On June 24, 2023, students and mentors from 14 high schools across the United States gathered at Siena Heights University in Adrian, Michigan for the 22nd Annual High Schools Preaching Conference. This was the first time the conference was able to take place since 2019, and we were so happy to be able to gather for the conference again this year! Dr. Douglas Palmer, who became the president of Siena Heights University on July 1, 2023 welcomed the participants at our opening session and introduced the week by saying how excited he was to be part of a Dominican-sponsored institution. Afterwards, at the opening ritual, each of the schools brought water that represented where they came, from Lake Michigan, to fountains on the school grounds, and poured the water together into one basin to represent how we brought each of our home institutions together for the conference.
The next day set up the rest of the conference by introducing the themes of Dominican tradition and leadership. Michael Petro began the day with a keynote that introduced the Four Pillars of Prayer, Study, Community and Service. Afterwards, students attended workshops on preaching and leading small groups that will equip them to become better leaders at their schools. The day was framed with presentations on St. Dominic and St. Catherine of Siena, which provided the insight that the students were part of the larger Dominican story and community. The end of the day concluded with celebrating Sunday Mass, celebrated by Fr. James Pierce Cavanaugh, OP of Fenwick High School in Oak Park, IL, who talked about the virtue of courage.
On the Monday of the conference, the students learned about many different contemporary issues, including the call for inclusion, especially for people with disabilities, racism, immigration, the role of girls in decision-making around the world, and the intersection of science and faith. The next day, participants put the lessons of the previous day into action as they went forth to various sites around Lenawee County, Michigan: Adrian Dominican Sister Permaculture, HOPE Community Center, Habitat for Humanity, Salvation Army, Goodwill Industries, Gerontology Network Day Break Program, and Catherine Cobb House. The participants really enjoyed this experience of serving in the local community, saying that they enjoyed meeting the people at the sites and learning about the different organizations.
On the final full day of the conference, participants learned about how Dominicans use arts as a way to preach the Gospel. The presentations offered that day included sessions on liturgical dance and choir to prepare for the closing liturgy the next day. After the busy-ness of the past days, the day provided an opportunity for participants to stop and reflect on their experiences at the conference, whether through collage, writing a haiku or reflecting with air-drying clay.
At the conference, participants learned about how they were part of the larger Dominican Family. Throughout the week, sisters at the motherhouse prayed for the students and their mentors, and on one evening of the conference, students and their school mentors met their prayer partners for conversation and popsicles at the Adrian Dominican Sister Motherhouse. Participants also learned about the different branches of the Dominican Family, including sisters, friars, associates and laity at a “Meet the Dominican Family” event.
The closing liturgy was a joyful occasion that provided a culmination of the week, with students taking leadership roles in the mass, from the readings, to playing music to bringing their gift of liturgical dance. At liturgy, students shared the plans they had made to bring what they had learned at the conference back to their schools. Their plans included:
Offering student reflections at school masses and prayer services,
Providing opportunities for schools to learn about Dominican saints,
Organizing a school-wide service day,
Creating relationships with the congregation sponsoring the school.
I am so grateful for the many people who provided their time and talent, whether our presenters, the staff at Siena Heights University and Dining Services, as well as the mentors and students who made this conference such a joyful experience. I am especially grateful for the support of the many Adrian Dominican Sisters, who prayed, presented and provided help behind the scenes. It truly takes a village to make an event like the High Schools Preaching Conference happen! I am looking forward to organizing the 23rd Annual High Schools Preaching Conference in 2024, where we will once again teach high school students that they are part of a Dominican family that reaches all around the world.
Sr. Katherine Frazier, OP