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Change of habit

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Sister John Mary Fleming, principal at St. Dominic School in Bolingbrook, greets students as they arrive for classes Tuesday. Corey R. Minkanic / For The Sun

The new principal at St. Dominic School in Bolingbrook is a little different than her predecessor, but in a very traditional way.

The new principal is a Dominican nun.

Sister John Mary Fleming is on the job at St. Dom's along with another nun -- Sister John Agnes Suh -- who teaches second grade. Both came from a convent in Nashville to do God's work at the Bolingbrook school.

The first day of school recently was a little jarring for some students as they were greeted by the two nuns wearing full habits.

"After the initial shock, the students have been wonderful and welcoming to us," Fleming said.

For Fleming, the first day of school was old hat. She comes to St. Dominic will 22 years experience as a principal.

"Although we receive our assignments on a yearly basis, the Dominican community has made a commitment to St. Dominic," she said. "I felt this is where God wanted me to go."

Returning to a familiar area where some family members still live was another factor that made the move a good one for Fleming. She grew up in New Lenox and went through Catholic schools there. She made a seamless transition to religious life immediately after graduation from Providence Catholic High School, she said.

"It became evident to me that I should enter the community right after high school," she said. "I didn't give it a second thought. Traveling to Tennessee and joining the Dominican sisters order in Nashville was absolutely where I should go, and teaching was the profession I should pursue. The best way I can describe it is like knowing when you meet that perfect person and get married."

Although they work in Bolingbrook, both sisters reside at a convent on the property of St. Jude Parish in Joliet. The facility accommodates the five Dominican sisters that were dispatched from Nashville. Generally sisters are assigned to schools in pairs. The built-in support network is designed to help the sisters with their work.

"It's a wonderful gift, in our world, living in common with people who have very similar ideals and goals," Fleming said. "We all rise at 5 to meditate and attend Mass together. Afterward, sister and I jump in the car and drive to Bolingbrook. We return by 5 p.m. for prayer and spend time together either walking or recreating, just as a family would. If there is no school obligation we pray together again at 7 p.m. in the evening, then we are silent. For us the built-in silence has a spiritual connotation and is part of our daily routine that can be used for personal prayer, school preparations or study."

The Rev. Herb Essig, pastor of St. Francis of Assisi in Bolingbrook, believes the sisters' presence spreads an important message.

"Basically, they are from a good order that is known for their devotion to teaching children at different schools around the U.S.," he said "It's not the first time sisters have taught at St. Dominic School. Years ago, Lemont Fransciscan sisters from Christ the King were here."

Parent Liza Farrell, who is the former president of the St. Dominic Parent Association, said it is wonderful having the sisters at the school.

"We love the school, and it's so neat to have nuns on our staff," she said. "It is pretty exciting for the parish. I think we are very lucky to have them."