning he meant us to live it.” (Eph. 2:10)


Sr Joan O’Donovan OP

29 06, 2015

Sr. Aedris Coates OP

2023-12-01T14:45:11+00:00June 29, 2015|My Vocation Story, News, Portugal, Stories|

My Vocation Story

“Each one is different but each one has received an invitation from Jesus.”

When I was 12 years of age, I was travelling with my mother and my two sisters and two brothers in a train from Durban to Pietermaritzburg (Natal, South Africa). A thought or voice came to me “When I pass here again I will be a nun.” I was quiet for a time and then I forgot about it.

In Maritzburg, I attended a Convent school of the Sisters of the Holy Family, first as a day pupil and then as a boarder. The teachers were excellent and so was our religious formation. We attended daily Mass in the Parish Church, which was opposite the school, and could pray in the Sisters’ Chapel in the afternoons. A Praesidium of the Legion of Mary was begun by Ruby Roberts, who had travelled from Kenya, where she was working with Edel Quinn. The meetings each week and the work we were given deepened my prayer life, but I had no thoughts of “being a nun.”

My family returned to Ireland in mid-year 1944 and it was decided that I would go to the Dominican School in Wicklow. It was like entering another world and I was the ‘alien.’  I spoke with a South African accent, my hair was bleached from the sun and the girls in my class knew very little about the war raging in Europe and parts of Africa and Asia from where I had come.  The Sisters were more understanding and they were my teachers. One Sister in particular, who was in charge of the boarders, was deeply understanding of how I was feeling and the difficulties I had in adjusting to school life.  She was Sister Marcoline Lawler and she became my lifelong friend.

My three years in Wicklow was my real ‘novitiate’ where I came to know and love Jesus Christ. The religious formation was an integral part of our education and quite intensive: daily Mass, rosary and Benediction, retreats, study of the gospels and the Church and spiritual reading. By the time it came for me to leave school, my secret wish was to give my life to God. Would it be possible for me to enter religious life with the Dominicans? My family was returning to Singapore, I had no family in Ireland and I still felt a stranger in an unknown land. The Dominicans were willing to receive me, and my parents reluctantly allowed me to go my way (I had just turned eighteen years of age). It was the first and only time I saw my Father cry when he said goodbye to me. The years in the novitiate were not happy ones. Life was austere, restrictive and sometimes bewildering. I was very lonely for my family who were so far away. There were many things I would have liked to share with them.

All was not darkness! Sister Mary John of Gorcom was one of our ‘teachers’ and introduced us to the Divine Office, the Prayer of the Church, and my love for the Psalms began then. She also led us through Scripture, Church History, the great artists and their paintings, the constellations and, later on, Latin. From time to time, she would give us news of the outside world: we had no access to newspapers or radio. There were nine of us and she contrived to make our lives as normal as possible.

I made First Profession and, after one more year in the novitiate house, we were assigned out to a community. It was like being released from prison and joy of joys, I was sent to my beloved Wicklow! Once again, I had access to books, newspapers and radio, and to very enjoyable conversations at ‘recreation’ time. We lived a very full and ‘rich’ religious life. As well as the daily hours of community prayer, there were times for private prayer and spiritual reading. We had wonderful ten-day retreats from very good Dominican preachers and, during the year, we had local confessors who gave excellent spiritual direction.

After studying for a degree and diploma in education, I returned once more to the community in Wicklow and to the work of teaching. This was the late 1950’s. I began to feel a sense of uneasiness about the religious life and I expressed it to a Sister as stagnation. Something had to change and it did! A newly-elected Prioress General asked for volunteers to go to Alabama in the USA. I, and several other Sisters, volunteered. In fact, none of us were sent to Alabama, but to other communities in Ireland and South Africa and I was sent to Portugal. This was in 1962, when the Vatican Council II began in Rome and the Spirit of change was everywhere.

