By Ruby Thomas, Record Staff Writer
ELIZABETHTOWN, Ky. — About 600 people gathered at a sunny picnic-style event Sunday to witness a ceremonial ground breaking where a convent will be erected on the campus of St. James School.
The convent will become home to a handful of Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia, based in Nashville, Tenn., who will serve in the parish and school beginning this summer. It will be the community’s first mission in the Archdiocese of Louisville and the state of Kentucky.
The Archdiocese of Louisville’s chancellor, Dr. Brian B. Reynolds, hailed the ground breaking as an historic development and a sign of growth at St. James.
“Religious communities in the archdiocese have developed homes for members on their own,” said Reynolds, who is also the archdiocese’s chief administrative officer. “But it’s been several decades since a parish has built a convent.”
Many of the 20 sisters who attended the April 24 ground-breaking event expressed their joy in coming to serve near the cradle of the Dominican order in the United States.
Dominican Friars formed their first U.S. foundation in Washington County, Ky., in 1805. The Dominican Sisters of St. Catharine, Ky., now the Dominican Sisters of Peace, were established nearby in 1822.
“It’s very special to return to the place where Dominican life started in the United States,” said Sister Anne Catherine Burleigh, who attended the event and serves as spokesperson for the sisters.
Sister Burleigh said the sisters were honored by Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz’s invitation to come to St. James. She noted that many of the sisters got to know the archbishop when they worked with him in the Diocese of Knoxville.
Archbishop Kurtz served as the Bishop of Knoxville from 1999 to 2007, when he was appointed to the Archdiocese of Louisville Beginning this summer, three Dominican sisters will serve at St. James. Sister Marie Hannah Seiler will serve as principal of the school, which serves 480 students in preschool through eighth-grade.
Sister Seiler succeeds Ursuline Sister of Mount Saint Joseph Michael Marie Friedman, who retired last year after 25 years of service at St. James. Longtime educator Jimmie Dee Kelley is serving as interim principal.
Sisters Augusta Nickel and Maria Clemens Wolf will teach religious education in the school. They’ll also assist with the faith formation of parishioners of all ages, said Father Martin Linebach, pastor of St. James.
During an interview last week, Father Linebach said the decision to invite the sisters to the parish and school is a “prayer answered.” Father Linebach said the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia are “masterful educators” and he believes the sisters’ presence will make St. James a better Catholic school.
Archbishop Kurtz agreed. During the ground-breaking ceremony he told the crowd that he’s a “big fan” of the Dominican sisters.
“We are taking a solid step forward to give a solid education to the young men and women who come through these doors,” said Archbishop Kurtz.
Sister Seiler, the soon-to-be principal, called the invitation to serve at St. James a “great gift” and said during the event that it will be an “honor to serve in the archdiocese.”
“My hope is to build unity, encourage people in their faith and serve in whatever way we can,” said Sister Seiler. “It’s an honor to be a part of this faith-filled community and I look forward to the wonderful works the Lord will do through us.”
Sister Burleigh said that the mission to Kentucky will be “exciting” because the sisters will be working both in the school and the parish. Typically, the sisters serve only as teachers and principals, she explained.
Father Linebach believes this engagement in school and parish life “will bring a powerful sense of unity” to St. James.
The convent will be built behind the school, which sits on 50 acres along Robinbrooke Boulevard. The building, according to a press release, will include a small chapel with seating for 15, a parlor, six bedrooms, a kitchen and refectory (dining room), two bathrooms, a community room and an office and computer room.
St. James School was built in 2012 on land the parish purchased in 2007. The church sits on separate property, several miles away. The parish is in the early stages of planning to build a new church on the school campus.
Construction on the convent is scheduled to be finished by the end of the year. When the sisters arrive in July, they will reside temporarily at a private residence near St. James Church.