hellochaoThe Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia's is a Catholic religious order in Tennessee. St. Cecilia's looks and sounds much like it did when it first opened 150 years ago.
But there is also something new: the voices and laughter of young woman studying to become Dominican sisters. The current group of first-year students is the largest in many years. Sister Catherine Marie is a spokesperson for St. Cecilia's.
SISTER CATHERINE MARIE: "There are 270 of us, and our growth of late has been rather extensive. This year, we had 27 young women enter. Last year, it was 23.Great blessings to us."
Sister Catherine suspects these women want to look deeper into their faith. Studies have shown that Americans are interested in spiritual issues; yet their involvement in organized religion is falling.She says the Dominican Order was founded during a period of social unrest.
SISTER CATHERINE MARIE: "There was a whole lot going on in the world that was very irreligious. And yet from this emerged an idealism and a wholehearted desire to give of self."
That desire led Sister Kelly Edmunds to join St. Cecilia's. She remembers how students at the University of Sydney reacted to Dominican sisters who served there.
SISTER KELLY EDMUNDS: "Just to watch them walking down the main boulevard of campus wearing their habits ... it was just such a powerful witness! And I had friends in engineering who were like, they knew I was Catholic. So they would say to me, 'Who are these nuns on campus?' And so it was a really great witness to me of the power of religious life."
Sister Victoria Marie came to St. Cecila's after completing a study program in civil engineering.
SISTER VICTORIA MARIE: "So it was a big shift in my life to go from utility to relationship, from what am I going to do?To who am I going to be for the Lord?"
A religious worker does not spend all day at work or in prayer. Sister Kelly was surprised by how much time she has to simply enjoy life.
SISTER KELLY EDMUNDS: "Just to be outside and to enjoy the beauty of ... the beauty of the world and creation. And so we play a lot of sport, we go for walks, we just enjoy each other's company outdoors."
Yet the women do spend a lot of time at religious services, in the classroom and doing work. Sister Victoria admits it can be very busy.
SISTER VICTORIA MARIE: "For a couple weeks after I entered I thought, I just want to lay on the couch for the day, and I don't think they do that here, you know?"
Sister Kelly does not believe her spirituality is something unusual. She believes the Catholic Church is in a period of renewal.
SISTER KELLY EDMUNDS: "It's a really great ... a springtime for the Church, I suppose. And there's a lot of hope and a lot of life."
The Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia are active in Australia and across the United States. They teach more than 13,000 students at more than 30 schools. I'm Shirley Griffith.