All in the family

Dunn family boasts three members of the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary

By Claudia Mathis   
SUN staff writer

Sister Virginia Dunn, SNJM, Sister Eileen Dunn, SNJM and Sister Mary Ann Dunn, SNJM are sisters in more ways than one. They grew up in Rome, and along with the rest of their brothers and sisters, attended St. Mary’s School there. The three sisters also entered the same religious order — the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary.

They actively minister in the Washington, D.C./Silver Spring, Md. area through the Mid-Atlantic Mission Center. “We are fortunate to be near each other and to be a part of a vibrant apostolic community of religious women,” said Sister Virginia, the oldest of the three.

“I’m glad I chose the religious life,” said Sister Virginia. She said she realized she wanted to follow the professed life when she was a sophomore at the Academy of Holy Names in Rome. “My mother was a big influence on me,” noted Sister Virginia.

Sister Virginia most recently served as pastoral minister for faith formation and training of liturgical ministers at Annunciation Parish in Northwest Washington, D.C.

Sister Virginia’s service to the Syracuse Diocese includes teaching religious education at St. Joseph’s School in Liverpool during her early years as a Sister of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary. Her ministry in education includes serving as an elementary and secondary teacher at the Academy of Holy Names in Tampa, Fla., principal at the Academy of the Holy Names in Albany and school superintendent for the Diocese of St. Petersburg, Fla.

Sister Virginia also served in community leadership for the New York Province.

Sister Virginia began her religious formation in 1953, when the novitiate was located in Montreal, Canada.

She said she prepared for teaching and additional ministries by studying at Barry College in Miami, Fla., Siena College in Albany and Weston School of Theology in Boston.

Sister Mary Ann was the sixth child of the nine children born to James and Ellen Dunn and the third sister to enter the community. The novitiate was based in Albany at that time, in 1963.

“My parents planted the seeds of faith in us,” said Sister Mary Ann. “Their example and support was a very large part of us being called to vocation. When I left to enter the novitiate, my dad’s parting words were, ‘Honey, if this is not for you, don’t be afraid to leave and come home.’”

While attending St. Mary’s School, Sister Mary Ann was attracted to the spiritual life of the Franciscan sisters who taught her. “It was there, while working as an apprentice sacristan, that I experienced first-hand something beautiful, sacred, peaceful and appealing about the life these sisters and mentors lived.”

Sister Mary Ann said that after she graduated from St. Mary’s in 1960, she taught with the sisters for the next three years, as a catechist at St. Joseph’s Church in Lee Center.

She attended the Academy of the Holy Names and graduated in 1963.

Most of Sister Mary Ann’s ministry has been in the field of education. She has taught at the pre-K and elementary school level in Massachusetts, New York, Florida and Washington, D.C. “My ministry of teaching has been a gift and a blessing,” she said. “I’ve grown and been enriched in the ministry. It’s reaffirmed my calling.”

Since 2002, Sister Mary Ann has served as director of faith formation at Blessed Sacrament School in Silver Spring, Md. She especially enjoys the responsibility of preparing the daily morning prayer for grades kindergarten through fifth.

“What a gift to train students to help prepare our prayer space, as well as to be prayer leaders, readers and participants in processions and rituals that celebrate the church’s liturgical year and global awareness,” she said. “As our day begins, we gather in the school gym for prayer. It is very exciting to see our students take their rightful place in calling our community of faith to prayer. I am so blessed to be part of a community where faith formation, Catholic identity and service to others is number one in priority.”

Sister Eileen, the third child born to the Dunns, will be celebrating her 50th jubilee on Oct. 4 with a special Mass at St. Gabriel’s Church in Washington, D.C. She now serves as director of religious education at St. Gabriel’s, a position she immensely enjoys.

“This year, I am beginning my 21st year at St. Gabriel’s Parish and I am looking forward to celebrating 50 years in the SNJM community,” she said. “God has blessed me with a loving family, the Dunns, and a loving parish family here in Washington, D.C. and in every parish where I have ministered.”

Sister Eileen has spent most of her ministry teaching primary grades in New York, Florida and Washington, D.C. She studied at Barry University in Florida, St. Michael’s College in Vermont and St. Bonaventure University in New York.

“I’ve always wanted to help children learn,” said Sister Eileen. “I wanted them to feel God’s love.”

She said that when she was growing up in Rome, the presence of sisters from various orders in addition to numerous priests was a common occurrence. The Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary influenced her when she attended high school at Academy of the Holy Names, especially the principal, Sister Elizabeth Agnes. “She was very caring,” said Sister Eileen. “She always made me toe the line, but she did it with love.”

Sister Eileen said her older sister, Sister Virginia, also influenced her decision to enter the religious life and it was during her teen years that she felt her calling.

“It’s a blessing to have my sisters in my order and we’re all less than 15 minutes apart,” said Sister Eileen.

Sister Mary Ann agreed. “It’s a grace to be in the same area — it’s very special and wonderful.”

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