Six Catholic sisters have shared their oral histories with students at Dominican University in River Forest, Ill., as part of the SisterStory project. It was coordinated by Cecilia Salvatore, associate professor and coordinator of the university’s archives and cultural heritage certificate program.
“Some friendships formed quickly [between sisters and students],” she said. “One of the sisters took her student to the Alder Planetarium. This student was from another state. It was nice to know they took advantage of being in the great city of Chicago with all its wonderful cultural institutions as they formed a bond. They didn’t stay within the bounds of the campus or their residence.”
Cecilia recently reflected on the project.
Why do you consider this project a worthy one?
I went to a Catholic high school back home [in the South Pacific]. I also attended a Catholic college for my undergraduate. In both cases, I was not able to get to know the sisters. I am lucky in that now I work at Dominican University, and since several of my colleagues are Dominican sisters, I get to know more about the life of a sister.
This project provides an opportunity for the public to know much more about the sisters – and I bet that they will be pleasantly surprised. These sisters have contributed immensely to our society. They are doctors, lawyers, social workers, social-justice activists, artists, etc. They are so smart. And for me, I am blown away by their great sense of humor. They are so much fun! I know that when I sit down and chat with them about life and world issues, I will not have a dull moment.
What has been most fulfilling for me has been getting to know this side of the sisters and knowing that at the same time, they are dedicated to their religious calling. I consider it important to tell the story of women religious for two reasons. One, the contribution of these sisters to society must be highlighted, understood and appreciated. And two, there is much more to a religious and contemplative life [than many realize]. It is fun!
What makes Dominican University a special place?
Dominican University is special for me because of the Dominican sisters here. In spite of how much the university has changed, its mission and vision continue to be based on "caritas" and "veritas." And caritas and veritas continue to be reflected because the spirit of the sisters remains. I suppose that is another reason why this project is so important. We need to tell the story of the sisters, and document and preserve them, so that we have a way to continue to cling to the spirit of the sisters.
Can you share a story that helps capture the spirit of the school?
Once a year, Dominican University hosts a faculty appreciation reception. At this dinner reception, those who are retiring are honored for their years of service. Faculty who received a promotion or tenure are honored as well.
We have a good number of undergraduates who receive a state grant to attend college. Because of what's happening outside of the school (in the legislature, the governor's office, etc.), students have not seen all their grant money. This means that we – the faculty, staff and administration –have to consider how our students are struggling to pay for their education. In light of what’s going on with our students, the faculty opted to forego the faculty appreciation reception. We are all mindful and appreciative of each other at the school.