In 1884, Mother Dominic Dowling, the Superior of a community of Catholic Sisters founded in New York City just 8 years earlier, purchased a plot of land in Sparkill known as the Johnson Estate. The Sisters planned to move homeless children in their care from the city to a healthier environment. In June 1884, four sisters and 25 boys moved to Sparkill, NY, becoming the first residents of St. Agnes Convent.

Over the years, additional property was acquired, buildings added, and until its closing in 1979, St. Agnes Home & School for Boys sheltered and educated thousands of boys. In its place other ministries have been sponsored by the Sisters including St. Thomas Aquinas College, Rosary Academy (now Camp Venture), Thorpe Village (1981), and Dowling Gardens (1995).

Dowling Gardens, named after Mother Dominic Dowling, is located on a 5-acre site on Kings Highway behind Dominican Convent. Dowling Gardens provides a setting that allows frail but otherwise healthy persons to maintain their independence, remaining active, and involved in a non-medical setting.

Both Dowling Gardens and its sister community Thorpe Village continue the long tradition of the Sparkill Dominicans of providing shelter as a congregational ministry.