Land blessed for Dominican Sisters’ new convent in Peoria

Photo Caption: Father Patrick Henehan gives the sign that everything is ready to proceed with construction. To his right is Mother Assumpta Long, foundress of the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist.

By: By Jennifer Willems

Ever since four Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist arrived in Peoria to teach at St. Jude School and Peoria Notre Dame High School in August they have been living in a rental house near the elementary school, but that won’t be the case for much longer.

On Nov. 7, Father Patrick Henehan, pastor, blessed ground on the St. Jude campus for a new convent. In addition to the administrators of both schools and Dr. Sharon Weiss, superintendent of Catholic schools for the Diocese of Peoria, guests at the ceremony included Mother Assumpta Long, OP, the Dominican community’s foundress.

Standing on the site for the 3,400-square-foot convent and smiling broadly as Father Henehan sprinkled holy water around its perimeter were the four women who will share it: Sister Catherine Thomas Brennan, OP, and Sister Maria Canisius Willey, OP, who teach at Peoria Notre Dame, and Sister Agnes Maria Pineda, OP, and Sister Maria Christi Nelson, OP, who teach at St. Jude. Sister Maria Christi is the local mission superior.

“Whenever we look to the interests of our neighbor or the community and serve them we are, in a sense, God’s coworkers,” said Father Henehan as the prayer service on the former soccer field began. “Let us pray for his help, that through this celebration, my brothers and sisters, God will bring this construction to successful completion and that his protection will keep those who work on it safe from injury.”

Msgr. Mark Merdian, president of Peoria Notre Dame, offered words of gratitude before high school students presented a bouquet of flowers to Mother Assumpta.

“It’s a great joy to have the Sisters here,” he said. “They have many requests from many people throughout the country and for them, by God’s grace, to be able to choose to come to the Diocese of Peoria and to be at St. Jude and Peoria Notre Dame is a great blessing. For that we thank you, Mother and the Sisters.”

Mother Assumpta had also received a spiritual bouquet from the St. Jude students at the Mass that preceded the ceremony. She toured the school afterward, spending time with the first-graders in Sister Maria Christi’s class and the fifth- and sixth-graders in Sister Agnes Maria’s homeroom.
Later in the day she went to Peoria Notre Dame and then met with Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, at the Spalding Pastoral Center. Mother Assumpta’s stop in Peoria was part of a seven-state trip to visit each of the 15 schools in which her Dominican Sisters teach.

“It’s a great little school,” Mother Assumpta said of St. Jude, which enrolls more than 180 students in pre-kindergarten through sixth grade, adding that she considers the schools, the Diocese of Peoria and her community “a perfect fit.”

“You’ve got a very faith-filled atmosphere and that’s primarily what we would want, and wonderful support,” she said. “The diocese, Bishop Jenky — everything is just what I would want it to be for the Sisters.”

Father Henehan said the idea to build a convent came from parishioners.

“My initial plan was not to build a convent,” he told The Post. “I had a parishioner who came to me and said, ‘If you get the Sisters I feel called to build a convent, if that would help.’ They started the ball rolling.”

Thanks to the generosity of these benefactors, all but $50,000 or $60,000 of the construction costs have been donated.

“Peoria Notre Dame has committed to paying rent to offset costs and share in the construction project,” Father Henehan said. “They want to support the Sisters who are teaching there.”

While the convent may seem large at 3,400 square feet, he said it required cloistered and non-cloistered spaces to accommodate the contemplative nature of the religious community. An important feature is the chapel, which will utilize four stained glass windows and the crucifix from St. Patrick Church in Camp Grove.

There will be six bedrooms or “cells” — a monastic term that comes from caeli, the Latin word for heaven, according to Sister Maria Christi.

Construction by Homeway Homes of Deer Creek is expected to be completed by Feb. 14, Valentine’s Day. “It’s the parish’s gift to the Sisters,” Father Henehan said.

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