Our History

Inspired by the spirit of our founder St. Dominic de Guzmán, we join the worldwide Order of Preachers (OP) carrying out an 800-year mission: to praise, to bless and to preach.

Beginning in 1853, four Sisters from Regensberg Germany traveled to New York, responding to the call “Sisters, come and teach.”

On October 25, 1877, after a three-day journey by train, coach, boat, and wagon from New York, five Dominican Sisters arrived in Traverse City, Michigan. Following in the footsteps of our patron Saint Dominic de Guzman, only God could know how our lives would ripple outward.

Our life in Christ and in Community is nearly 140 years rich. The map highlights the many cities and rural villages where Sisters founded and operated schools, and taught children to read, write, and figure. More, they influenced and helped form the communities in which they lived and ministered.

We hope you enjoy some highlights from the history of our Congregation below. If you want to delve deeper for study or research purposes or find a favorite teacher or relative among our Sisters, we invite you to explore our Archives.


Early History


It was the arrival of Sisters in Grand Rapids in 1889 that truly cast the future of the Grand Rapids Dominican Sisters. In 1896, our Congregation was authorized to change from cloistered Nuns to apostolic Sisters. Which meant our Sisters would go forth and live and work among the people.

1889 St. John's Home for Orphans

Sisters were called to help care for and educate children of a growing population of immigrants. In Grand Rapids, impoverished families depended on St. John’s Home to care for orphans and children of suffering families. The youngest twins in this photo of four sets of twins came When their mother died during their birth; Sisters cared for them until their father remarried and his new wife brought them home.

1900s Called to Teach

During the early 1900s, Sisters founded and operated schools throughout Michigan. Some were small rural schools in outposts like Beaver Island and the Leelanau Peninsula. In 1896, Holy Rosary Academy for girls opened in Essexville. Sacred Heart Academy for girls opened in 1900 in Grand Rapids. Catholic Central (CC) was founded in 1906. It was divided into Boys CC and Girls CC. The girls were housed in Sacred Heart Academy from 1906-1909.


In 1921, the cornerstone was laid for the Motherhouse at Marywood at the corner of Fulton and Lakeside in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Over the years, more than 1000 Sisters at a time have called this home. Sacred Heart Academy moved to the Marywood campus in 1922 and was renamed Marywood Academy in 1925.

1931 Aquinas College

In 1931, Catholic Junior College opened as the first institution of Catholic higher education in the country to be both coeducational and run by a congregation of religious women. Today, as Aquinas College, it’s mission is to be an inclusive educational community rooted in the Catholic and Dominican tradition, provides a liberal arts education with a global perspective, emphasizes career preparation focused on leadership and service to others, and fosters a commitment to lifelong learning dedicated to the pursuit of truth and the common good.


In June 1960, there were 827 members in the vowed community of the Dominican Sisters ~ Grand Rapids; 211 were in their 20s. Six years later, there were 876 members with 240 in their 20s.

1962 — Called to New Mexico in 1925, to Canada in 1928. It was October, 29 1962 that Sisters Marie Dominica Viesnoraitis and Herman Marie Maez departed Grand Rapids airport to begin the mission in Chimbote Peru which continues to the present day.

1962-1965 Vatican II Changes the Church & Women Religious

Post World War II changed the culture of the world. Pope John XXIII and Vatican Council II introduced themes of openness and reconciliation. Catholics could pray with other Christian denominations, friendships were encouraged with people of non-Christian faiths. Mass and prayers changed form. Even the dress of women religious changed; habits were no longer required. Who is the Sister teacher and who are the students in this science class photo?

1970s, 80s, 90s At Home and Abroad

While Sisters were working diligently with Aquinas College and neighbors in Eastown on saving and reviving the neighborhood, other Sisters were in Honduras where poverty and injustice and the growing HIV/AIDs epidemic were destroying families and communities.

1993 Dominican Center Opens

When Dominican Center opened its doors in 1993, with so many gifts to share, the Sisters invited people of all faith traditions and walks of life to explore faith and spirituality alongside the Sisters, a tradition that still stands today. An evolving calendar of programs in formation, spirituality, and justice can be found at Dominican Center.

Transforming Ministries

Transformation is a theme Dominicans know well. Symbols of transformation surround us. Our beautiful Marywood campus changes with the seasons, nature’s transformation reminding us that baptism and rebirth is ours through Christ. Sisters, friends and family members die and are reborn. We honor life and legacies through all of of our ministries. We welcome all to renewal through deepening spiritual relationships with God and community. We are eternally grateful that God is the constant, walking with us, always.