On nineteen acres located in downtown Nashville, St. Cecilia Motherhouse is an oasis on the north side of a busy southern city. It provides a peaceful setting with numerous reminders of our one hundred and fifty year history that lift our hearts in joyful praise and thanks to God. St. Cecilia Motherhouse was completed in 1862. Additions in 1880, 1888, 1904, and 2006 completed the building. Today it houses over 230 sisters, including those in formation in our novitiate, the sisters who administrate and teach at our schools in Nashville, and our retired sisters. The center of our home and our life is the beautiful Chapel of St. Cecilia which was dedicated on December 23, 2005. Here the sisters gather as a community three times daily, spending additional time in personal prayer and making frequent visits to the Blessed Sacrament. We invite you to learn more about our Motherhouse.
St. Cecilia Motherhouse
The former chapel of the 1888 building retains a sacred function. Now an oratory, a traditional element in monastic houses, the room serves as a community gathering space for presentations, talks, and monthly meetings. The stained glass windows of St. Cecilia and St. Dominic, adorning the walls of this room since the late 19th century, were crafted by the Franz-Mayer Studio in Munich, Germany, the same family-owned business that created the stained glass windows in our current chapel.
The library, one of the central features in any Dominican convent, forms the sister in the contemplation of Truth so that she might share the fruits of her contemplation with those whom she serves in the apostolate. The shelves are replete with Church documents and Biblical commentaries as well as works of spirituality, theology, philosophy, history, literature, and art. As one enters, a statue of St. Thomas Aquinas, a great Dominican scholar, serves as a reminder of the rich intellectual tradition of the Order.
The topmost floor of the oldest buildings remains open for rows of bed frames curtained off at night to enclose a small dresser and chair next to a single bed. These cells serve as the sleeping quarters for the sisters in formation, for young women on retreat, and for professed sisters during the crowded times of Christmas and the summer.
At the close of Vespers and the Rosary, the sisters process to the De Profundis Hall just outside the refectory for the recitation of Psalm 129. The intention of this prayer, recited before meals, is for the deceased of the Order. St. Dominic’s desire to be buried “under the feet of his brethren” sparked this custom of the Order.
In keeping with monastic customs adopted by St. Dominic, the sisters eat “choir to choir” to show that the meal is an extension of the “sacred banquet” of the liturgy. According to monastic custom, our refectory meals are taken in silence (with the exception of solemnities and certain feasts), and a sister reads from a spiritual or theological work so that we might be nourished in mind and spirit as well as in body.
More than just a practical living space, the cell is a sacred place in which the sister can commune with her Lord and Spouse. Furnished alike with a bed, dresser, bookcase, desk, and crucifix, the cells remain simple and orderly that each sister may more easily devote her attention to God.
Designed and carved by one of our sisters, the ornate front piece of the reader’s stand in the refectory represents St. Dominic and his travels in the foundation and spread of the Order. Also in the refectory hangs an original work of art painted by one of our sisters. It depicts a scene from the Order’s beginnings, when one evening the brethren, who begged for their daily bread, had nothing to eat. Dominic nonetheless called them to table to be nourished spiritually. While the brethren listened to the reading, two angels appeared and distributed bread to those gathered, beginning with the youngest. To this day, the youngest are served first.
Within close proximity of the courtyard, the community room, the chapel and the refectory, the infirmary’s architectural centrality reflects the central role of our older sisters in the life of the community. They sustain the apostolic efforts by their prayers and sacrifices and they encourage us by the witness of their persevering fidelity. With their own private chapel, the sisters in the infirmary can make frequent visits of devotion to our Eucharistic Lord, their constant companion throughout religious life.
A classic feature of convent architecture, the cloistered courtyard cultivates in the sisters a contemplative spirit. In the silence of this “garden enclosed” are many subjects for meditation. In the center stands a fountain symbolic of the Spirit’s life-giving waters, on the exterior wall of the chapel hangs a large crucifix, a bronze statue of Mary stands in one corner, and all around the beauties of creation lead to praise of their Creator.
Since its earliest days as the performance hall of the St. Cecilia Academy students, the Recreation Hall has functioned in many capacities. For professions and visiting days, this area welcomes a multitude of family and friends, and on feast days or other special occasions, the Recreation Hall witnesses the sisters’ celebration of their St. Cecilia heritage in forms of music, drama, and dance.
Chapel of St. Cecilia
Made in Spain, the tabernacle depicts the Coronation of the Virgin on the door. Inside are inscribed the words, Adoro te devote, and outside two angels kneel in perpetual adoration.
