Australians Profess Vows as Dominican Sisters of St Cecilia

Catholic Communications, Sydney Archdiocese,
11 Aug 2011

Sister Cecilia Rose Pham signing her vows.
Pictured with the Prioress General,
Mother Ann Marie Karlovic, O.P.

A young woman from the Archdiocese of Sydney and another from the Melbourne Archdiocese are the first Australians to profess vows as novitiates of Nashville, Tennessee’s Community of the Dominican Sisters of St Cecilia.

Sister Cecilia Rose Pham from Sydney and Sister Mary Helen Hill from Melbourne professed their vows of poverty, chastity and obedience and received their black veils from the Most Reverend  David Choby, Bishop of Nashville, at a Mass held late last month at the city’s beautiful Cathedral of the Incarnation.

News of this important event is particularly joyful with the Archdiocese of Sydney and parishes across Australia in the midst of celebrations for Vocations Awareness Week.

An initiative of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference (ACBC), Vocations Awareness Week is held each year on the first Sunday prior to the Feast Day of St Mary of the Cross MacKillop.

This year, the week began on Sunday, 7 August and will continue until Sunday, 14 August with special liturgical resources that consist of intercessions for the prayers of the faithful, homily notes and other materials to deepen and enrich the faithful and provide inspiration.

Sister Mary Helen Hill receiving the black
veil from Bishop David Choby,
Bishop of Nashville

“Vocations Awareness Week is not intended as a recruitment drive. God alone is the only one who calls us to the priesthood or to our vocation as a religious. But while it is God who does the calling, this call is analogous to planting a seed, so when we help others by putting them in t ouch with their vocations, we are watering those seeds,” says Fr Michael de Stoop, Director of Vocations for the Archdiocese of Sydney.

Delighted at the news from Nashville, Fr de Stoop says this is a reason to be especially joyful at this time. “Not only is the fact that two Australians have professed their vows at the Mother House in the US a reason for celebration, but recently the Community in the USA was joined b y a further three Australians who received the habit last month in a group of 24, and have now begun their discernment,” he says.

In addition another four Australian women plan to enter the Community later this month on 17 August, which he believes is a true testament to the strong renewal of interest from both men and women in answering God’s call to lead the consecrated life of a religious sister or priest.

Before professing their vows, Sr Cecilia Rose and Sr Helen Mary spent a year as postulants at the Community’s Mother House in Nashville, followed by a second year as novitiates.

Sister Cecilia Rose Pham

In the Community, initial vows are taken by novitiates as they enter their third year. Attending Mass at the Cathedral they commit themselves to vows of Chastity, Poverty and Obedience for the next three years, and with the Bishop of Nashville presiding, symbolically swap their white veils for black.

Now over the next three years of their initial profession, the two young Australians will continue with their studies of theology and discernment, and in their final year will move into the wider world. This is when Sr Mary Helen and Sr Cecilia Rose will return to Australia for their final mission year, to serve and work at the Mission House in Sydney, which is the first permanent overseas mission to be established outside of the Mother House and other mission houses established across the United States.

Australia’s awareness of the Nashville-based Community of Dominican Sisters of St Cecilia grew after three of the community’s American-born sisters arrived in Sydney in September 2007 at the invitation of Bishop Anthony Fisher, OP. Bishop Anthony, who is now Bishop of Parramatta, was Coordinator of Sydney’s WYD and enlisted the sisters’ help in preparing for the historic and momentous event.

A teaching Order, the Sisters from the Community have wide experience from their involvement with young people and their energies, faith, humour and warmth became a distinct feature of Sydney’s World Youth Day, and was followed by the establishment of a Mission House in Sydney, the first to be established anywhere outside the USA.
Established in the 1860s, the Sisters of the Dominicans of St Cecilia has a core community of 200, but is expanding fast and planning to establish more Mission Houses overseas, with one in Vancouver Canada set to open later this year.

Sister Mary Helen Hill

But for Sr Mary Rachel Capets, OP one of the original three Sisters who came to Sydney to help with World Youth Day and heads up the Mission House here in Sydney, what is even more exciting is the fact that after a long decline in the number of Catholic women choosing a religious life, there has been a turn around.

This can clearly be seen not only among Sr Mary Rachel’s Community of Dominican Sisters of St Cecilia but among a wide number of different congregations and orders.

In Australia there has been an upsurge of interest from young women with a surge in numbers of those entering Communities such as the Dominican Sisters of St Cecilia, the Missionaries of God’s Love and the Fraternas of the Marian Community of Reconciliation.

Among the reasons given in this increased interest in religious life is the canonisation of St Mary of the Cross MacKillop. A beloved figure to Catholic and non Catholics alike, the canonisation in Rome in October last year was celebrated by Australians everywhere. Interest in a vocation with the Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart, the Congregation she and Father Julian Tenison Woods founded in Penola, SA, has also increased as a result.

Third Year Noviates of the
Domincan Sisters of St Cecilia

While some women are discerning their vocations upon entering one these different religious charisms, other including several who have joined the Fraternas of the Marian Community are choosing vocations not as sisters but as consecrated lay women.

The local Mission House for the Dominican Sisters of St Cecilia is also continuing to grow and now has 16 members, with interest continuing to grow, says Sr Mary Rachel and is convinced one of the reasons for the upsurge in vocations for a religious life can be put down to the success of events such as World Youth Day as well as SCENE (the Sydney Congress Embracing the New Evangelism) where Vocation Expos triggered wide interest, with many young people wanting to know more.

But it is not only women answering God’s call. More and more men are also responding to God’s call with an similar upsurge in the numbers of those now following a priestly vocation.

In May this year five young men were ordained as priests at St Mary’s Cathedral by the Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal George Pell. Last year, a further four priests were ordained by the Cardinal, with another two who had studied at the Seminary of the Good Shepherd at Homebush being ordained a month later in their native Uganda before returning to work as assistant parish priests here in Sydney.

Postulant and Noviate at Mother
House in Nashville, Tennesee

Numbers at Sydney’s Seminary of the Good Shepherd, the Neocatechumenates’ Redemptoris Mater Seminary in Pagewood, and the Holy Spirit Seminary in Parramatta now stand at 70 which is more than three times the number of seminarians studying for the priesthood a decade ago.

To find out more about vocations log on to the Archdiocese of Sydney’s Vocation Centre at