111. The Sisters of St. Cecilia Motherhouse sing their prayers every night in Nashville.

In North Nashville across the street from the historic Maxwell House Hotel there is a gated campus of rolling lawns and colonial brick buildings: the Motherhouse for the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia, founded in 1862. Their order chose as their name St. Cecilia, patron saint of music, because they wanted their order to emphasize the arts. 

Each night the Sisters of St. Cecilia gather in their beautiful chapel and sing their prayers, unbeknownst to many in Nashville. They have been doing so for a 150 years. Like the world famous Fisk Jubilee Singers from nearby Fisk University, who began about the same time as the Sisters of St. Cecilia, the singers sing not for fame but for a spirit. 

Places have reputations, from nations to neighborhoods. Places have personalities too. And while Nashville has a reputation for entertainment and tourism, Nashville has a personality that, put simply, is nice. And people wonder why. Many suspect Nashville’s good personality is rooted in people’s spirit–a city with “a church on every corner.” Which is to say a Church, Mosque, Synagogue, or Temple in almost every Nashville neighborhood, because Nashville is a praying city. We suspect the good personality people feel in Nashville has to do with faith and service.

We discovered the Sisters of St. Cecilia like so many things in Nashville are discovered. We bumped into someone–a stranger–and they invited us to visit them at their home.

We met Sister Mary George Barrett in the Germantown Kroger grocery store. She was walking down an isle with her escort, Sister Mary Clare. Both Sisters had dozens of Klondike ice cream bars stacked in their arms. It was such an odd sight we approached them and asked, “What is the ocassion?” Sister Mary Clare said, “Today is Sister Barrett’s Feast Day and she wanted to celebrate by treating the other Sisters to her favorite ice cream.” Then they invited us to visit them. We did the next day.

The Sisters pray. They teach. They play basketball. And they sing. Each night the Sisters at St. Cecilia Dominican Motherhouse sing their prayers in their chapel. The public is invited but few seem know about it and few ever come. Sister Barrett said many seem to think becoming a Catholic Sister would be on the decline in this day and age but at the Motherhouse they are actually growing. Each year more and more young women come to join the order, she said. 

Sister Clare said there is a beauty and wonder to living life of dedication and that young people seem to be drawn to that dedication. 

Our photojournalist plays the piano for Sister Mary Clare on the first day we visited the Sisters at their Motherhouse in 2017.

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