New museum exhibition – acknowledging the dedicated work of the Dominican Sisters


Rich lives of Dominican sisters celebrated

By Barbara Hollands –

September 7, 2016

A Fascinating exhibition complete with faux stained glass installations, nun puppets and mannequins wearing habits opened at the East London museum on Saturday.


Dedicated to the rich history of the Dominican sisters in the Eastern Cape, the exhibition is an ode to the sacrifice and hard work of the women who left their homelands to set up schools, convents and hospitals in the province.

Having attended a convent school in Sterkspruit, museum historian Zuko Blauw wanted to commemorate the 800th anniversary of the existence of Dominican Order worldwide.

“The sisters have never shouted out about who they were because their values are humility and sacrifice, so I requested that we tell their story,” said Blauw, who travelled to the Dominican archives in Johannesburg to source photographs, tea cups, prayer books and other items.

The first seven Dominican sisters arrived in King William’s Town from Augsburg, Germany in 1877 and a year later opened Sacred Heart Convent School, which boasted 200 pupils in a matter of months.

As more Dominicans made the Eastern Cape their home, they set up the St Thomas School for the Deaf near Stutterheim, the Izeli Mission in King William’s Town and Glen Grey Mission Hospital between Lady Frere and Queenstown, among other convents and nursing homes.

In East London, the Dominicans founded Sacred Heart Convent, now the home of Hudson Park Primary School, Mater Dei Hospital, now Life St Dominics Hospital, St Anne’s Primary, St Francis Xavier Convent in Pefferville and the Peter Claver Clinic in Duncan Village, where the ill-fated Sister Aidan worked before being murdered in 1952.

“We looked at the achievements of the Dominican sisters and honoured what they’ve done,” said East London Museum director Geraldine Morcom.

Museum designer Christine Reeve said sisters from Emmaus Convent Retirement Home in Cambridge collaborated with the museum team to source habits, dress mannequins and write historical texts.

“The sisters had to sew some components of the habits because most no longer wear them,” said Reeve.

Emmaus Convent resident Sister Gemma Dellagiacoma, who was a teacher at a string of schools – including St Anne’s – before her retirement, said sisters and convent staff helped make veils for the exhibition.

“I had to glue socks and shoes onto one of the mannequins because it was on a stand,” she laughed.

Visiting the exhibition yesterday was Sister Theodora Dlamini, a former nurse who was thrilled to spot a tiny grainy picture of herself in a group photo taken at Woodlands Clinic in 1961.

  • The exhibition will be up for about six months. —

About East London Museum Science

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