CABRA DOMINICANS, LATIN AMERICA AND VATICAN II
My life as a Dominican began with the opening of the second Vatican Council in October
1962 when I entered the Congregation as a postulant. On our first day in Kerdiffstown, we,
the new postulants, together with all the community, watched the opening of the Council
on a TV set which had been rented for the occasion. As a teenager I had watched with
interest and joy the election of Pope John the XXIII on my 14th brthday and in May 1962
the canonisation of the Dominican, Martin de Porres, by good Pope John.
My three years of initial formation were accompanied by the events of the Council and the
inspiring documents which were promulagated by it. The changes in the Liturgy were being
introduced and while gregorian chant was still practiced diligently in Kerdiffstown so too
were the vernacular readings, reponses and Eucharistic rites.
During my student years at UCD, religious life was adapting to change and I made my first
visit home to see my family during that time. I was always interested in mission overseas
and in 1973 I volunteered to go to Argentina. However this did not become a reality until
1977. The intervening years I spent in Eccles St where renewal and daptation of Religious
Life was being implemented. Nearby in Dominick Street I attended excellent lectures on
the Vatican Council Documents and on religious life given by Austin Flannery and others.
Mission to Argentina
The mission in Argentina was begun in 1968 by the community of Taylor’s Hill
Galway, which was an still an autonomous community under the Irish Province of
Dominican Friars . They were asked to run a Catholic School situated in the parish of Santa
Cruz, in Buenos Aires. When the Taylor’s Hill community became part of the Congregration
it was decided to keep on the mission in Buenos Aires with a view to expanding it. The
Dominican Friars had preceded the Sisters to Argentina by founding a mission in Recreo,
Catamarca in 1965 and in Paraná 1967.
In 1975, 2 sisters, Sr Urban Rodgers and Sr Veronica Rafferty were to move from Buenos
Aires to start a community in Paraná.
Influence of Vatican II
Lumen Gentium and Gaudium et Spes gave much inspiration to the Church in Latin
America. A rather conservative hierarchy in Argentina, a country of great political
instability, was slow to implement changes. Between 1970 and 1983 there had been no
fewer than 10 presidents, some lasting only months at a time. From 1976 to 1983 the
military were in power. But some bishops had met regularly with their Latin American
brothers during the Council, to discuss an option for the poor in the Church. This group
included, Helder Camara and Argentine bishops such as Alberto Devoto and Enrique
Angelli, the latter later killed by the military in 1976. About 40 of these Conciliar fathers
celebrated the Eucharist together in the Catacombs of Santa Domitila in November 1965
and signed a pact which they called “the pact of the catacombs”. They promised to live a
life of poverty and to be a Church without prestige, serving the poor as Pope John XXIII
wanted. Those who signed this pact promised to reject all symbols of privilege and power
and to place the poor at the centre of their pastoral ministry. The text of this pact which
has 13 points was to influence the Bishops Conference in Medellin, the conversion of
Archbishop Romero, and the theology of liberation.
Influence of Medellin and Puebla Conferences
The Latin American Bishops Conference was held in Medellin in 1968. Justice and Peace
and Basic Christian Communities figured in the conclusions of this Conference. I had
never heard of the document of Medellin until I began reading it soon after my arrival in
Buenos Aires. It blew my mind. Here was the teaching of Vatican II being applied to the
everyday life of the Church in Latin America. At this time too liberation theologians were at
work across the continent, men like Leonard Boff, Jon Sobrino and Gustavo Gutierrez, who
was later to join the Dominican Order.. In 1969 the Argentine bishops issued an important
document after their meeting in San Miguel, Buenos Aires. This was their way of applying
the Medellin conclusions to Argentina, promoting the Church of the poor, justice and
peace and favouring Basic Christian Communities. This was not an easy journey in Argentina
and many priests, religious and laity who opted for it for were called “tercer mundistas” of
the third world, and accused of causing social unrest or even supporting the guerrilla
A persecution of the Church in Argentina and in other countries took place in these years.
