The Dominican Sisters Cabra currently have a presence in Cape Town and its Southern suburbs, in Port Elizabeth and Uitenhage and in Gauteng Province. In South Africa, we are committed to working for a more Just society and this is integral to our Ministry in this region. We have a strong sense of service to the poor and underprivileged and were also involved in the justice struggle during the raw years of the implementation of the Apartheid regime.
Education remains a strong aspect of our ministry although all schools are now under lay management. The Sisters are involved in setting up Catholic Schools’ Trusts in the areas of Gauteng, Port Elizabeth and Cape Town for the continuance of quality education in South Africa. We serve as Trustees on the Catholic Schools’ Trusts and as Board members of the schools. We also serve as members of National and Provincial Catholic School structures.
Implementation of Child Safeguarding Policy, Restorative justice and the building of peace within the school community is a priority. The Sisters are also involved in work at third level, in the University of South Africa (UNISA), in retreat work, spiritual direction, Scripture groups, ecology, parish work and catechesis. We also became involved in setting up and building awareness around HIV and AIDS, which began in the early 1990s and continues to this day. (See Article on HIV/AIDS Ministry) One of our Sisters works in the area of ‘neuro’ feedback which helps individuals with concentration. She also assesses candidates for suitability for priesthood and religious life.
In South Africa, the Dominican Sisters Cabra remain faithful to St Dominic and his dream which has a strong focus on working together “on the healing of the human community so as to turn hostility into friendship and break the spiral of violence that surrounds us today. We need to create communities of viable life in this kind of mission which inspires hope.” [Hope for the World: Mission in a Global Context]
History of the Dominican Sisters in South Africa
The story of the Cabra Dominicans in South Africa goes back to two bishops and their dream. Bishop Thomas Grimley and Bishop Moran knew the importance of education for their communities in the Cape Colony and invited the Dominican Sisters from Cabra and Sion Hill in Ireland to establish schools in Cape Town and Port Elizabeth. The Dominicans in Cabra and Sion Hill responded to the call of the Bishops of Cape Town and Port Elizabeth ‘to raise the standard of education’ and in September 1863 the first six Irish Dominican Sisters arrived in South Africa. In 1867, a further five sisters followed. The Sisters lived St Dominic’s dream in preaching to communities spread from the southern tip of Africa, north through Gauteng into Swaziland as far as Siteki and up the Garden Route to the Eastern Cape as far as Tsolo. New communities were established for the sake of the prophetic mission of Jesus. The Sisters established numerous Independent Schools and mission schools alongside one another in the Cape Town and Port Elizabeth dioceses. They were also the first religious order to educate deaf children, opening two schools shortly after their arrival in the region.
Later years and Apartheid regime
Over the years, following various amalgamations, the Sisters also established schools in the 1960s in Transvaal and reached out to the Afrikaans speaking community in Pretoria and the deaf community in Hammanskraal. During this period they also became involved in the field of psychological services.
The decades between 1970 and 1980 were marked by learner opposition to the apartheid regime. The Sisters established night schools to offer education to adults and Hedge Schools to offer education to older children in black communities. Many sisters worked for Justice and Peace Commissions and some were arrested for participating in illegal marches against apartheid. In 1976, the Dominican schools defied the apartheid government by opening up all their schools to children of all races.
Following the first democratic election held in South Africa in 1994, all schools opened to all races. At this stage, the decision was taken to place all schools in a Catholic Schools’ Trust to ensure their existence in the future in accordance with the Dominican ethos. Over the years, the Sisters’ ministries also extended to retreat work and spiritual direction and work with refugees in Mozambique. The Sisters have also assisted women and children across the region and have been very active over the years in education around HIV and AIDS.