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San Rafael Dominicans discussing statue controversy as a community

September 14, 2017
Christina Gray

The Dominican Sisters of San Rafael met as a community Sept. 10-11 to discuss the controversy over the removal of six Catholic statues from the campus of San Domenico School in San Anselmo, which the order founded in 1850.

An Aug. 24 story in the Marin Independent Journal reporting the concerns of some school parents over the school’s decision to reduce the Catholic statuary on campus from 16 to 10 items sparked international media attention and debate over the school’s Catholic identity.

“In true Dominican tradition, the sisters will be meeting as a body to pray, study and reflect on all of this,” Kate Martin, the order’s director of development and communications told Catholic San Francisco Sept. 1.

Martin said the leadership team of the Dominican Sisters of San Rafael, headed by Prioress General Sister Maureen McInerney, OP, began a process of “prayer, study, reflection and conversation concerning San Domenico School.”

The school is independently governed and operated but the sisters maintain canonical responsibility.

San Domenico has adjusted the number and location of its Catholic statuary many times in its long history, school officials said. The removal of six of 16 Catholic statues before the start of the 2017-18 school year is “part of that continuum,” Kimberly Pinkson, San Domenico’s director of marketing and communications, said in an email to Catholic San Francisco.

She said the six statues were donated with “great forethought and care to members of our community.” A statue of St. Dominic was moved to the center of the campus and given extra prominence.

“Over San Domenico’s 167-year history as California’s oldest independent and Catholic school, we have moved our school four times and statuary has moved at each campus, and numerous times throughout our history,” she said, adding that the recent political climate and conversation have served to “distort our intentions.”

The school’s decision to remove some statues before the start of this school reflected school’s current strategic plan to become “more inclusive” to a student body that is about 80 percent non-Catholic.

The school’s strategic plan adopted in 2016 describes San Domenico as “California’s First Independent Dominican School.” The San Domenico website says the school is “anchored by our 167-year old history and the Dominican spirit of inquiry” and the community is comprised of “families of many faiths including Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, etc., as well as families who do not follow any particular faith but appreciate the value of discovering a sense of the sacred in its many manifestations.”

“By building on these two pillars of our identity, independent and Dominican, we have an opportunity to thrive as parents increasingly seek meaningful educational experiences for their children in order to best prepare them for a rapidly changing and unpredictable world,” the strategic plan states.

Pinkson added that some of the media reports were misleading and added to the emotionally charged reactions.

“Around campus there are at least 180 different icons, della Robbias, mosaics, crosses and other items in our chapel, personal items in offices, and other religious iconography from various faith traditions,” she said. That figure got confused with the total number of statues on campus and it was reported in error that there were only 18 out of 180 statues remaining on campus, she said.

“We are dismayed by the maelstrom caused by this recent news cycle and grateful for the outpouring of support from both Catholics and non-Catholics to the changes at our school,” she said. “Many parents, alums, faculty, staff, and community members have stepped up to voice their backing to retain our strong commitment to our Dominican Catholic education while at the same time remaining an independent school that is inclusive for all.”

Mike Brown, communications director for the Archdiocese of San Francisco, said “the archdiocese and school leadership are discussing these important issues.”

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