Becoming a Lay Dominican: ‘It’s a life-changing decision that I made’ 

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on email
St. Dominic receiving the rosary from the infant Jesus and Mary is depicted in a stained-glass window at St. Mary Church in Manhasset, N.Y. CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz

“It’s a life-changing decision that I made,” Helena Hess said as she reflected on the final profession she made this past May to become a Lay Dominican.

“I’ve learned that it’s not a clearcut path. It’s something that you do each and every day,” said Hess, a parishioner of Holy Family Church in Brentwood. “It’s a commitment to try and make a difference in the world regardless of what your affiliations are.”

Hess’ journey to the Lay Dominicans began six years ago when she made a comment to a fellow Holy Family parishioner that sometimes she wished she had entered the religious life. This led to an invitation to come to a meeting of the St. Cecilia Chapter of the Lay Fraternities of St. Dominic held at the Mother House of the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia in Nashville.

Lay Dominicans “are men and women fully incorporated into the Order of Preachers by way of a special promise,” said Sister Henry Suso Hoffsommer, OP, religious assistant of the St. Cecilia Chapter. “They live their Dominican vocation in the world, according to their state as lay persons.

“Lay Dominicans, though not engaged in the ministerial, i.e., priestly, preaching, live their lay vocations in a Dominican way,” she continued. “They carry out their duties and work in the world under the ordinary conditions of family and social life and strive to inform their lives with Dominican practices of prayer such as the Liturgy of the Hours, study of the Catholic faith and apostolic works. They strengthen the bonds of their baptism by embracing their life and mission of the Order with a promise.

“Two mottos of the Order express well the Dominican ideal,” Sister Henry Suso said. “‘To contemplate and to give to others the fruit of our contemplation,’ and ‘Veritas,’ that is ‘Truth.’”

Hess said she had a lot of feelings about attending that first meeting.

“It was overwhelming,” Hess said. “When I first entered the Mother House, I was in awe of being able to enter. I always thought it was a very private, peaceful place, and that I was stepping into another world away from the outside world, which is a little more congested.”

As Hess continued her journey, she attended the monthly meetings, which included group study, guest speakers, Mass and Sunday Vespers. She, and the other members, also received regular support from the Dominican Sisters, which she noted was a big reason why she was able to complete her six years of formation.

“I feel like the sisters at St. Cecilia are very supportive, very helpful,” Hess said. “The support is really important because it’s really important to feel comfortable enough to speak with one of the sisters about something. Whether it’s a study question or something else, we get very specific answers.

“Sister Mary Dominic, OP, was the guide I had the last few years” of formation, she continued. “She really made a difference for me and kept me going.”

The St. Cecilia Chapter of Lay Dominicans is under the jurisdiction of the Dominican Friars of the Province of St. Martin de Porres (Southern Province, USA). The Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia and priests of the Order assist them. 

The St. Cecilia Chapter of the Lay Fraternities of St. Dominic will begin its monthly meetings in September. For more information about the chapter or becoming a Lay Dominican, e-mail or visit

Subscribe to our email list

Keep your finger on the pulse of Catholic life in Middle Tennessee by subscribing to the
weekday E-Register here.

* indicates required