By Madeleine LiMandri, BA '21
This month’s segments of Sisters Serving UD will feature two Dominican alumnae who said “yes” to God’s call to religious life. Last month featured UD’s two current Nashville Dominican professors, Affiliate Assistant Professor of Theology Sister Mary Angelica Neenan, O.P., and Affiliate Assistant Professor of Philosophy Sister Elinor Gardner, O.P., neither of whom are UD alumnae.
During the month of March we will share the discernment stories of UD alumnae Sister Mary Edith Humphries, BA ’95, and Sister Anne Catherine Burleigh, BA ’94, both of whom are also part of the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia order. Of the 50-plus alumnae who have answered God’s call to religious life, 13 of them are Nashville Dominicans. Thank you to all of the Dominican sisters who have bountifully blessed our UD community!
“If you would have asked me while I was at UD if I was going to become a sister, I would have laughed. As a matter of fact, I did laugh,” said Sister Anne Catherine Burleigh, BA ’94.
When Sister Anne Catherine of the Nashville Dominicans was a senior at UD, she enjoyed attending the many lectures that occurred regularly on campus. One night she went to a talk hosted by Campus Ministry featuring two Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia from Nashville. Sister Anne Catherine was pleasantly surprised by the liveliness of the sisters and joked to her friend on their way out, “If I’m not married by the time I’m 28, I’m going to become a Nashville Dominican.”
“The Lord has his funny ways,” said Sister Anne Catherine, smiling at the memory. But although Sister Anne Catherine found the sisters interesting, at the time she did not feel drawn toward religious life because she thought she was called to marriage. Though Sister Anne Catherine had grown up in a Catholic household and attended Catholic schools K-12, she had had little contact with religious sisters. The first young religious sisters that she ever saw were during the fall semester of her sophomore year in Rome.
But when Sister Anne Catherine’s roommate, classmate and fellow English major Sister Anna Laura Karp, BA ’94, became a Nashville Dominican two years after graduation, Sister Anne Catherine had the realization that “Wow, people really do this!”
It would be two more years, however, before Sister Anne Catherine entered the order herself. Prior to becoming a Dominican, or even knowing that she had a calling, she wanted to pursue further education and teaching. “I loved learning about medieval literature and Dante from Dr. DiLorenzo, and Dr. Louise Cowan’s class on Russian Novel was fantastic. I had so many wonderful professors I admired. UD increased my thirst to learn more,” she explained.
This desire to learn led Sister Anne Catherine to a one-year medieval literature master’s program at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. After that experience, she returned to her hometown of Cincinnati to teach at a new, small Catholic school. It was during her two years teaching there that the idea of vocation “began to come forward” in her mind.
“The question began to shift from, ‘What do I want to do with my life?’ to ‘What does God want with my life?’” she recalled. Sister Anne Catherine had never been to a convent before these new thoughts of a possible religious vocation came to mind, so she visited her friend at the Nashville Dominicans, only to be taken aback by the beauty of the life she discovered there.
“Unfortunately, I had negative stereotypes about sisters because I did not really know anyone personally. But my visit to the Motherhouse in Nashville was refreshing,” reflected Sister Anne Catherine, who observed that the sisters were fun, normal and truly themselves, yet their lives were totally focused on the Lord. “Sometimes we have a false notion that making Jesus the center of our life will make us dull, but what I saw was a blossoming of each sister’s personality as she became more of who she was supposed to be.”
As she developed a regular life of prayer and daily Mass, she returned to Nashville for several more retreats. It was in the course of the sacrament of confession that God revealed his will for her. When the priest said, “The Lord is getting you ready for a big thing he will be asking of you,” Sister Anne Catherine knew in that moment that she was called to religious life and also that she was called to be a Dominican Sister of St. Cecilia in Nashville.
With its rich balance of prayer, study, community life and dedication to education, the Nashville Dominican life reminds Sister Anne Catherine of her time spent at UD, to which she is now connected not only as an alumna but as the aunt of two current students, Peter Burleigh, BA ’21, and Grace Burleigh, BA ’21. Sister Anne Catherine often thinks that if she had not gone to UD, she would not be where she is today. “The UD education in and of itself opens your horizons. It prepared me for my future vocation,” she said.
Sister Anne Catherine advises those who do not know if they have a religious vocation to “take advantage of all that UD offers.” She believes UD is a place where one’s faith can be deepened and the person God created you to be can be discovered. “Develop a daily habit of prayer, cultivate good friendships so you can bring each other to God, and enter into all the benefits of the intellectual life and formation in virtue that UD provides,” she urges.
Read the series introduction in either the Sisters Serving UD pilot segment on Sister Mary Angelica Neenan or the second installment on Sister Elinor Gardner. Stay tuned for the discernment story of Sister Mary Edith Humphries.