I have been in Portugal for 45 years and it is now my religious home and country. Our community life is prayerful, joyful and lively. We take an active part in the life of the people, the Church, and the Dominican Family, and have opportunities for being truly a Community of Holy Preaching.

By the way, I did pass through the Valley of a Thousand Hills again! I was attending a Leadership Conference in South Africa and travelled from Durban to Maritzburg, but this time, by coach along a wide motorway with the hills in the distance.


Sr Aedris Coates OP

14 05, 2015

Sr. Eileen O’Connell shares her story on her Dominican Vocation

2023-12-01T12:24:17+00:00May 14, 2015|News, Stories, Vocations|

On 29 April in St Dominic’s Parish, Tallaght, Sr. Eileen O’Connell spoke about her Dominican Vocation

Thank you Fr Larry for inviting me. I’m very glad to be here celebrating the Feast of St. Catherine with you. I am also a little nervous so please bear with me.

My name is Eileen. I made temporary profession as a Dominican Sister in February.

Despite always having belief and faith in God, I don’t remember ever wanting to be a sister or a nun.  My sense of call came suddenly and to me totally unexpectedly. At the time, I felt it came out of the blue and I was somewhat up scuttled by its urgency.

Looking back, it shouldn’t have been such a surprise to me. It seems as if God had been gently drawing me to this way, long before it entered my awareness.

I had chosen, a Dominican, St. Catherine of Siena, as my confirmation saint. I had visited her tomb on a holiday in Rome. I had unwittingly been in the cathedral in Carcassonne where St. Dominic preached.  As a child, we regularly visited St. Mary’s Priory in Cork city for confession because both my mum and her sister loved going to the Dominicans for confession! And, although I was taken aback, it certainly wasn’t surprising news to anyone else!

Before I say more of that, I would like to say a little about me. Sadly, I have no accent, but I am a proud Cork woman! I grew up in the countryside, just a mile from Ballincollig, so I had the best of both worlds – rural surroundings but not isolated.  I have only one brother, a little younger than me, but we were lucky to have lots of cousins close to us in age and also living in Ballincollig. I went to the local girls’ National School and then to Ballincollig Community School, both of which had a strong Catholic ethos at that time.  Growing up, our parents passed on a strong commitment to God and to the Church. We prayed the Rosary each night as a family and I enjoyed going to Mass and to the Church.  Unusually, I suppose in our culture and times, I never lost touch with the Church and I have been blessed that my faith has not left me, nor I it. I have always known God to be with me, even when I felt God might have been better off elsewhere.

While I was still in school, I met Sr Elizabeth, an Infant Jesus Sisters (in Cork, at least, many know them as ‘the Drishanes’). Sr Elizabeth knew my mother from a parish retreat and invited me to work with her in one of her parish ministries. We worked together on various things for over 25 years until I moved to the novitiate. Sister Elizabeth is not someone you say no to! In later years, I did various things with our parish sister, a Bon Secours, and with the priests in our parish. While we became good friends and I enjoyed working with them and admired them, I didn’t have any sense of wanting to be what they were – at least not for a long time.

For some reason, things began to change for me around the year 2010. While I always had a sense of God’s presence, the desire to know God better became increasingly strong, almost urgent.  I went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, ten-days that proved life-changing.  There, I had an experience that left me feeling God wanted more from me. I had no idea what that more might be so asked advice from a good friend. He suggested make a commitment to remaining open and give God time. How would I do this: by saying ‘yes’ to whatever I was asked – in as far as it was practical – in this way, I could become aware of what God might want of me – Wise advice.  I had always been a thinker. Now, I began to go with my instincts – I made decisions and said yes to things without thinking them to death! I followed my heart!  For example:  I applied to do a Certificate in Holistic Spiritualty in Ennismore Retreat Centre, Cork, without knowing what the course would entail, because I knew I had to do it.  I had never done an Alpha course; now I agreed to be on the Alpha team running a course in my parish.  In Alpha, they say that the small group discussions are where God really works. I found these incredibly exciting and life giving.  Courses on Scripture and the programme in Ennismore had a similar effect on me as the discussions at Alpha. I couldn’t get enough of them. I began to attend more and more courses and talks on scripture and various faith-related topics. There was more going on than I had free time for! It felt as if my desire for God and ‘God stuff’ was becoming greater and greater and my hunger for knowing God seemed insatiable.  While doing the programme in Ennismore I realised very clearly that I had fallen in love with God and that I was no longer satisfied with a life that wasn’t very full of God.  Then, I began to really spend time asking God to show me in some very obvious way what to do.  It seemed as if God answered quite quickly and clearly – the wish to ‘check out the Dominicans’ came into my head. At the time, although I knew the friars in Ennismore, I didn’t really know of female Dominicans.  I tried to ignore it, but the idea wouldn’t let me go. It was so strong and unrelenting that a few weeks later, I contacted the vocations coordinator and subsequently arranged to meet her.

