Almost five decades ago, Dominican Sister Miriam Scheel, a convert from Presbyterianism, entered her order.
“I think the attraction was God himself, for that personal relationship with Jesus so that one is totally directed toward him and your life is handed over to him,” she said.
Sister Scheel was following in the footsteps of thousands of men and women who have handed their lives over to God through the Dominican order, which is celebrating its 800th anniversary.
“We feel very fortunate that the order has prospered throughout the world,” she said.
Sister Scheel is subprioress, or assistant leader, of the Monastery of Mary the Queen, 1310 W. Church St., Elmira, which will be hosting a celebration of the 800th anniversary on Thursday, Aug. 16. Bishop Matthew H. Clark is slated to celebrate a Mass at 11 a.m., and a buffet luncheon will follow.
The event is free and open to the public, and also will mark the 63rd anniversary of the monastery, according to Dominican Sister David Marie Beikirch, prioress.
Sister Beikirch attributed the long life of her order to a number of factors, including its collaborative, democratic governance, which predated the advent of democracy in many nations, as well as its emphasis on spiritual maturity.
To illustrate her point, she noted that the order’s founder, St. Dominic — unlike other religious leaders of his time — did not invoke the penalty of sin against those of his followers who disobeyed the order’s rules. This created a mature, responsible climate in which Dominicans worked on behalf of the order solely because they wanted to do so, not because they were afraid of what might happen if they didn’t, she said.
Founded in Prouilhe, France, in the 13th century, the Dominican order counts among its past members popes, cardinals, bishops and such luminaries as St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Catherine of Siena, according to the Dominicans’ Web site, www.op.org.
Brother Carlos Azpiroz Costa, master of the Order of Preachers and a native of Argentina, currently leads the Dominicans and greets visitors to the Web site with these words:
“We are already an old and venerable religious family, eight centuries is indeed an impressive number of years!” he states. “But its development and evolution is a never ending process.”
Information from the order bears out his words. Dominicans can be found in 92 countries, and the order comprises cloistered nuns and preaching friars, apostolic sisters, a youth movement, lay associates and volunteers, Brother Costa said.
The order’s missionaries have preached the Gospel in countless places, and its members have taught numerous students in various universities. Dominicans can be found advocating for human rights at the United Nations, tending to ecologically sound farms in Africa or caring for the poor in Asia, the order states.
Dominicans also make great pickles. At least they do at the Monastery of Mary the Queen, where Sisters Beikirch and Scheel reside along with 11 other cloistered women religious.
“I’ll tell you our pickles are famous here,” Sister Scheel said. “People start coming to the door in July and ask, ‘Are your pickles ready yet?’”
They also regularly call on the sisters for spiritual solace, she added, and seek out the monastery’s liturgical services. The monastery celebrates Mass at 7:30 a.m. daily, and also offers eucharistic exposition on Sundays and Wednesdays.
Countless people through the years have called the monastery asking that the women there pray for a loved one in distress, in danger or suffering an illness, the sisters said. Recent callers have included parents of soldiers in Iraq, they added. Hence, although the women rarely leave the cloistered confines of the monastery, it’s not because they shun the world and its concerns, it’s because they so deeply care about them, they said.
“Even though we live this life, the concern is always for the suffering people all over the world,” Sister Scheel said. “Cuba, Russia, Iraq — all of the countries in the world that are struggling in one form or another, we have religious there, and they really know what’s going on.”
Sister Beikirch added that the nuns also encourage people in the outside world to not give up on God, even when life is difficult.
“Many times we tell them that their prayers are answered because of their own faith,” she said. “I think it strengthens people’s belief and trust in God that we’re here to witness that God is a God of love and he’s there for us.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: For information on the Aug. 16 celebration, call 607-734-9506 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.