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Mission Musings from Sister Abby

Our Beginnings

Mission Musings from Sister Abby

This coming Monday, October 3rd, marks the death 125 years ago of Mother Mary Goemaere.  Belgian by birth, she was living in a Dominican monastery in Paris, France in 1850 when Bishop Sadoc Alemany arrived looking for volunteers to come to America.  While she boarded a ship believing that she was going to Ohio to teach French, by the time they arrived in New York, the Bishop had changed his mind and she was to accompany him to California.  She did so—traveling by ship to Panama, crossing the Isthmus by mule and canoe, and boarding another ship to sail into the Golden Gate December 6, 1850.  She was the first Catholic Sister in California.  She set up a school in Monterey and then, again at the request of Bishop Alemany, moved the entire school to Benicia (then the state capital) in 1854.  In my scenario (no archival evidence supports it), when she got off the boat in Benicia, she told the Bishop, “no more boats” and she is buried in our cemetery in Benicia.

While she founded what was to become our congregation, the Dominican Sisters of San Rafael, she only served twelve years as Prioress General and quietly resigned in 1862.  The message in her life for me is that you never know where life is going to take you.  She was no visionary, not intent on founding a new religious congregation, or even coming to California.  She was faithful to her vows, to her prayers,  to her life in community, and to the education of the young.  She simply could not have imagined all that would come from her simple “yes” to teach French in Ohio—and 165 years later the Dominican Sisters of San Rafael continue to carry forth their mission—to bring the Gospel to bear with depth and compassion on the critical issues of our time.

Sister Abby Newton, OP
Vice President Mission Integration and Spiritual Care
Dignity Health St. Joseph’s Medical Center


Preachers of  Truth • Love • Justice