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The English Congregation of St Catherine of Siena

In his series about the Religious Congregations living and working in the Diocese of East Anglia, Fr Karol Porczak MS, Vicar for the Religious, introduces the Dominican – English Congregation of St Catherine of Siena – in Cambridge.

The English Congregation of St Catherine of Siena (OP) is part of the worldwide Order of Preachers, founded by St Dominic Guzmán in southwest France in the early 13th century. The first community of Dominicans was a convent of enclosed nuns, followed shortly by the men who accompanied St Dominic on his preaching missions and became the first friars of the Order of Preachers.

Apostolic Sisters, whose life of prayer sustains them in their pastoral, educational and healing ministries, are a later development in the life of the Church, and in particular, many Dominican congregations were founded in the 19th century. Each congregation is autonomous, but in 1929 five such groups of women amalgamated to form the present-day English Congregation.

There are currently seven sisters assigned to the Convent of St Catherine in Cambridge, which came into being in 2002: Sr Ann Catherine Swailes OP (Prioress), Sr Angela Mary Leydon OP, Sr Mary Pauline Bürling OP, Sr Tamsin Mary Geach OP, Sr Mary Magdalene Eitenmiller OP, Sr Philomena Benedict le Gall OP and Sr Rose Rolling OP.

Preaching is the essence of the Dominican vocation, and, in its common prayer and mission, every Dominican community aspires to be a kind of living homily, witnessing to the gospel in the way its members relate to each other and to the world. In fact, the earliest Dominican community was known as the Holy Preaching, a name that the sisters in Cambridge have adopted for a series of monthly talks on the Christian life.

The community organises Days of Recollection for women during Lent and Advent and offers hospitality for retreats in a small self-catering hermitage. The Dominican Brothers’ community and Dominican Sisters’ community in Cambridge work closely alongside each other, with their novices sharing a study programme, where they are taught by both friars and sisters. They also pray together at daily Mass and often have joint celebrations on Dominican feast days.

The sisters are involved in First Holy Communion and Confirmation catechesis, lead retreats and provide spiritual accompaniment, teach in universities, seminaries and online. One sister is a member of the Cambridge University Catholic chaplaincy team (where one of her colleagues is a Dominican friar); another is completing a doctorate in theology; another studying canon law; and a fourth is training in psychotherapy. The sisters undertake all these missions on behalf of the whole community, seeking to pass on the fruits of their contemplation to others.

Pictured above (from left to right) are: Sr Mary Pauline, Sr Anne Catherine (Prioress), Sr Mary Magdalene, Sr Rose, Sr Angela Mary and Sr Tamsin Mary.