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 The Dominican Mission to Immigrants           


Four women religious left unmet on a dock in New York City on August 26, 1853 were rescued by a German priest from Brooklyn.  Sisters Josepha, Augustine, Francesca and Jacobina were given shelter in the rectory basement of Most Holy Trinity Parish and - within a week of their arrival - took charge of the parish school.
1853 The Williamsburg Sisters
           (Amityville Dominicans)

WILLIAMSBURG, NY--In 1853, following the foundations of the Order in Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee, Wisconsin and California, the first Dominican women came from Europe to serve in the American church: four cloistered nuns from the Monastery of Holy Cross in Regensburg, Bavaria, led by Josepha Witzlhofer.

Putting the needs of others before the practices of their traditional cloistered life, they answered the urgent call for teachers sent to Europe by German Catholic immigrants in the United States. Settling in Williamsburg, New York, an incipient area of Brooklyn, they tried valiantly to combine their monastic way of life with the strenuous work of conducting a school.

In 1868 the nuns opened the first hospital conducted by American Dominicans. By 1900 the Brooklyn community and the many foundations which stemmed from it across the United States had become congregations of active Third Order sisters. Many years later, in 1947, the Brooklyn sisters moved their motherhouse to Amityville, N.Y.

1853 The Friars Establish Presence on East Coast

During this era of immigration, the Dominican friars accepted the care of souls in many dioceses, principally taking charge of Irish congregations. Two of the more prominent establishments of this period are St. Vincent Ferrer (1867) in New York City and St. Mary's in New Haven, Connecticut, which the province accepted in 1886 at the invitation of the bishop of Hartford. Just a few years prior to the arrival of the Dominicans at St. Mary's, the church basement had been the setting for the historic founding of the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal organization, by the diocesan priest Fr. Michael McGivney.

WASHINGTON, D.C.--The Province of St. Joseph received an opportunity it had been awaiting ever since Bishop Carroll had sent the first friars westward—an invitation to make a foundation in the urban northeast. Ironically, the invitation was made by one of Carroll's successors in Baltimore, Francis Kenrick. The friars eagerly accepted Archbishop Kenrick's offer to come eastward and established the parish of St. Dominic in Washington, DC in 1853. This particular foundation marks a turning point in the province's history. Up to this point, the province had been struggling for survival, hampered in its vitality by the demands of the frontier. But as more and more foundations would be made in the cities of the northeast, vocations would finally begin to increase as well. The basis was being laid for rapid institutional expansion in the twentieth century.
 SOURCE: John A. Langlois, O.P., The Province of St. Joseph: A Brief History


1862 The Racine Dominican Sisters

Racine, Wisconsin, in 1858 looking south across the Root River from St. Patrick's Parish

RACINE, WI--Another Dominican community for the education of German immigrants began in Racine, Wisconsin in 1862. The foundress was Mary Benedicta Bauer, who, when prioress of Holy Cross Monastery in Bavaria, had sent the four nuns from Regensburg to Brooklyn in 1853. The Racine sisters, like their predecessors in Brooklyn, evolved from a contemplative monastic community to become an
M. Benedicta
Bauer, OP in 1853
active congregation.


1860 The Dominican Sisters of New Orleans

 St. Mary's Dominican Academy, Dryades Street, opened in 1861.
Dominican nuns from Ireland also came to help immigrants to the United States at mid-century. In response to a call from New Orleans, Mary John Flanagan and five other nuns from Dublin began teaching in a parish school of St. John the Baptist Chuch in 1860. Within a month of their arrival they were teaching 200 girls. The Christian Brothers taught the boys.

In December, South Carolina seceded fromthe Union and in the following month Louisiana followed suit. By February 1861, the Confederate States of America, which Louisiana joined, was formed. Despite the uncertain conditions of the time, the Sisters decided to open a select Female Dominican Academy in 1861. The Sisters became known as the Dominican Congregation of St. Mary's of New Orleans.

1869 The Newburgh Dominican Sisters

Of Special Note:

No other congregation matched Newburgh in early missions, new congregations and widespread houses--all from a single monastery in Manhattan.

NEWBURGH, NY--Only six years after the coming of the nuns from Bavaria to the Brooklyn convent of Holy Cross, German Catholics in lower Manhattan requested sisters from Brooklyn to open a monastery and school at St. Nicholas Parish. The reply was favorable. The sisters soon welcomed young women to their novitiate on Second Street, and in 1869 became an autonomous monastery, with Mary Augustine Neuhierl as prioress. By 1895 this community had developed into a congregation with branch houses and provinces in New York, New Jersey, Michigan, and Washington, and moved their motherhouse up the Hudson to Newburgh, New York. In July, 1995 three Dominican Congregations, Fall River, Newburgh, and Ossining joined to become the Dominican Sisters of Hope.

 U.S. History Timeline

 1869   Transcontinental Railroad:

Central Pacific and Union Pacific railroads are joined at Promontory, Utah, creating first transcontinental railroad


CREDITS: The timeline is based primarily on the contents of THE ORDER OF PREACHERS IN THE UNITED STATES, edited by Mary Nona McGreal O.P. and published by Editions du Signe of Strasbourg. Vol. I, Dominicans at Home in a Young Nation: 1786-1865, published in 2001, is available from PROJECT OPUS, 5082 W. Jackson Blvd. Chicago, IL 60644 Another source is the article by M.N.McGreal in the Encyclopedia of American Catholic History, requested by Michael Glazier and published by the Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN. The original content of the book and article has been edited and adapted into a time-line format using photos and other resources on the web.
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Don Kania, OP