Dominicans host open house at new St. Jude Parish convent

By: Photo and text by Jennifer Willems

It’s a good thing there are six bedrooms in the new convent at St. Jude Church and School in Peoria, because the Dominican community there is growing.

While Sister Agnes Maria Pineda, OP, who is professing final vows on July 30, will be leaving to help start a new mission in Michigan, two more Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist will be coming to St. Jude School this fall. Sister Christiana Bui, OP, will teach first grade and Sister Mary Martha Becnel, OP, will teach fifth grade.

They join Sister Maria Christi Nelson, OP, local superior, who has been named assistant principal and enrichment coordinator at St. Jude, and Sister Catherine Thomas Brennan, OP, who teaches theology, and Sister Maria Canisius Willey, OP, who teaches German, both at Peoria Notre Dame High School.

Before they returned to the motherhouse in Ann Arbor, Michigan, for the summer, the Dominican Sisters held an open house to thank the members of St. Jude Parish for their new home, which is located at 10809 N. Knoxville. They moved in on March 24 and Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, blessed the convent and celebrated Mass in the chapel on April 1.

“This is the first house to be built for us in all of our missions,” Sister Maria Christi told The Catholic Post during the open house on June 7. The Dominican Sisters continued to greet and thank parishioners after all the Masses on June 8.

“Our convent is our life. It forms who we are as Dominicans and as religious,” she explained. “If you have the form to live the life within, like this beautiful home, it just makes you live your religious life that much more faithfully and more joyfully and more fully. It’s been the best gift that we could ever get.”

In addition to the six bedrooms, known as monastic cells, the cloistered part of the convent includes a refectory (dining room), community room, superior’s office and study room, where the Sisters can prepare lessons and do research. The public space includes a guest parlor and guest dining room.

The two-story chapel is considered the “center and source” of their life. The stained glass windows, lights, tabernacle and crucifix are from St. Patrick Church in Camp Grove, as are the front doors of the convent.

The altar and other woodwork in the chapel were designed and crafted by Tom Weiss of Ottawa.

“The mix of the old and the new, especially for the chapel, it fits our charism as well,” Sister Maria Christi said. “We’re Dominicans from the 1200s and yet we’re a new community in the church. You mix the old and the new for the New Evangelization.”

The convent, constructed by Homeway Homes, was paid for through private donations. No parish funds were used at all, according to Father Patrick Henehan, pastor.

“As great as the house is, the Sisters are better,” he said. “We know what a gift they are to our school, to our parish. . . . The real gift is not the building. The real gift is the Sisters who live in it.”

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