St. Paul exhorts us to “pray without ceasing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:17)
The Milwaukee Dominican Sisters of the Perpetual Rosary are a contemplative community of Dominican Sisters who literally put these words into practice by maintaining a continuous Rosary before the Blessed Sacrament, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. In addition to attending daily Mass and reciting the Divine Office, like all Religious, each sister prays the traditional 15 decade Rosary once or twice per day. Since their foundation in 1897, the Milwaukee Dominican Sisters of the Perpetual Rosary have prayed the Rosary around the clock for the needs of the Church and the world.
The tradition of contemplative Dominican Sisters has its origin in the community of contemplative women established in 1206 by St. Dominic in Prouille, France, who by their prayers supported the Dominican Order’s work of preaching for the salvation of souls. In 1880, Fr. Damien Saintourens, O.P., Director of the Association of the Perpetual Rosary for the Dominican Province of France, founded the first community of Dominican Sisters of the Perpetual Rosary in Calais, France, with the help of Mother Rose of St. Mary who came from the Dominican Monastery of the Holy Rosary in Mauleon, France. The community in Calais moved due to religious persecution and eventually found a new home in Belgium. Fr. Saintourens was a fervent promoter of the Rosary worldwide, including in North America, and had established contacts in the United States and Canada. In 1891, Mother Mary of the Rosary, who had been among the first postulants to enter the first community in Calais, came to the United States and founded the first American Perpetual Rosary Monastery in Union City, NJ. After serving there as prioress, in 1897 she established the Milwaukee Dominican Sisters of the Perpetual Rosary where she also served as the first prioress of the community. They have now been praying the Rosary continuously for over a century.
At each hour a sister contemplates the mysteries of Jesus’ life from the point of view of the person closest to him: his mother Mary. This contemplation begins with the joyful mysteries, which celebrate our God who “became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14) through his Incarnation, Birth, and early life. At the center are the sorrowful mysteries, which recall the events surrounding the Lord’s Passion, the sacrificial outpouring of his very life which won for us the gift of salvation. Finally, the prayer culminates with the glorious mysteries, celebrating Jesus’ victorious Resurrection and Ascension, the coming of the Holy Spirit, and the Assumption and Coronation of Mary, the most perfect representative of the entire Church. While Christians in all states of life may not have the hour needed to pray the full Rosary each day, the practice of praying a single set of 5 mysteries daily and rotating among the sets of mysteries throughout the week is a way of contemplating Christ’s life recommended by numerous saints.
The sisters are further supported in their life of contemplation by maintaining silence outside of community recreation times, which frees them from distractions and disposes them to listen to God. The Dominican observance of study further nourishes their prayer life, and the sisters find Scripture to be an especially helpful aid supporting their contemplation of Jesus’ life through the Rosary. Many of the sisters also pray the luminous mysteries, added by Pope St. John Paul II in his 2002 Apostolic Letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae, and enjoy Romano Guardini’s book The Rosary of Our Lady. We see in the sisters’ lives a reminder that Mass and liturgical prayer, times of silence, mental prayer, study, Scripture reading, and structured devotional prayer such as the Rosary are all important components of developing a life of prayer. While these components are individually beneficial in themselves, they are complementary and greatly nourish spiritual growth when integrated together into one’s life.
The sisters are also models of evangelization. Even as they maintain the discipline of remaining hidden with the Lord inside the cloister as contemplatives, they give to others from the gifts they receive from the Lord. While physically committed to one location, through their prayer they engage in the worldwide mission of the Dominican Order and the missionary vocation of the Church. They also seek to share the treasure of the Rosary, which forms such an important part of their spirituality, by hosting a Third Order chapter and making Rosaries for the missions, by the Marian Shrine next to their monastery, and by their writings, including The Rosary: Prayer for All Seasons by Sr. Joanna Hastings, O.P.
O God, whose only begotten Son, by His life, death, and resurrection, has purchased for us the rewards of eternal life. Grant, we beseech Thee, that meditating on these mysteries of the most holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary, we may imitate what they contain and obtain what they promise, through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.
For more information about the Milwaukee Dominican Sisters of the Perpetual Rosary, to send the sisters your prayer intentions, or to inquire about vocations, please visit their website.
Image: Dominican Sisters of the Perpetual Rosary in Bonsecours de Peruwelz, Belgium