This stylized canopy over the altar of repose suggests the ancient Tabernacle of God’s presence with Israel in the wilderness. The baldacchino is supported by six Ionic columns with gilt capitals, above which is an inscription from the book of Revelation, “Here God lives among men. They will be His people and He will be their God.” Atop the baldacchino is a carving of the Holy Spirit. Suspended from the sanctuary’s archways, a cherry wood crucifix with a five and a half foot corpus of Our Lord hangs between the baldacchino and the main altar.
Front and center in the sanctuary is the altar of sacrifice. On either end are four small Ionic columns with gilt capitals. The front panel contains mosaic tiles depicting the Risen Lamb carrying the banner of Easter victory. On either side are mosaics depicting the Eucharistic symbols of wheat and grapes. The reliquaries sealed within the altar contain the relics of St. Cecilia, St. Dominic, St. Catherine of Siena, Bl. Cecilia, Bl. Amata, Bl. Diana, and Bl. Ignatius Delgado.
Immediately to the left and right of the sanctuary in raised niches stand five-and-a-half-foot statues of the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Joseph. As Mary holds the infant Jesus and Joseph a cage of two turtledoves, they together represent the Presentation in the Temple, a feast which also celebrates the consecrated life.
Side chapels contain statues of St. Catherine of Siena on the right and St. Dominic on the left. Based on God the Father’s words to her in the Dialogues, Catherine holds a ship with papal insignia as a symbol of Holy Church. Dominic preaches from the open Gospel in one hand and holds the rosary, traditionally said to have been given to him by Our Lady, in the other hand.
Created by the Franz-Mayer Studio in Munich, Germany, the eleven foot arched windows lining the nave depict the life of St. Cecilia in thirteen scenes with corresponding Biblical meditations. Also crafted by the same studio, the sixteen stained glass windows in the upper nave relate the eight Beatitudes to the Order’s preaching mission and the life of St. Dominic.
The pipe organ was custom designed by Wicks Pipe Organ Company. The pipes frame a stain glass window, donated by the Dominican Friars of the Eastern Province of the United States, depicting St. Cecilia, patroness of music. Assisted by the accompaniment of the pipe organ, the Sisters daily raise their hearts and voices to God in songs of praise. The beauty of the pipe organ, both in terms of sound and appearance, is a testament to the desire to offer all that we have to God in praise.
Above each side aisle is a Latin inscription reading, “Cantantibus organis, Cecilia Domino decantabat, dicens, ‘Fiat cor meum immaculatum, ut non confundar.’” This antiphon from the feast of St. Cecilia is translated: “While the instruments played, Cecilia sang to the Lord, saying, ‘Make my heart immaculate, that I may not be confounded.’” The doves between the words symbolize purity, and the sprigs of myrtle are an ancient symbol for love, marriage and joy. Shortly before her martyrdom, St. Cecilia was married to a husband who respected her higher betrothal to Christ the Lord.
A common sight at the Motherhouse is the sisters accompanying their Lord on His Way of the Cross. Mounted between the stained glass windows of St. Cecilia are the Stations of the Cross. The Stations, made in 1935, depict the Via Dolorosa in high relief.
On the mound in front of the Motherhouse since 1910, the statue of Jesus symbolizes the sisters’ deep devotion to the Sacred Heart. In 1883, the novitiate was placed under the patronage of the Sacred Heart. With the statue’s return after construction in the summer of 2006, the community renewed its consecration to the Sacred Heart.
The last one to be cast before the mold was broken, the bronze statue of St. Dominic that greets guests from the front yard was sculpted by the Dominican artist, Father Thomas McGlynn. As his bare feet emerge from a thicket of thorns, Dominic’s zeal and joy, which converted the heretic who led him through the briars, also captivates and inspires the viewer. The statue’s placement along the path conveys Dominic’s ever-readiness to preach the Gospel of Christ to the ends of the earth. As the sisters leave the driveway departing for missions, this statue “in motion” is a visible reminder of Dominic’s accompaniment in all our apostolic activity.
Each afternoon, novitiate sisters recite their rosary while walking along this path. At countless other times, sisters—praying, studying, or talking—trace the steps of so many who walked this path before them.
Invoked since the community’s earliest days, St. Joseph’s fatherly protection has relieved the sisters in many dire circumstances and obtained for them many favors. As a reminder and representation of this powerful patronage, a statue of St. Joseph is prominently placed in the niche atop the 1888 building overlooking Nashville to the west.
The simple headstones mark the mortal remains of each sister with her religious name and date of death. The silent witness of the graves inspires in us a longing for the reunion of Heaven and recalls to us our duty to pray for the faithful departed. Religious life is an eschatological sign; even in death, these sisters remind us that this world is not our final home.