SALT LAKE CITY — It was in first grade that Celine Dounies knew she was being called to the religious life. Like many Catholic youth, she attended a Catholic grade school and had a wonderful teacher, Sister Nicholas, whom she wanted to be just like. That desire stayed with her through her teenage years and beyond. This year Sr. Celine celebrates her golden jubilee as a member of the Congregation of the Sisters of the Holy Cross.
From Bakersfield, Calif., Sr. Celine was born on a beautiful Easter Sunday morning. The oldest of four children (she has a brother and two sisters), she was raised in a Catholic home. Her mother, Catherine, was a cradle Catholic and her father, Don, joined the Church later.
She attended Catholic schools. As a high school freshman, she was introduced to the Holy Cross sisters at a vocation fair. While there were representatives from many religious orders, “when I walked out, I knew Holy Cross was the one for me,” she said. “It was just who they were.”
Sr. Celine’s grandmother had a friend whose daughter was a Holy Cross sister and the two began to correspond. The day after she graduated from high school, Sr. Celine was accepted into the Holy Cross order. That September, she entered St. Mary’s, the order’s mother house, and began a two-year novitiate. She made her first vows in 1969, renewed them five years later and made her final vows in 1974.
Her first mission was to Tucson, Ariz., where she team-taught third grade. There, she finished up a bachelor’s degree in home economics education at the University of Arizona that she had begun while at St. Mary’s. That was the beginning of a more-than 40-year career in teaching.
She was subsequently assigned to Bishop Glass school, a three-room, non-graded facility that was then on the grounds of St. Patrick Parish in Salt Lake City. She taught there for three years.
In those days, some local non-Catholics were uncomfortable with religious sisters who wore habits, Sr. Dounies remembers. Utah has changed a lot since then and she sees a greater acceptance now, she said.
After another eight years of teaching in Idaho, she spent three years as a staff member at a retreat/missionary renewal center in Israel.
It was the highlight of her ministry, she said.
“You get to all the holy places; we were in Bethlehem for Christmas and Jerusalem for Easter and Holy Week,” she said. “You walk the cobblestones and pavements that Jesus would have walked during his Passion and you were at the Easter vigil in the space where he rose from the dead. … You can’t beat that.”
Since then, the remainder of her ministry has been in Utah. She taught fourth grade at Our Lady of Lourdes School for 10 years and at Blessed Sacrament for one year. For the last 20 years, she has been a fourth-grade teacher at St. John the Baptist.
“It’s been fun; I’ve enjoyed it,” she said of her ministry. “The call was there.”
As a teacher, the thing she loves most is when the students have an “aha” moment, she said. “With little kids, those come a little more.”
Sr. Celine lives in a convent house in Draper near Skaggs Catholic Center with two other Holy Cross sisters, Sr. Patrice McGee and Sr. Laura Tiburcio Santos.
“Everywhere I’ve gone, you always find good community living there, among the sisters, among the parishioners,” she said.
As a representative of her religious order, Sr. Celine has visited Rome for the canonization of Brother Andre Bessette and has attended conferences in Ghana and Uganda.
“One of the greatest things about community is you can be anywhere in the world and be with Holy Cross,” she said.
“They used to say ‘Join Holy Cross and see the world,’” she added with a laugh.
Sr. Celine renewed her vows during a special Mass celebrated by Bishop Oscar A. Solis on March 2, which her sister, Rita White, was able to attend.
The Mass, at the Pastoral Center in Salt Lake City, was part of the annual gathering of women religious and Bishop Oscar A. Solis.