Wednesday, July 05, 2006


As many of you know, the Dominican Sisters of St Cecilia -- aka the "Nashville Dominicans" -- are experiencing quite the boom in vocations, growing at about 10% a year.

At least two of the sisters aren't just related through the community. They showed up at home in the burbs of Boston to tell their stories.
Last weekend, Sister Mary Angelica and Sister Anna Grace Neenan, O.P., spoke during Masses at Immaculate Conception Parish about their separate journeys to the same destination: the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecelia Congregation, based in Nashville, Tennessee.

The sisters grew up in Weymouth in a family of five children of Billy and Corinne Neenan. They attended Hunt Elementary and Central Junior High and Weymouth South High School. They also attended education classes at Sacred Heart Parish and weekly Mass there or at Immaculate Conception.

"I think we had a beautiful family, a strong faith and the example of our parents and grandparents," said Sr. Anna Grace. "We prayed the rosary together and went to Mass every Sunday."

"Catholic values were talked about and instilled in us even though we didn’t talk doctrine," said Sr. Mary Angelica. "My prayer life and my parents’ good example made up for it."

"There were little things. When my Dad went into the drug store and the cashier gave him $14 in extra change, he went back to give it to her. ’It’s not my money,’ he said, even though it was inconvenient. He showed integrity by example."

Still, the closest she came to thinking about a religious vocation, said Sr. Mary Angelica, was skipping the weekend social whirl to study and telling her high school friends, "I’m going to be a nun for three days." ...

Sr. Anna Grace remembers the shock of her older sister’s decision to enter the convent. "I had no idea what that was about. Then I went to visit her, and I knew she was in a good place, that she was not doing anything strange."

She returned to the career she had trained for since she took her first ballet lessons at age six and entered the Boston School of Ballet less than two years later. She had left high school to join the Boston Ballet and spent nearly ten years dancing there and for the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre and the Pennsylvania Ballet.

"I have a great love for it. I always knew that was what I would do," said Sr. Anna Grace. "I couldn’t see myself doing anything else or wanted to do anything else."
Then her knee popped during a rehearsal and the injury, though not career-ending, forced her to take time off to recuperate.

"During that time, I started looking at my life and finding something missing. There had to be something more, even though I loved dancing," she said. "I always loved my faith and believed in my faith, but my spiritual life was not as deep as I desired. I put my career in the forefront. It took all my physical and emotional energy and left a spiritual emptiness that I didn’t really face until my injury."

"I decided not to go back to dancing, and started thinking of a religious vocation," she said. "Once I decided not to go back and sign a new contract, I was free to ask God what he wanted instead of telling him what I wanted. It freed me up to listen."

She thought of joining one of the contemplative orders until a weekend visit with Sr. Mary Angelica in Nashville changed her understanding of what she was meant to do.

"My vocation really was to the Dominicans, but I’m not sure I knew that right away," she said. "Once I made that decision, I was very much at peace, very happy. I had never felt that before, the grace of god and the Holy Spirit telling me this is where I will be happiest."

She entered the Dominican order as a postulant in 1996 and made her solemn profession of vows in 2003. She took the name Sister Anna Grace because of her vocation experience.