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Dominican Sisters in Iraq
New book, ‘Drawn by Love,’ tells story of congregation

For the first time in their 133-year history, a small congregation of Iraqi Dominican sisters is sharing the compelling story of their community’s founding and unfolding in a turbulent region, under unusual ecclesial circumstances. In a new book titled, “Drawn by Love: A History of the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena,” Sister Marie Therese Hanna, OP, former prioress of the congregation, tells the story of their founding as a lay community at the end of the 19th century, to present day Iraq where the Catholic sisters are striving to rebuild their country even as the Christian minority is being persecuted in the aftermath of the U.S. invasion seven years ago.

The Baghdad church bombing on Oct. 31, described as “worst attack on Iraqi Christians since the American-led invasion in 2003” (New York Times, Nov. 7), has been followed by bombings of Christian homes in Baghdad that is certain to increase the mass exodus of Christians, who have inhabited the region since the earliest days of Christianity. In “Drawn by Love,” Sister Marie Therese recounts the story of an earlier persecution of the Christian minority that took place at the start of World War I, where thousands of Christians were massacred in what is now southeastern Turkey and northern Iraq. The horror of the persecution is told in the stories of several “Catherinettes,” as the women in the lay Dominican community were known, who survived the ordeal.

Notwithstanding the threats and danger, as the book recounts in its final chapters, the St. Catherine Dominicans are dedicated to working alongside their Iraqi brothers and sisters—Christians, Muslims, Kurds, Yazidis, and others alike—in their mission of helping to build a new, nonviolent future for Iraq. The 280-page history provides a unique lens through which to view the tumultuous history of Iraq; the story of the sisters is intimately tied to that of the Iraqi people, whose welfare remains their abiding concern.

Proceeds from the sale of the book will be used to help finance the higher education of the congregation’s young sisters.

Orders are now being taken through Sor Juana Press and also through the Adrian Dominicans’ Weber Shop

According to the book, the religious community was founded in Mosul in 1877 by women of diverse Eastern Catholic and non-Catholic traditions (Chaldean, Syriac, Orthodox, Armenian, and Nestorian), under the guidance of the Dominican mission in Mesopotamia. In what was then part of the waning Ottoman Empire, the laywomen were engaged in teaching missions in what is today northern Iraq and southeastern Turkey and Syria. The modern state of Iraq was created by the colonial powers after the Ottoman Empire was vanquished in World War I.

In 1928, the lay community obtained canonical recognition from Rome as a pontifical institute. This not only meant that native Iraqis were able to take their rightful place among Catholic women religious worldwide, but also, uniquely, the churches of the East and West came together, under one roof, in their communion. Native Christian women, representing various Eastern rites, joined to establish a Roman Catholic religious institute, within the global order of Dominicans. The Congregation continues to honor and celebrate the diverse rites, liturgical languages, and traditions of its women, now mainly Syriac and Chaldean, as well as the Roman Catholic rite.

Proceeds from the sale of the book will be used to help finance the higher education of the congregation’s young sisters. Their training—in peace studies, medicine, pastoral care, psychology, theology, and other fields—is a priority for the congregation, in their mission of forging a better future for the people of Iraq.
“Drawn by Love” is being published by Sor Juana Press, a small imprint established in 2002 by Adrian Dominican Sisters and Latina women of the Texas borderlands. The book’s publication is being underwritten by various funders, including the Conrad N. Hilton Fund for Sisters and the Federation of Dominican Sisters USA.

Published in English and Arabic, the book includes 20 pages of photographs and a map illustrating the sisters’ mission areas. The book was translated from Arabic into English by Sister Aman Miriam Mansoor, OP, with Adrian Dominican Sister Joanne Screes, OP. Sister Aman Miriam was studying in the United States until August 2010, when she returned to Iraq after obtaining a master’s degree in Leadership in Education with a focus on peace studies. She is now teaching at her congregation’s high school in Baghdad where a majority of the students are Muslim. Adrian Dominican Sister Elise D. García, OP, editor of the book, lived with Sister Aman Miriam at the Adrian Dominican Motherhouse in Adrian, Michigan, when Sister Aman Miriam first came to the country in 2005. Adrian Dominican Sister Aneesah McNamee, OP designed the book, with the assistance of Rawaa Possa, a friend of the St. Catherine Sisters in Iraq, who laid out the text in Arabic. Adrian Dominican Sister Carol Coston, OP and Sister Margaret Ormond, OP, Prioress of the Dominican Sisters of Peace, helped secure the funding.

The book represents a cross-cultural collaboration among Dominican women, who stand in solidarity with their sisters in Iraq.

The book will be available Dec. 3 from Sor Juana Press and through the Adrian Dominicans’ Weber Shop. Visit the Sor Juana Press web site to see more images and read an excerpt from the book.