St. Mary of the Springs - History
Founded in 1830
In 1830, at the request of Cincinnati Bishop Fenwick, OP, four members of the recently-founded Kentucky Dominicans left for Somerset, Ohio, to start St. Mary’s Academy, one of the first Catholic schools in Ohio. The Sisters arrived at Somerset on February 5, 1830. This Academy offered education to pioneer children of Catholics and non-Catholics. Mother Angela Gillespie, first Mother General of the Holy Cross Sisters in America, was educated here, as was her cousin Ellen Ewing, wife of General William Tecumseh Sherman, and General Phil Sheridan's sister.
From 1830, when they arrived in Ohio, until 1864, these Sisters were under the direction of the Dominican Father Provincial who resided at St. Joseph's in Somerset. For four years, they were under the direction of the Bishop of Cincinnati, whose Diocese included all of Ohio, until the Diocese of Columbus was formed in 1868. In 1895, Mother Vincentia Erskine exercised the ancient Dominican privilege of requesting a pontifical designation for the community, rather than being under the direction of the local Bishop, and the congregation became a Pontifical Institute.
In 1866, a devastating fire consumed the St. Mary's Academy buildings, leaving the sisters with nothing but spared lives. The sisters occupied borrowed space for two years until Theodore Leonard, a Columbus businessman who had five daughters to educate, offered the sisters land and bricks on his old brickyard if they would build an academy in Columbus. The sisters traveled by covered wagon to found St. Mary’s Academy in Columbus in 1868. Bishop Watterson suggested the name change to St. Mary of the Springs to reflect the preponderance of natural springs on the property. The Academy operated in its new Columbus location until its closing in 1966.
In addition to the Academy, the Dominican Sisters founded and ran two colleges and administered and staffed eleven other schools in Columbus, 18 other schools in Ohio, seven schools in New York, six schools in Connecticut, eleven schools in Pittsburgh, three in New Mexico, and one in Michigan and Texas. They ran missions in China and Peru, and the St. Francis/ St. George Hospital in Cincinnati. Eventually they would also found and run a licensed nursing center, a HUD housing project for the elderly, three literacy centers, a spirituality education/outreach center, and an ecology ministry.
With a Chapter vote on April 12, 2007, the Dominican Sisters, St. Mary of the Springs elected to petition Rome along with other Dominican communities, asking for permission to form a new congregation of Dominican Sisters. Exactly two years later, on April 12, 2009, the Dominican Sisters of Peace was officially founded, with St. Mary of the Springs as one of the seven original founding congregations.