|April 6, 2015 • VOL. 53, NO. 7 • Oakland, CA|
| MSJ Dominicans serve the young,
the poor, the vulnerable
With missionary zeal and a practical eye, Mother Pia Backes — all of 24 years old — led a delegation of three Dominican sisters to San Francisco in 1876, at the request of Archbishop Joseph Alemany, to serve the German-speaking immigrant children.
Mother Pia and her teenage companions, Sister Amanda Bednartz and Sister Salesia Fichtner, answered the call "to serve the young, the poor and the vulnerable."
"She bequeathed to us, her daughters, a love for liturgical prayer, a global vision and a love for Dominican education," Sister Gloria Marie said.
"She didn't think of a novitiate," Sister Gloria Marie said, but rather as an orphanage for American Indian children.
In 1891, the Sisters purchased the property adjacent to Mission San Jose. "It was the money from the vineyards that paid the mortgage," Sister Gloria Marie said, adding they may turn to vineyards as a source of income once again.
The clients can go to the program at the motherhouse for the day, and "be supported and cared for," she said, additionally providing a respite for their caregivers.
Education has been a primary ministry of the sisters, who have three schools in Southern California and more in Mexico. Their charism continues to enlighten and enliven affiliate schools, including St. Elizabeth Elementary and High schools in Oakland; St. Joseph and Our Lady of Guadalupe in Fremont; St. Edward in Newark; and the School of the Madeleine in Berkeley. The Sisters continue to teach music at the Motherhouse.
"Many of our affiliate schools are inner city, where we're trying to keep alive Catholic education," Sister Gloria Marie said.
Sisters continue pastoral work and adult spirituality. They reach out to the undocumented and the incarcerated, and support people who have been released from prison.
Leadership roles in the Diocese of Oakland have been held by Sister Rose Marie Hennessy, who served as superintendent of schools, and Sister Glenn Anne McPhee, who served as chancellor.
One of the sisters' greatest sources of gratitude is that the oil pressed from the olives grown on the trees at the Motherhouse is consecrated as chrism each year, playing a role in confirmations and ordinations.
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