As I was preparing for my departure to Buenos Aires in May 1977, 9 Pallotines in that city
were murdered in their parish house by the military. In December that same year following
a meeting held in Santa Cruz Parish, two French Sisters who were accompanying families
of the “disappeared” were kidnapped, never to be seen again. During my 4 years in that
Parish I was priveliged to learn much from the community there, one of whom Mateo
Perdia became head of the Conference of Religious o Latin America and attended the
Bishops Conference in Puebla, Mexico, in 1979. After that event he shared the conclusions
with us at parish level and the Bishops Conference began to implement them. The
document of Puebla was a tool which served to renew the life of the Church, its pastoral
agents, educators and liturgists. For me one of the most striking statements from the
Bishops was the acknowledgement of their mistakes and the words “the Church is at once holy and sinful.”
As a group of Dominican Sisters we continued taking steps towards greater insertion into
the Latin American Church and culture. We welcomed and studied Evangelii Nuntiando
(1975). As the new decade of the 80s began and we had already founded a community
of 3 Sisters in Paraná in 1975 and there were now nine sisters, all Irish, in the Region.
We had yet to see how we could invite young Argentines to join us.
Option for the poor
After much discernment we made a new option for the poor and decided to leave the
school in Buenos Aires in 1982. We were moving to two new areas, one outside Buenos
Aires in a marginalised area called Cuartel V and the other a rural mission, in Solari, in the
Diocese of Goya, Province of Corrientes, a ten hour bus journey from Buenos Aires.
I had the privilege of working there for 5 years.
The bishop of Goya, Alberto Devoto I have already mentioned as being one of the group
who made a commitment during the Council to establish the Church of the the poor. He
never owned a car, lived a poor simple life, was addressed as Padre Alberto and in
every way possible reached out to the poor, who were the majority in his diocese.
With never more than 3 Sisters in our community we lived in the village of Solari which had
had no resident priest for many years. There was a strong popular religiousity alive among
the people who kept their practice and devotion alive with novenas, fiestas and
Basic Christian Communities
In order to strengthen the life of the community and in accordance with the pastoral
priorities of the diocese, basic Christian Communities were set up and family catechetics
introduced during our time there. There was great diocesan support for these new
ventures. Courses in Catechetics and formation for leaders of communities were organised.
Jose Marins a Belgian priest who spent his life in Brazil formed a team which visited the
Base Communities throughout Latin American giving courses and animation which
contributed greatly to the life of the marginalised groups. The formation given on these
courses was excellent. It included Church History, Scripture and Theology as well as
practical organisation of community groups.
Solari our village was unique in many ways, very isolated but now linked to the diocese
through a pastoral plan, with assemblies and courses for pastoral agents. With traces of an
earlier Guarani culture still evident, the people had a great love of music and dance and a
spirit of solidarity and hospitality towards all. On reflection it was evident that a much
earlier evangelization had left its mark. Opening the Scriptures to this people was showing
them how they were living the word of God and how they reflected the good news in their
lives. I can truly say that I was evangelised by the poor in this place as in other areas of
I am glad to say that the communities in Solari continue their journey to the present day.
The Sisters moved on after 15 years there as they did from the Paraná Parish and more
recently from another parish in Buenos Aires. The laity have been educated and
empowered in these areas and in a very macho culture many women have made great
strides towards equality.
Still to come
But the Institutional Church has yet to read the signs of the times where women are
concerned and also to recognise that celibacy is an impossible burden for most of the
diocesan clergy. Hhh Hopefully a future Vatican Council III led by a Pope from the southern
hemisphere perhaps, will be honest enough to face the truth and remedy the injustices
being done to the members of Christ’s Body. Many communities are deprived of the
Eucharist to-day and are being excluded from the ministries they are called to.
We are being called again by Pope Benedict to be part of a new Evangelization. Surely this
time we must take cognizance of these facts and as the people of God, in the power of
the Spirit, take appropriate action.