The brown robes of the Franciscans are well-known to Catholics in the Diocese of Gallup. Some of the faithful also recognize with the black habit of Benedictine monks and nuns, who work and pray in monasteries in Gobernador, NM and the Zuni Mountains.
This is great news for both the school and the diocese, as the Sisters can only accept a certain number of invitations each year to new assignments. Thanks to the efforts of Bishop Wall and Dr. John Freeh, former principal of the school, the Sisters formally announced early in 2023 that the Diocese of Gallup would be their newest mission.
Two of the Dominicans, Mother Amata Veritas, and Sr. Thomas Aquinas, sat down with The Voice of the Southwest to talk about their order, their thoughts on vocation, and the new assignment to Gallup. Mother Veritas is the Sisters’ Prioress General, and so is responsible for making the final decision on where the Dominicans will establish missions. Sr. Aquinas is the new principal for Sacred Heart School.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Can you tell us about the Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist?
Mother Amata Veritas: Our community was founded in 1997 by our four foundresses: Mother Assumpta Long, Sr. Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz, Sr. Mary Samuel Handwerker, and Sr. John Dominic Rasmussen. And they founded our community in a response to Pope John Paul II’s call for the New Evangelization and just this desire to spread religious life. They had been formed in Dominican Life – they had been members of the St. Cecilia Congregation in Nashville, but really felt this call to founding a new community. So we settled in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where we have our mother house. We also own and administrate our two schools called the Spiritus Sanctus academies.
Our community is only 25 years old Sister Thomas Aquinas has been in the community 22 years, since 2000, and then I joined our community in 2001. (Editor’s note: the community now has over 150 sisters with an average age in the mid-30s)
We take part in the Dominican apostolate of teaching and preaching the truth and are very much formed by the Dominican charism. We have apostolates where we teach in elementary school all the way up to college.
And so that shapes and forms the way we live our religious life and the way we take the gospel out [to the world].
Sister Thomas Aquinas: And another aspect of our life, too, is just bringing the joy of our consecration to God. You know, bringing that joy to those whom we serve, and the families of the parish, and the families of the school as well, and whoever we come in contact with.
For those who might not be familiar, could you give a little background on the Dominican Order? How was it founded? You mentioned preaching and teaching. For most people, probably the most famous Dominican would be St. Thomas Aquinas, right?
Mother Amata Veritas: Our most famous Dominicans are obviously St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Catherine of Siena.
And then, St. Dominic was a humble founder. He let St. Thomas Aquinas shine.
Sister Thomas Aquinas: So long story short, as condensed as possible, St. Dominic founded the order as, really, a response to a need. And the need was for preachers and teachers who were well-formed – doctrinally, intellectually – and had a rich spiritual life, a rich liturgical life, and a monastic life, in order to give the fruits of our contemplation to others. And really, to bring others to the truth, as an encounter with Christ, right? An encounter with truth. And so the Dominicans’ natural habitat is always going to be in a place where truth is shared and communicated.
And for us that’s the classroom, right?
So our sisters teach truth – not only the truth of the Faith – but we also teach the truth of science, of math, of literature, of languages, and in any way we can in our apostolate of education.
And the Dominican friars, they embrace and integrate their preaching and teaching of truth with the clerical life.
But for the Dominican sisters, it’s really through our teaching that we are spiritual mothers to our students. The Dominican charism is first knowing, living, receiving, meditating, contemplating truth in our monastic observances and then sharing that with others.
And really emphasizing the formation of the intellectual life.
Mother Amata Veritas: To sisters in our particular community, the way we live Dominican life is very centered on the Eucharist. We have Eucharistic [Adoration] every day for an hour before we have Mass or before we come to school. We’re very much formed to teach the truth by our prayer and by contemplating truth in the Eucharist.
And then also, we also have a devotion to Our Lady, and we do St. Louis de Montfort’s Marian Consecration once a year, as a community. So we’re very richly formed with the Heart of Mary as well.
