Dominican Sr. Catherine Dooley dies; highlighted liturgical catechesis

A funeral Mass was celebrated Dec. 7 at the Sinsinawa Dominican Sisters' motherhouse in Sinsinawa for Dominican Sr. Catherine Dooley, a leader in the field of liturgical catechesis.

Popularly known as "Sister Kate," she died Dec. 1 in Sinsinawa at age 82. No cause of death was given.

Professed in 1953 and originally known in religious life as Sr. Mary Conan, she developed the field of liturgical catechesis, which acknowledges the liturgy as a source for catechesis, a pastoral activity that aims to lead communities and individuals to full, active and conscious faith in the light of instruction and the experience of Christian living.

Born and raised in Minnesota, she held master's degrees from The Catholic University of America, Washington; Harvard Divinity School, Cambridge, Massachusetts; and the Catholic University of Louvain, Belgium, where she also earned a doctorate.

In addition to her writing and editing for catechetical and liturgical journals, as well as texts and resource materials for religious education, Dooley wrote two books: Be What You Celebrate and To Listen and Tell: A Commentary on the Introduction to the Lectionary for Masses with Children.

In 2005, the Georgetown Center for Liturgy honored Dooley for outstanding contributions to the liturgical life of the U.S. Catholic church.

In addition to elementary and high schools staffed by her order, she taught at Catholic University of America, Edgewood College in Madison, and Rosary College/Dominican University in River Forest, Illinois.

At a 2004 symposium at Catholic University, Dooley said teaching about the sacrament of penance should begin not with the Ten Commandments and how to go to confession, but should "start with a theology of worship." "We've forgotten the sacrament is an act of worship," she asserted. "There is too much emphasis on what are my sins, and we forget that what happens here is God's action in my life." 

She urged more emphasis on conversion as a lifelong process, the role of sacramental reconciliation in that process, and the context of baptism and the Eucharist as other sacraments of reconciliation and conversion.

Speaking at the National Conference of Catechetical Leadership's 1998 meeting in Buffalo, New York, she called catechesis essential to evangelization. Citing the release the year before of the General Directory of Catechesis, Dooley pointed to three elements of the evangelization process: missionary activity directed toward nonbelievers and those indifferent to the Gospel; proclamation of the Gospel to the unchurched and alienated; and initial formation for those who choose the Gospel as well as the pastoral care of Christians already committed to the Gospel.

The catechetical directory, she said, highlights the "richness of signs in expressing the Gospel message, the importance of the Sunday homily, the content of the Lectionary, and the celebration of the liturgical year along with all other occasions of significant catechesis such as marriages, funerals, visits to the sick, and feast of patron saints."

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