St. Dorothy Sisters celebrate centennial of service

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BRISTOL—When he was a young man growing up under the tutelage of the Sisters of St. Dorothy at Holy Rosary Parish, Providence, Father Victor Silva learned firsthand how a small, but dedicated group of religious sisters could inspire their students to find the greatness within themselves and to then use their talents to serve God.

Encouraged by their support, Silva first began serving his parish in the late 1980s as a catechist coordinator for religious education classes. He would go on to sing in the church choir and lead the parish’s youth group.

Inspired by the good works he was doing, Silva decided to pursue the priesthood.

“They were very instrumental to me in my vocation,” says Father Silva, who now serves as assistant pastor of St. Matthew Church, Cranston. “They were always there and always helpful.”

Father Silva did not miss the opportunity to thank the Sisters of St. Dorothy for all their support of him as they celebrated the centennial of the order’s North American Province with a Mass at St. Elizabeth Church, Bristol.

“He was an exemplary youth,” recalls Sister Mary Fatima Simas. “I was his director of religious education when he was growing up. It just makes me so happy to see that he has become a priest. I keep praying for more vocations from that parish.”

Sister Dorothy Schwarz, now provincial of the order, recalls those years when she and her fellow sisters assisted in the faith formation as teachers of Father Silva and many of his peers.

“A lot of the young kids really looked up to him,” she recalls proudly.

She smiles as she also remembers the day he approached her in his teenage years to bow out of participating in a parish feast out of fear that he was getting a little too old to dress in a festive costume, Sister Schwarz would not take no for an answer.

“Be there at 12 o’clock to try on an outfit,” she replied, unfazed by the request.

Sister Schwarz, who herself was educated in her elementary school years by the Sisters of St. Dorothy at St. Patrick School in her native Staten Island, N.Y., answered the call to a life of service to God at the age of 17.

“Having had the sisters [as teachers] myself, I was really inspired by them. They loved God and they loved children, and this was such a great combination.

“I very much wanted to give myself to God, and that sealed it for me,” Sister Schwarz said.

Worldwide, there are about 1,100 Sisters of St. Dorothy. In America, there are about three-dozen sisters currently serving in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New York and Texas. “It’s very painful to see all the orders struggling so much,” Sister Schwarz said. “There’s so much work of God to be done. There are few, if any vocations coming in.”

Having just returned from the Philippines, where there are some novitiates preparing to profess their vows, she remains hopeful for the future of the order.

“I always think there will be a place for consecrated life,” she said.

There is currently an emphasis on forging greater ties between North and South America by creating a single Province of the Americas.

Although the ranks of the Sisters of St. Dorothy have thinned through the years, the sisters remain no less committed to service.

Locally, sisters are serving as teachers at Our Lady of Fatima High School in Warren and chaplains at Rhode Island Hospital and St. Elizabeth Manor in Bristol.

Sister Schwarz works full-time at St. Augustine Parish, Providence as director of the parish’s religious education program.

Sister Mary Margaret serves as principal of Our Lady of Fatima High School.

“We’ve been very blessed that we’ve been able to minister to the poor in the United States,” she said. Next year, she will celebrate her 50th anniversary as a religious sister.

Originally from New Bedford, Mass., Sister Mary Margaret was educated at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel there.

“That’s where the seed was planted and nourished,” she said.

She came to Fatima as principal in 1991, and resides at the convent on the school grounds.

She attributes the decline in vocations to the influence of our culture.

“The influence of our culture is making our decision to enter religious life or the priesthood more difficult,” Sister Mary Margaret said.

Bishop Louis E. Gelineau, who presided over the centennial Mass, first became acquainted with the sisters in their mission as teachers at Our Lady of Fatima High School.

“They’re still doing great work in our diocese,” Bishop Gelineau said. “They are filled with energy; I’ve always admired that in them.”

Bishop Gelineau said he always admired the strength of their intelligence. He recalls that whenever he, along with Msgr. Jacques Plante, would visit with the sisters socially, they would relish playing intellectual word games.

“I was always a lot slower than the sisters and Msgr. Plante,” Bishop Gelineau recalled with a smile.

John Selley, 81, has been a supporter of the sisters’ mission work since the early 1950s.

“They work hard for people. They go out of their way, especially for the poor and the sick,” he said.

The Sisters of St. Dorothy were founded in Genoa, Italy, in 1834 by Saint Paula Frassinetti.

She was the only girl among five surviving children of Giovanni and Angela Frassinetti. Her brothers, all of who became priests, tutored her. When their mother died, she took over caring for her father and siblings.

She went on to join a small group of women at her brother Giuseppe’s parish eager to spread the good news of God. In 1834, this group of seven young women consecrated their lives to God, forming the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Dorothy.

By 1866, the sisters had branched out to serve as missionaries in Portugal and Brazil, opening a number of schools and convents to serve the people.

In 1910, during a revolution in Portugal, the sisters suffered persecution, imprisonment, violence and exile, as leaders sought an end to all religious congregations.

In 1911, groups of sisters left for Switzerland, Malta and the United States to answer a clarion call for help in ministering to the faithful in those areas burgeoning with Catholics.

The first Dorothean mission in America opened in 1911 at St. Stephen’s Parish in New York City. Shortly thereafter, a group of sisters established themselves at Holy Rosary Parish, Providence.

“It’s been such a privilege to serve God’s people over the years,” said Sister Schwarz. “We feel such gratitude.”

On the occasion of their North American centennial, Bishop Thomas J. Tobin expressed his appreciation for the sisters’ long history of service to the diocese

“The 100th anniversary of the Sisters of St. Dorothy marks a very special milestone for the community. We are most grateful for the presence of the Sisters in the Diocese of Providence and for all that they have done and continue to do for God’s people,” Bishop Tobin said.



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