Some 92 students from 24 Dominican high schools spent June 23-28 exploring their Dominican heritage and learning that the call of the Order of Preachers is to preach through their lives.
A collaboration of congregations of Dominican Sisters as well as the Dominican Friars, the 19th Annual Dominican High Schools Preaching Conference was hosted at Siena Heights University and the Motherhouse of the Dominican Sisters of Adrian. Students and their adult mentors came from California, New York, New Jersey, Ohio, Texas, Illinois, Wisconsin, Tennessee, Puerto Rico, and, for the first time, Australia to gather with their peers and form a community of young Dominican preachers. From the welcoming addresses and opening ritual through the closing Liturgy, the students were kept engaged with opportunities to learn, share, and bond with one another. Each day of the preaching conference focused on a different aspect of preaching.
The focus for June 24 was on Preaching in the Dominican Tradition. Students were introduced to the Dominican history and to the Order’s saints through dramatic presentations. Patrick Spedale, Director of the Office for Campus Ministry at St. Pius High School in Houston, Texas, sponsored by the Dominican Sisters of Houston, portrayed St. Dominic. Other portrayals of Dominican saints were by Brother Herman Johnson, OP (St. Martin de Porres Province), and St. Martin de Porres and St. Rose of Lima by Sister Xiomara Méndez-Hernández, OP (Adrian).
Michael Petro, of Cadinal Stritch High School and St. Kateri Academy in Eugene, Oregon, spoke to the students about the four pillars of Dominican Life: prayer, study, community, and preaching. Brother Joe Kilikevice, OP (St. Albert the Great Province), gave a presentation on the interfaith mission of the Dominican family. Sister Linda Mary DeLonias, OP (Springfield), helped the students and mentors prepare for a major component of the preaching conference: planning prayer services and liturgy throughout the week.
The students also spent their first full day being introduced to the various components of the Dominican family. Brother Herman Johnson, OP (St. Martin de Porres Province), Brother Jo Kilikevice, OP, and Father Dennis Woerter, OP (St. Albert the Great Province), introduced the students to the Friars. Speaking about the nuns were four Dominican Sisters of Adrian: Sisters Xiomara; Luchy Sori, OP; Marilín Llanes, OP; and Sister Katherine Frazier, a novice. Katie Love and Marge Coneset, Associates of Adrian, spoke about Dominican Associates.
Also represented were the Dominican Laity, Kathy Niemiec and Gwendolin Weinberger; Dominican Young Adults USA, Keegan Pabst and Kiersten Diachun of the Siena Heights University chapter; colleges and universities, Lucas Hidalgo of Siena Heights University; and Dominican Volunteers USA, current volunteers Emili Dubar, Kayla Grodzicki, Katt Maloney, and Holly Sammons. While none of the Dominican nuns were available to speak about their branch of the family, students were referred to their page on the Dominican website.
On June 25, the students learned about various social justice issues present in the world today. The presentations included:
teen dating violence by Dominican Volunteer Kayla Grodzicki;
the work of the United Nations by Dominican Volunteer Katt Maloney;
racism by Sister Marcelline Koch, OP (Springfield), North American Co-Promoter for Peace and Justice;
We Have Family in Iraq by Sister Habiba Binham, OP (Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine, Mosul, Iraq); and
art therapy and social justice by Dominican Volunteer Emili Dubar.
They took action the next day, spending hours serving the local community ranging from senior citizens and women and children suffering from domestic violence and sexual assault to adults with disabilities. In addition, students helped work on homes for Habitat for Humanity and worked on the Permaculture site of the Dominican Sisters of Adrian, learning to work with rather than against nature in agriculture.
That evening, the students had the opportunity to share their experiences of the past days with their prayer partners, Dominican Sisters of Adrian who had been paired with the students to pray for them. The students and their prayer partners sat together to share conversation, camaraderie, and ice cream.
Students learned the option of preaching through the arts during special sessions on June 27. They had the opportunity to experience:
Moving in the Spirit with Sister Nancy Murray, OP (Adrian);
Tai Chi Chih with Sister Carlotta LaCour, OP (Houston);
liturgical preaching with Sister Sara Fairbanks, OP (Adrian);
making rosaries with Sister Jean Patrick Ehrhardt, OP (Springfield);
creating madalas with Sister Barb Schwarz, OP (Amityville)
weaving plastic bag mats with Associates Chris and Marge Coneset (Adrian);
building Morovian stars with Sister Maria Goretti Browne, OP (Adrian);
liturgical movement with Sister Luchy Sori, OP (Adrian); and
folding origami peace cranes with Sister Aneesah McNamee, OP (Adrian).
The conference closed with a vibrant liturgy that included music, liturgical dance, and encouragement for the students to bring what they had learned to their home schools, families, and local communities.
“What a journey it has been for all of us,” said Sister Patricia Harvat, OP, General Councilor of the Dominican Sisters of Adrian, at the beginning of the closing Mass June 28. She thanked the students and their mentors “a million times over” for their presence at the Motherhouse in Adrian and for the blessings they brought to the Sisters.
“Every year, I am amazed and humbled by all who come to the conference and all who support the conference,” Sister Mary Soher, OP (Adrian), said in her reflection. Sister Mary has directed the conference for the past nine years.
Sister Mary noted the special community that the students formed at this year’s conference. “You reached out to each other and you transformed yourselves into a very special community of young preachers,” she said. “There is a kindness among you for each other that has allowed you to trust each other with God’s call in your hearts.”
The students gave concrete examples of how they plan to share their sense of Dominican call as they came forward, school by school, to present their action plan for the coming year. School action plans ranged from forming a network of Dominican preachers in the Chicago area to teaching fellow students about the Dominican pillars and saints, improving sustainability in their schools, and helping the school to become more involved in service activities.