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One religious community, two remarkable women

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placeholder January 7, 2013   •   VOL. 51, NO. 1   •   Oakland, CA
One religious community, two remarkable women

Sister Claire Maher

Sister Alexa Chipman

Sister Claire Maher's and Sister Alexa Chipman's callings are 84 years apart. Sister Claire joined the Dominican Sisters of San Rafael community before color television was invented. Sister Alexa blogs daily and stays current on the latest technology. Now part of the same religious community, learn what drew both of these remarkable women to religious life.

Sister Claire Maher, at 105 years of age, is the oldest member of the Dominican Sisters of San Rafael. She is older than any sister in any other large Catholic congregation in the San Francisco Bay Area.

August 1928. Sister Claire rang the front doorbell at the Dominican Convent of San Rafael, California, and never considered entering any other congregation of religious sisters. Ringing that bell was to change her life. Mother Louis O'Donnell immediately met with this young woman and after a short visit told Mary Catherine Maher that her entrance date would be Aug. 15, 1928.

Sister Alexa Chipman is the youngest member of the Dominican Sisters of San Rafael.

August 2012. Sister Alexa, who is 29, researched different ways of living as a sister or nun for several years. After talking with nuns and sisters from all over the world she realized that she desired to find women who were compassionate while strong and willing to stand up for the truth. She hoped, too, that they would be open to preaching and ministering in ways that are in keeping with our era. After an extensive application process and a year of study, prayer and reflection as a candidate, Sister Alexa is now a novice with the Dominican Sisters of San Rafael. She flew to Saint Louis in August 2012 to join other Dominican novices at the Collaborative Dominican Novitiate.

One might ask: What do these two Dominican sisters share in common, despite 84 years difference? It helps to understand what it means to be a Dominican, and to understand the vision of this 162-year-old community.

Dominican Sisters are part of the Order of Preachers, and live their lives supported by four common values, often referred to as the Four Pillars of Dominican Life. These four pillars are Community Life, Prayer, Study and Ministry. St. Dominic called this four-fold pattern of life the "holy preaching." The Dominican Sisters of San Rafael are committed to the apostolic life.

The sisters' mission and vision statements highlight the importance of reverencing and affirming each person's dignity, and of the work of the transformation of attitudes and systems that deprive people of dignity. Throughout our history, the sisters have engaged in the needs of the day and worked to address the critical issues of the time.

Sister Claire responded to the needs of her times through her many years of ministry in education as a teacher and principal. She was beloved in school communities in California and Nevada for her firm, clear, visionary leadership and her gracious manner in attention to the fine details that convey hospitality. Now Sister Claire participates in community life, prays for vocations and remains in contact with many former students.

What called Sister Claire? "As a young woman I attended dances with my friends during my teenage years and did not truly feel a part of my schoolmates' social activities. I came home from dances and felt empty and thought, 'This isn't for me.'" My uncle, Msgr. Edward J. Maher, encouraged me to consider the Dominican Sisters in San Rafael. Something in my spirit told me it was time to go."

Sister Alexa, while fully engaged in studies in the novitiate, also does jail ministry and continues to stay on the "cutting edge" of the ever-changing "high tech" communications ministry. And whether her ministry involves face-to-face interaction or social media, she is committed to proclaiming the Gospel through her work.

God's call is always a mystery. Sister Claire and Sister Alexa listened to their hearts.

For information about becoming a Dominican Sister of San Rafael, please email us at vocations@sanrafaelop.org or contact Sister Pat Farrell at 415-257-4939.

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