After our first meeting in March 2011, I returned home knowing that I needed to meet again. In some way that made no sense, everything I learned about the Dominicans seemed to make sense to me and I felt I needed to continue exploring.

That July, I asked to begin the pre-novitiate programme, which started that September. Over the next 15 months, I attended Assemblies, a Congregation Course, visited various houses and stayed with several communities. Repeatedly, I was struck by how at home I felt. The sense that this might be right for me grew stronger and surer so that the decision to ask to enter novitiate became inevitable. I knew leaving my family and my home would be difficult, but I knew also that I had to try, that if I didn’t I couldn’t be at peace.

I began my novitiate in January 2013, with little idea of what was ahead, but with a firm trust that whatever it was, God would be with me in it.

Recently, I read this description by a novice with an English congregation – I quote:

“Entering religious life was a decision born of love. It was an acknowledgement that my life has slowly and concretely rearranged itself around the love of God, and around that relationship as the one I prize above all else.”

Novitiate is a very special time. For us, novitiate is two years. While no two days are the same, every day is framed by praying of the Divine Office together, Mass and personal prayer. It is a time to embrace Dominican life, with its four pillars – prayer, study, community, and ministry.  Perhaps, the greatest way of growing as a Dominican is through the everyday living out of Dominican life with one’s sisters in community.

The novitiate provides the opportunity to see that we are Dominicans in every part of our lives, be these ordinary or extraordinary, and in everything we do, including the everyday tasks of living: cooking, shopping, household duties.

An American Dominican novice describes it as “the opportunity to fall in love with Christ and to allow that to permeate every part of my life and not just a section of it.”

For me, all of life in the novitiate, both the extraordinary experiences and the sometimes mundane daily living, were my discernment. This time allowed a deepening of my relationship with God and gave me the space and opportunity to listen to God.

During my novitiate, I was privileged to receive many enriching opportunities. I also faced times of loneliness, struggle, worry, questioning and doubts. Yet, even then, I knew that I needed and wanted to stay. For me, the sense of call, of being where God means me to be, and where I need to be, changed and deepened and grew stronger.

Over this time, I learned more of my love of God and more about myself. It became increasingly obvious to me how at home, happy and content I was living this life.

In my head, it didn’t make much sense, but, in my heart and deepest self, it made absolute sense:  I had a strong desire to continue in Dominican life, to serve God in the way of St. Dominic. I made First Profession with both joy and peace – and also with the hope that I will continue to grow into my relationship with God.

In March, after I made profession, I left Tallaght; I moved to the Northside, changing community, ministry, parish, surroundings. Please God, this is the first of many moves – as followers of St. Dominic, we are called to be mobile for mission, to be willing to go where God and the world needs us. This transition time is not an easy one, but I find myself carried both by the familiarity of community prayer and Mass and by the prayers, support and love of my sisters. I am sustained also by trust in my God who walks with me always, who always has and who always will – so I will finish with these words from Deuteronomy

“Remember how the Lord your God has carried you, as one carries a child, all along the road you have travelled to reach the place you are now”

Thank you

Sr Eileen O’Connell 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.


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