From May 22-27, 2018, thirty-six students from Dominican Colleges/Universities or colleges with a Dominican presence gathered at Caldwell University, Caldwell, NJ, for the National College “Preaching in Action” Conference.
The National College “Preaching in Action” Conference, now in its 16th year, is a collaborative response to our desire as Dominicans to introduce college students to the foundations and characteristics of Dominican Preaching. We commit ourselves to actively engage students in prayer, preaching the Word, service, community, and modeling creative ways to make preaching a living dynamic in their daily lives.
The participating universities/colleges included: Albertus Magnus College (New Haven, CT), Aquinas College (Grand Rapids, MI), Barry University (Miami Shores, FL), Caldwell University (Caldwell, NJ), Dominican College (Orangeburg, NY), Dominican University of California (San Rafael, CA), Dominican University (River Forest, IL), Edgewood College (Madison, WI), Molloy College,(Rockville Centre, NY), Ohio Dominican University (Clumbus, OH), Siena Heights University (Adrian, MI), St. Thomas Aquinas College (Sparkill, NY) and Xavier University of Louisiana, (New Orleans, LA). These students were joined by almost 30 mentors who helped guide them through the week.
It’s about getting together to discover how each of us is called to preach the Good News. Through the Word of God, students learn to move forward boldly by preaching through their talents and interests.
The conference began with S. Mary Soher, OP (Adrian Dominicans), director of the High School Preaching, leading the students through a brief history of St. Dominic and the Order of Preachers including an array of Dominican Songs. There was definitely a Dominican Spirit in the air as students began to “Catch the Fire.”
Each day of the conference students and mentors are exposed to a different facet of the Dominican Tradition. The first full day of the conference helped participants better understand the rich history of the Dominican Family they were becoming a part of. A presentation “Dominicans through the Ages” brought saints Mary of Magdala (S. Patricia Hanvey, OP – Amityville Dominicans), Catherine of Siena (S. Nancy Murray, OP – Adrian Dominicans) and Dominic de Guzman (Patrick Spedale – St. Pius the X HS) alive. They shared the ways in which each saint answered their call to preach in the early years of the order.
Br. Joe Kilikevice, OP (St. Albert the Great Provence) led students and mentors in a presentation on the Interfaith Mission of the Dominican Order by introducing the students to dance and song from a variety of different faiths. Br. Joe is the director of the SHEM Center for Interfaith Spirituality in which “the sojourners of all spiritual paths and faith traditions, as well as the spiritually homeless, are welcomed into a sacred space where the prayer, meditation, rituals, and wisdom of the peoples of the world are experienced and reflected upon.” Br. Joe’s message resonated with the students who come to the conference from all walks and stage of faith and spirituality.
That evening NCPIAC alumni Emily Brierly was invited to preach. Emily spoke of the rich Dominican tradition in which we are all a part of, “Think of yourselves as little brothers and sisters in this great Order. We listen to the stories and the guidance of our big brothers and sisters. In this case, the saints and men and women of holiness who cam before us. We look up to our big siblings in this order as role models as how to live lives of Veritas and love for our Father, God.” Brierly encourage students to see themselves as preachers of the Good News saying,
“If you are joyful, hospitable, kind, charitable and open to the world around us like saints Dominic and Catherine were you can become a saint. Imagine if all of here at this conference embraced our roles as little siblings in this great Dominican Family and carried on the tradition of spreading God’s love in our words and actions – preaching in the present moment. We would set the world on fire.”
The “Signs of the Times” was the focus of the second day of the conference. Dominicans have often headed the phrase, “Preach with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.” A focus of the conference is awareness of the Signs of the Times. It is a hope that this will encourage these students to fulfill their own Christian mission of preaching the Good News. The conference was lucky to have some of the NY Metro area Dominican Volunteers present on social justice issues they are passionate about and face in their ministries. (Viviana Garcia-Blanco – United Nations, Sydney Boyer – Opening Word, Niki Klco – Siena House, Sean Puzzo – DYMUSA) After each of these presentations, students were encouraged to take time to contemplate what they had heard and how they could take what they had learned back to their campuses.
The sisters of St. Catherine’s Convent and Healthcare Center were joined by conference participants for an afternoon of sun and ice cream. This is truly one of the highlights of the conference is the opportunity for the students to share the experiences of the past days with Dominican Sisters. This gives them an opportunity to share the ways in which they have preached and learn the countless ways the sisters have preached with their lives and ministries. It is through these connections of today’s Dominican Family with tomorrow’s Dominican Family that students learn to better embrace their roles as preachers of the Good News.