Sr. Thomas Aquinas: Eucharistic spirituality, Marian spirituality. A lot of the sisters are drawn to the community because of the daily Eucharistic Holy Hour as a fundamental part of our day.
So how did the conversation get started to bring you out here to the diocese?
Mother Amata Veritas: Bishop Wall has been known to the community for 13 years. We first knew him because he was the pastor at St. Thomas in Phoenix, when we were invited by Bishop Olmsted to Phoenix in 2006. So as time went on, then he became Bishop of Gallup and left St. Thomas and then I think he’s approached [Foundress] Mother Assumpta over the years.
But Dr. Freeh contacted me in May and told me about Sacred Heart School and invited me out here to come and see it. So I came out here in November  with my Vicaress General, Sister Mary Michael, and we just saw the openness of the children, the beautiful already-flourishing Catholic identity, daily Mass, and this unique Catholic culture Gallup has that I think our community is very complementary to.
So I think this is an opportunity to just listen to the Holy Spirit, and of course Bishop Wall has to invite us – he was very willing to do that.
After we visited here, we have to be able to see if we can take one [school] this year, and we could.
Do you specifically look for mission areas that are poor or do you just go wherever you’re invited?
Mother Amata Veritas: It’s a look at where we’re invited and what the Holy Spirit wants for that time. This is obviously an opportunity to serve the poor as well. There are wonderful opportunities here.
Sister Thomas Aquinas: And we call our convents outside the Mother House – we call them mission convents, but this is like a “mission” mission.
Sister Aquinas, what are you looking forward to, especially as the new principal?
Sister Thomas Aquinas: Well, there’s wonderful potential to expand the mission of Catholic education in Gallup and in a particular way in the Cathedral School, right? And I’m excited to see what God has in store for these families and these students and for this faculty. It’s very exciting for me to be named principal – a huge honor.
Just to be able to serve this community is a huge blessing and a special honor for me.
Do you have any specific, favorite subjects? Like what’s your educational background?
Sister Thomas Aquinas: For most of my religious life, I have taught high school theology or middle school theology.
And Mother, what are you excited to see? Because you’re not coming here on assignment, you’re just overseeing the transfer.
Mother Amata Veritas: I just send people here. [Laughs] We get wonderful opportunities throughout the United States to be a part of the different Catholic communities. And I think Gallup is more of an enrichment of our own experience in the Catholic Church here in the United States.
New Mexico and Gallup have their own unique flavor. And when we’re present in a community, that unique flavor also forms us as well. It’s kind of like our family expands as we come into a new diocese. So we’re excited about that.
Would you have any advice, for young students or people, for teachers, especially at our Catholic schools, who maybe want to help foster vocations?
Sister Thomas Aquinas: Well, I think the main thing is to pray and be open to whatever God’s will is for your life. And then to visit and to spend time with different men and women religious, I think that is a key thing. Especially for young people – to see that it’s an option, that God is still calling people to religious life and that it’s a happy life, that it’s a joyful way to serve the Lord. Pray, but also be around sisters and priests.
Mother Amata Veritas: Living the current vocation now. You don’t have to become holy when you find your vocation. It’s learning what to do in the present moment – what is God asking you now? And right now it might be like if you’re a student, and having brothers and sisters, and a son or daughter of a family.
Listen to God’s voice in your life, and learn how to listen to God’s voice in your current context. And then trust that God’s gonna show you the way as you discern your vocation.
Any final thoughts you’d like to express?
Sister Thomas Aquinas: Just deep gratitude.
Mother Amata Veritas: Yes!
Sister Thomas Aquinas: Gratitude to Bishop Wall, gratitude to Fr. [Matthew] Keller, Fr. [Mitchell] Brown. And Dr. Freeh, for how he has prepared the way and all the wonderful things he’s set in place here at the school. Gratitude to everyone for welcoming us. And Mother Amata for saying yes!
Mother won’t say this, but she has a lot of requests, and the Holy Spirit chose Gallup.