Is the Rosary, and the Dominican Charism, Key to Overcoming Racism?

The Holy Rosary is a powerful tool in spiritual warfare against racism and other evils.

Fra Angelico, “St. Dominic” (detail from the Perugia Altarpiece), 1437
Fra Angelico, “St. Dominic” (detail from the Perugia Altarpiece), 1437 (photo: Public Domain)

The Order of Preachers, the religious order founded by St. Dominic Guzmán of Spain, has been at the forefront of many important movements in the Church. St. Dominic’s efficacious preaching eradicated several persistent heresies of the 12th century. Just a few decades later, St. Thomas Aquinas joined the new order, and to this day he still enjoys pride of place as the premier philosopher of the universal Church.

St. Dominic’s legacy of efficacious preaching was also instilled in the consecrated women who belong to the order. St. Catherine of Siena helped end the Great Schism through her piety and bold letters, and St. Rose of Lima’s ardent charity was manifest in her acts of penance. These are just two of the countless holy Dominican women who have been integral coworkers for the salvation of souls.

Will the next victory in the battle against social unrest come from the cloister of the Dominican Sisters of Marbury? The convent was established in Marbury, Alabama, with the explicit goal of ending segregation in American religious communities. The goal was an ambitious one for the mid-20th century Jim Crow south. The inspiration for this noble pursuit was made manifest through the gift of mysticism.

Mother Mary of Jesus was a nun of the Catonsville, Maryland, Dominican congregation dedicated to the Perpetual Rosary. Mother Mary was walking through the cloister garden of the monastery when she received a mystical vision. According to the historical testimony of the Marbury Dominicans, Mother Mary saw

a dramatic scene: a violent crowd engaged in a race riot. Into the midst of the crowd walked a dark-skinned Dominican friar — St. Martin de Porres — holding a rosary in his hand. As he passed, the crowd quieted, and their weapons of violence became rosaries. Then St. Martin pointed up to a monastery on a hill, where Mother Mary of Jesus saw nuns of many races praying the Rosary with their arms outstretched.

Mother Mary remained in Catonsville, but two nuns under her care were dispatched to the Deep South to bring the vision to fruition. Sisters Mary Dominic and Mary of the Child Jesus petitioned several bishops for permission to start an interracial community of consecrated religious. In 1944 the Archbishop of Mobile granted their request. That August a property north of Montgomery was secured in Marbury, Alabama.

The Rosary was the center of the mystical vision of Mother Mary of Jesus. Mother Mary saw St. Martin de Porres, a Peruvian of African descent, wielding the rosary as his spiritual weapon in the battle against racism. St. Martin was a cooperator brother in the Dominican Order who experienced racism firsthand. In his homily for the canonization Mass of St. Martin de Porres, Pope St. John XXIII observed, “He loved men because he honestly looked on them as God’s children and as his own brothers and sisters.” St. Martin de Porres embodied the same ardent Dominican piety as his predecessors, and thus he was able to revere those who saw him as less than human as his brothers and sisters in Christ.

In Mother Mary’s vision, St. Martin pointed to nuns praying the Rosary, indicating that we must follow their example. In the 21st century battle against racism, secular society has once again resorted to violence. It is truly a Dominican moment in history in which Catholics can promote reconciliation and peace through a renewed devotion to the Rosary. St. Dominic received a primitive version of the Rosary when Our Lady visited him in a private revelation. Rooted and grounded in the supernatural grace of the Annunciation, the Rosary is arguably the most powerful tool in spiritual warfare.

In 1945 on the vigil of the Feast of the Annunciation, Lalia Ilivia Jones joined the Marbury community. Jones entered the monastery just six months after its establishment. The young postulant eventually became Sister Mary of the Rosary. Sister Mary of the Rosary was the first Black sister to persevere and remain a Marbury nun for her whole life. Sister Mary is truly a modern saint, she lived 70 years of profound devotion to the Holy Rosary. In most cases the Church waits five years before opening a virtuous Catholic’s cause for canonization. Aug. 24, 2020, marks the fifth anniversary of Sister Mary of the Rosary’s death.

The Rosary is the key to overcoming racism in America. The Rosary is likewise integral to cultivating African-American vocations, and numbering Black American Catholics among the saints. Let us seize this Dominican moment in history by renewing our resolve to pray the Rosary, specifically for racial reconciliation.