The Dominican Sisters in South Africa

Our Congregation

Our Congregation currently has sisters in Cape Town and Port Elizabeth, with a very small presence in Gauteng. We have a strong sense of service to the poor and underprivileged. This has led us to become involved in the struggle for justice during the difficult years of the apartheid regime, to work with refugees from Mozambique, and to raise awareness around HIV and AIDS.


The history of the Cabra Dominicans in South Africa goes back to two bishops and their dream.  Bishop Thomas Grimley and Bishop Moran knew the importance of education for their communities in the Cape Colony and invited the Dominican Sisters from Cabra and Sion Hill in Ireland to establish schools in Cape Town and Port Elizabeth ‘to raise the standard of education.’ The first six Irish Dominican Sisters arrived in South Africa in September 1863. A further five Sisters followed in 1867. The Sisters established many independent schools and mission schools alongside one another in the dioceses of Cape Town and Port Elizabeth. Dominicans were the first religious order to educate deaf children, opening two schools soon after their arrival in the region. Over the years, following various amalgamations, the Sisters established more schools in the 1960s in the Transvaal and reached out to the Afrikaans speaking community in Pretoria and the deaf community in Hammanskraal. During this period, they also became involved in the field of psychological services.

The decades between 1970 and 1980 were marked by learner opposition to the apartheid regime. The Sisters set up night schools to offer education to adults and hedge schools to educate older children in black communities. Many Sisters worked for Justice and Peace Commissions, and some were arrested and imprisoned for taking part in illegal marches against apartheid. In 1976, the Dominican schools defied the apartheid government by opening all their schools to children of all races.  

Our Work Today

Education remains a strong aspect of our ministry, although all schools are now lay-managed. We serve as trustees of the Catholic Schools’ Trusts and as board members of the schools. We also serve as members of national and provincial Catholic Schools structures.  We are also involved in retreat work, spiritual direction, Scripture groups, ecology, parish work, prayer groups and catechesis.


Community Retreat

St Mary’s Primary School, Capetown:

160 years of Education in the Dominican Tradition

The Dominican Order was born of Dominic’s dream to see a better possibility for the people of southern France.

The Dominicans were invited to South Africa because of a Bishop’s dream to see a better possibility for the Catholic Irish immigrants of Cape Town. Bishop Thomas Grimley invited the Dominican Sisters from Cabra, Dublin, Ireland to open schools in Cape Town to educate Catholic Irish immigrants. Education, in the Dominican tradition, had its beginning when six Cabra Dominican Sisters arrived from Dublin, by boat, in Table Bay harbor, on 7th September 1863.

We celebrate jubilee because education in schools has been part of the mission of the Cabra Dominican Sisters in South Africa for these 160 years. Over these years the schools have offered an opportunity for education of excellence to learners from Catholic and other faith families wanting a Gospel value based education. The schools, now, have been placed in the very capable hands of committed lay people who are enthusiastic to continue education in the Dominican tradition. Endings turn into new beginnings. New beginnings are times of new possibilities. So the time itself is a significant frontier directing us to Jubilee celebration.

Dominic dreamed of a world freed from war and violence, winnowed of greed and falsehood, mirroring truth and goodness in every sphere of life.[Brenda Walshe OP]

In this jubilee year, we, Dominican Sisters pray for each one connected with us and we thank all those who are part of the St Mary’s community for their commitment to bring Dominic’s dream into the future and to follow the call of the Holy Spirit in responding to the challenges of today’s world:

We will only flourish as a family of preachers if we make each other strong and give each other life.

[Timothy Radcliffe OP former Master of the Order of Preachers]

Sr Francis Krige OP