On the evening before Preaching Through Service students were invited to partake in a “Pre Theological Reflection” led by S. Honora Werner, OP (Caldwell Dominicans). S. Honora a-kind Theological Reflection to “V8 spirituality” in which “My recognizing God is sometimes like those old “V8” commercials in which someone says ‘I could have had a V8’…we usually do not recognize God in our lives until after the fact.” She asked participants to take a moment to reflect on a moment throughout their days. “Where was God in our day?… Jesus taught us that God comes to us in our neighbors in need. So when we are perceptive, we do see God.” When they experienced a fruit or gift of the Holy Spirit, “that is God. Watch for her. She will show up in the most incredible places, unexpected.”
On the next day, the participants were ready to put their “preaching into action.” They spent the day in immersion sites ministering: to the underserved at Toni’s Kitchen (a soup kitchen); to the earth at the Caldwell Environmental Commission where the students pollinated and built a rock garden; to the elderly at St Catherine Center, the infirmary of the Caldwell Dominicans; to refugees and detainees at First Friends where the students helped with their “Stamp out Despair” campaign; to helping Sr. Pat Hogan ready a school building for September at Our Lady Help of Christians School.
Students returned to Theological Reflection in the evening with S. Honora, “Today you have been preaching in action. You have been the gospel. You have preached Good News to people in need of hearing or experiencing.” She preached, “We’ve got to be able to recognize God. Practice is key. God was with you in ministry.” Like the previous night S. Honora asked students to reflect on a moment throughout the day that stood out to them and to asked them to share, “Where was God?” There was a wonderful sharing of stories, people, reactions, fears, attitudes, and underlying issues. S. Honora concluded, “God is talking to you. Can you hear him? The answers is probably no. But maybe tonight, maybe tomorrow. Then you go,” tapping ones forehead ala V8, “Ahh that was you the whole time.”
Barbara Schwarz, OP concluded the week’s presentations by awakening the participants to “the Art of Preaching.” Her interactive and hands on presentation was a great intro to the “Preaching through the Arts” day. Jessica Abejar, S. Sara Fairbanks, OP (Adrian Dominicans), Susan Miller, S. Nancy Murray, OP, S. Mary Pat Reid, OP (Caldwell Dominicans) presented additional breakout sessions for the students to use their creative energies.
That evening a Dominican “Open House” was held with members of DYAUSA, Dominican Volunteers, Associate membership, Leaders of the DYMUSA as well as religious sisters and friars. This is a unique opportunity for students to learn more about the members of the Dominican Family, ask questions, and collect valuable information. New this year and to the conference was S. Judith Myriam, a cloistered nun from the Dominican Monastery of Our Lady of the Rosary in Summit, NJ. The students found this to be especially interesting.
Tired, but filled with the joy of the spirit, Sunday’s closing liturgy was a culmination of a week of prayer, reflection, service, and newfound preaching skills. Students lent their talents as signers, lectors, Eucharistic Ministers, liturgical dancers, the list goes on! At the closing liturgy, which was attended by many of the Caldwell University community as well as the Sisters of Saint Dominic of Caldwell, each college group presented their action plan. Students are challenged with the creation of an action plan for the upcoming school year. This plan is the vehicle for sharing what they have learned at the conference to their college campuses. In addition, each student presented an individual action plan. You can view the action plans here.
Kaitlin Tasjian, a NCPAIC alumni was asked to preach. Now an Associate of the Caldwell Dominicans she offered these words of encouragement, “Back in 2010, when I was a Sophomore at Caldwell, I was asked to attend the Preaching Conference. I was reluctant to say yes. I was not very outgoing nor had I ever pictured myself as a preacher, someone who from behind the pulpit spewed divinely inspired words of wisdom. That definitely wasn’t me. However, I mustered up the courage to say yes and follow God’s call and that week was truly an unexpected, teachable moment that changed my life. Fast forward 7 years, here I am, back at the Conference, behind the pulpit, and living a life where I am preaching everyday as a high school religion teacher and Campus Minister at a Dominican, all-girls high school. God knew what he was doing!”
With the Dominican Charism firmly planted in mind, body, and spirit – the “Holy Preaching” continues! Each student then received the Dominican Cross and were commissioned to go forth and preach the “Good News” to their fellow students.
Anthony Hernandez said this of the conference,
“It is an unforgettable and very reflective experience that is worth it! It will deepen your Faith and your relationship with God and the world”
Upon leaving, these students truly feel like they are part of our Dominican Family and will forever be connected. Wherever they go, they will be preachers of God’s love, God’s peace, and God’s justice for all! They were encouraged by conference director S. Gina Fleming to, “Preach with your lives. It’s the only pulpit you need.”