Name: Sister Jane Dominic Laurel, O.P.
Position: Affiliate assistant professor of theology
Hometown: Irving, Texas
BS: How did you make your way to the University of Dallas as an undergraduate?
SJD: I was born in St. Louis, Mo., but I think now I consider my hometown Irving, Texas, because this is where my mom lives. I was born there, then we lived in the Philippines for a few years, and then we moved to California, and from California, we moved to Texas. I spent my teenage years here in Irving. I went to MacArthur High School.
And I actually wanted to go to the Rhode Island School of Design to study architecture, but my parents said, “Absolutely no going anywhere else for college, you have to live at home for college.” I was really bummed about that, but my older sister was coming here because they have one of the best pre-med programs in the country — at least it was in the top 20 back in the day. I thought, “If I can’t go where I want to go, then I just won’t go to college,” and then I said, “Wait a minute, what am I going to do with my life? So I’ll go to college.” So I applied to UD very last-minute, and they were very kind and gave me the presidential scholarship. I majored in English, and my junior poet was Shakespeare.
Then, I was working for an advertising agency here in Dallas. I got a job right here after graduation working for the American Airlines account. It was one of the biggest advertising agencies here in Dallas, and I worked as a copy editor.
BS: How did you come to enter religious life?
SJD: I entered the order shortly after graduation. Actually, I was engaged to be married to another English major. He was a few years ahead of me. As time went on, one of my sisters entered the Carmelites, and it made me start thinking seriously about religious life as an option. I never seriously considered it before, but when I saw my sister I thought, “Wow.”
That was a catalyst for me. I was already spending a lot of time in the Adoration chapel, and I think God made it clear to me that my vocation was not marriage.
That’s the beautiful thing about God’s will. If you’re praying and living a sacramental life, He makes clear to you what His will is. It’s not hard. You can tell the difference between your mom’s voice and your sister’s voice. In the same way, in prayer, you can discern between God’s voice, and your own voice. I knew it wasn’t my voice saying that I should become a sister. I thought, “What is that? Are you nuts?” But it was really beautiful the way God led the whole thing.
One of the things that is always a sign that you’ve found your vocation is that God gives you this peace. I think it’s the peace that comes from resting in His will and accepting His will. With His grace and our desire to do His will, it happens. When we surrender, it becomes about what God has to accomplish, and the purpose He gives to each one of us, and how we fit into the big picture of the world around us.
BS: What have been some of the things you’ve done since you became a sister?
SJD: I was working at Aquinas College, teaching theology. And I was simultaneously working in our diocese’s Office for the New Evangelization.
One of the things that we’ve been focusing on is renewing the Catholic family. The Catholic family has been suffering so much in our own time. We see that reflected in our students. When families and marriages aren’t strong, the children are going to have difficulty, and the children are going to notice that their parents aren’t connected to each other.
Part of this is the communication revolution. It’s so easy to communicate that our communications don’t have the meaning or the depth that they should have. Materialism, secularism, the sexual revolution, the crisis of fatherhood, the crisis in the priesthood have all had a negative impact on the family.
It used to be that the priests and the sisters were a wall of defense for the family, but those defenses have fallen away. They’re also in the process of being rebuilt, and that’s the beautiful thing. Our community decided that it should be one of our initiatives beyond our mission of teaching. So we published [“A Short Guide to Praying as a Family”].
It was great because I was Editor-In-Chief of The University News while I was here, for two years, and it really provided me with the background I needed to be the Editor-In-Chief of this book.
It’s out in English and Spanish. It’s beautiful.
That book was a response to what we were finding with moms and dads. They had this desire to deepen their life together by deepening their life with God, by praying together. But they didn’t know how to go about it.
How can we say bedtime prayers, or how can we have a family meeting with our adolescent children, how do we stay connected to each other? These are desires that they had, but they didn’t know how to carry it out on a practical level.
So this book is a response to those desires. And we’ve been able to share it with the families in the schools where we teach, and offering family prayer workshops.
A team of sisters travel around offering workshops on family prayer, so that’s exciting … EWTN reached out to us to do a television series. We hope it will have a broader audience, and not only the EWTN audience, but all of the audiences in the dioceses and the schools where we serve.
BS: How did you come the University of Dallas from Aquinas College?
SJD: This “Praying Together as a Family” project has been a big part of everything.
I was going to move over to work in the office of the diocese full time, starting in the fall of 2016. But then, Dr. Goodwin writes, inviting me to take this full-time position here, so I thought, “Wow, of course I love the University of Dallas. Who wouldn’t want to be here?” It brings back all of these great memories. So, I thought, “That’s amazing.”
You always have dreams and you have to table them, because it’s not what the Lord wants. So I thought, “Let me show this to the Mother General, she’ll probably say, ‘Well, that’s nice, dear, have a good day.’ ” But when she responded, she said, Sister, I’m interested in this. When I get back from traveling, let’s talk about it.” And that was around March.
So basically, it fell together that she realized that the best way to do this was to send sisters who are working on their dissertations, so that there would be enough students to open a convent here. And so Sister Rosemary is here, working on her Ph.D. in sacred music from the Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music in Rome, and then Sister Mary Edith, who is working on her Ph.D. in English literature from the Catholic University of America.
So we all opened the convent together, Aug. 9. A number of professors and children helped us to move in! We felt very, very welcome.
Nine sisters from our community graduated from UD. There is a debt of gratitude that our community has to the University of Dallas for its work in higher education that is so integral, that it does not fail to address that very important issue of vocational discernment.
BS: What does a typical day look like for you?
SJD: We rise at 5 a.m., and we meditate at 5:30, [until] 6. Then, we pray Lauds, or morning prayer. Then, we get in the car to go to morning Mass at Cistercian, at 6:30.
Then, after we finish, we have breakfast [in] the lower level of Braniff. The education departmental secretary took us under her wing and gave us access to the kitchen. She’s kind of like our mom away from home. We have breakfast at the little table in the corner of Braniff, then we go to work.
The sisters go work on their dissertations, or maybe are talking to students. Sister Rosemary has choir practices in the day, and I come up to my office to prepare for class and grade papers.
Then, we have lunch together around 12:15 p.m. in the cafeteria so that we can eat with students … Afternoon is more time for studying or classes. And we head home for vespers at 5, followed by rosary. Then, we have dinner, then recreation together. Every night we spend time together hanging out, talking, or playing a game. It’s a religious life practice that you spend time bonding as a community. Then we have 15 minutes of spiritual reading, then Compline, or night prayer. And then we do whatever school work, or just get ready for bed.
We live a packed schedule. But the order really helps to be present to the Lord throughout the day. It helps you use your time better when it is structured. We’re enjoying getting to know the students, what their family life is like, what their favorite subjects are, how they like UD.
I think that’s what it means to be a member of the UD community — just to waste time together. And it’s not wasting time. In our day, there is such emphasis placed on how we look, or what we do.
I think one of the most important messages for young people to receive today is that you’re good just because you are. And not because of what you do. There’s a restless striving, that we never rest. And if we never rest, we can never just enjoy the goodness of life, and the goodness of creation, what God creates for us, which is community and friendship.
That’s where we find joy, is when we pause to rest and enjoy the company of one another. There is something beautiful about the natural rhythm of the way things work at UD. You study, study, study and read intensely, but there’s also time at the Cap Bar or cafeteria, because we need to eat or pause to joke around on the Mall.