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Sisters Celebrate Nuestra Señora de la Altagracia, Patroness of the Dominican Republic

January 30, 2023, Adrian, Michigan – For Adrian Dominican Sisters who hailed from the Dominican Republic, who ministered there, or who cherish the culture, the liturgy at St. Catherine Chapel on January 19, 2023, was a source of great joy. It was a celebration – a few days early – of the Feast of Nuestra Señora de la Altagracia (Our Lady of High Grace), Patroness of the Dominican Republic. 

Much of the devotion of the people of the Dominican Republic to Nuestra Señora de la Altagracia stems from a legendary painting of the Virgin of Altagracia, said to have been brought to what would become the Dominican Republic in 1502, shortly after the arrival of the Spanish. The image was housed in a shrine built in 1572. The present basilica was consecrated in 1971.

Sister Carol Ann Gross, OP, in a homily during the special liturgy, described the picture as a “Christmas icon” that depicts Mary watching over Jesus, who had just been born, with Joseph standing in the background.

“The picture of Altagracia can bee seen as often as the Dominican Republic flag,” said Sister Carol Ann, who ministered in the Dominican Republic for about 30 years. “Mary is a loving and powerful intercessor. From the very beginning she is focused on service to others.”

Sister Carol Ann compared the “sense of oneness, unity, and blessedness” that the people of the Dominican Republic feel toward Nuestra Señora de la Altagracia to the feelings that North Americans often experience when they see themselves as members of the universe. “Those of us who look to the stars and sense our oneness with the stars and all of creation can understand the faithful of the Dominican Republic, who celebrate the Virgin who unites all in holiness, love, and strength,” she said. 

She noted the busloads of pilgrims who come to the basilica on the feast day. “They give thanks and they celebrate the oneness of being in her presence,” she said.

Sisters Margarita Ruiz, OP, and Teresita Ruiz, OP – blood sisters from the Dominican Republic – recalled their own experience as children growing up with a devotion to Nuestra Señora de la Altagracia. “The feast means uniting first of all with Mary, who is a revolutionary woman who keeps on inviting us to love all people and to love the Earth and to love everything created by God,” Sister Margarita said. “In that very same way, I am united with the people of our country, the Dominican Republic, who love her dearly.”

Sisters Margarita and Teresita said that, as children, they never visited the basilica on the feast day but went on different days, when it was less crowded. “Our Lady knew we loved her and we could go to her at any time,” Sister Teresita said. “She’s the protector of our nation, of our country.”

Sister Teresita added that the flag of the Dominican Republic is the only one in the world that features the Bible in its shield. “It’s very meaningful,” she said. “The faith of our people is expressed through the flag as well.” 

Sister Margarita added, “We unite with Mary and with the people and certainly with all who love Our Lady. We rejoice today just for Altagracia, our dear Lady.”

The Adrian Dominican Sisters have ministered in the Dominican Republic since 1945, when the Congregation established Colegio Santo Domingo, a school for girls, in the capital, then called Ciudad Trujillo. Currently, four Sisters native to the Dominican Republic serve there, in formation and spirituality and at Fe y Alegría Espíritu Santo School in Sección San José. In addition, more than 20 Associates live and minister in the Dominican Republic.


Feature photo: At the special altar in honor of Nuestra Señora de la Altagracia (Our Lady of High Grace), are, from left, Sisters Carol Coston, OP, Joyce LaVoy, OP, Annette Sinagra, OP, and Margarita Ruiz, OP (seated in front); Jill Maria Murdy, Director of Liturgical Ministries; Sisters Kelin Lee “Kitty” Bethea, OP, Patricia Harvat, OP (seated in front), Rosario Martin, OP, Teresita Ruiz, OP, Carol Ann Gross, OP, Helene Kloss, OP, Prioress Elise D. García, OP, Joyce Caulfield, OP, and Suzanne Schreiber, OP; and Father James Hug, SJ.  

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