It was Sunday morning, May 28th, 2023, and there was a buzz of excitement in the air. The musicians were in place along with the singers and liturgical dancers. Final preparations were being made on the altar while the guests (sisters, associates of the Grand Rapid Dominicans, as well as some family members of local participants) began to come in and take their places in Our Lady Seat of Wisdom Chapel on the grounds of Aquinas College. The Commissioning Mass for the College “Preaching in Action” Conference, which would end the conference for 2023, was about to begin.
During the prior week, 20 students, 11 mentors, and 12 presenters from all over the country gathered together to learn about the Dominican Charism and traditions of the Order. Nine Dominican Colleges were represented. There were students from Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, MI; Albertus Magnus College in New Haven, CT; Barry University in Miami Shores, FL; Caldwell University in Caldwell, NJ; Dominican University in Orangeburg, NY; Edgewood College in Madison, WI; Molloy University in Rockville Centre, NY; Siena Heights University in Adrian, MI; and St. Thomas Aquinas College in Sparkill, NY.
During the conference, one of the first things asked of the participants was to be open to the Spirit-- be open to the ways that God is calling you to be a “Dominican Preacher” and the ways you can be a “Dominican Influencer”; that is one who experienced the Dominicans, liked what he/she saw, caught the charism and now is called to bring it to others! They took on the challenge and left the conference knowing they had a mission.
For five days the participants gathered together learning about the Dominican Saints, Justice Issues of the Order, the strong Interfaith Mission of the Order, and the other members of the Dominican Family: namely, Associates, Lay Dominicans, Dominican Young Adults, as well as the Sisters, Friars and Priests. They were given opportunities to try leadership roles in planning prayer, creating prayers, and preparing reflections and thought-provoking questions for their groups, all the while becoming aware of their own gifts as leaders.
They tried their hand at becoming artists and co-creators with the Holy One, participated in Service Projects in the local Grand Rapids area, and formed a strong community that walked with them throughout the week.
In their Action Plans, some of the groups committed to beginning a Dominican Young Adult group on their campus; others wanted to bring what they learned in their justice sessions (Laudato Si/climate action) to reinforce sustainability programs on campus; others wanted to initiate programs that promote cultural sensitivity (micro-aggression work); others wanted to work on ways to educate their student populations about the Dominican Order and the Dominican History of their colleges; while still others wanted to share the experience of the conference with their faculties. In any case, they knew they had to “proclaim” the effects that this conference had on them to others. They would take on the challenge. They would become “Dominican Preachers”, “Dominican Influencers," and bring others into the fold.
It was a wonderful week of sharing, stepping up to the plate, challenging each other, collaborating, and most of all “engaging in the experience.” The week we had anticipated for the last four years, one in which all would be together in person, was about to come to an end. However, the reality was that this was only the beginning!
The College Preaching in Action Conference was back, and we had just welcomed a new group of preachers into the family. Things will only get better!
With God’s grace, we will continue to invite young people to this annual conference, and through our efforts and their participation ...The Preaching Will Continue!
Words of thanks go out to all the presenters who shared their talents and gifts with these young people: to all the Grand Rapids Dominicans for hosting this conference; to the Grand Rapid Dominican Associates who helped with the music, transportation, and other various tasks; to my team for always being there when I needed them (in particular to Katherine Frazier, OP the new Executive Director of DYMUSA) and to all the mentors for giving of their time. But most of all to the wonderful students who engaged so fully and brought hope to all of us!
As some of you already know, this was my last conference as director. Over the last twenty-one years, it has been my distinct pleasure to have met so many wonderful people on our college campuses and to work so closely with my Dominican Family to plan these conferences. Having worked with so many young people over that span of time, some of whom I am still connected with two decades later, I am certain that although these young adults may not have entered the Order through profession, they take the Spirit of Dominic with them wherever they go. Be assured, my Dominican Sisters and Brothers, these young people will always be Dominican, and they will continue Dominic’s legacy by preaching "from the pulpit of their lives.”
We are already looking forward to next year’s conference which will be hosted by Edgewood College in Madison, WI. Blessings to all for a safe and restful summer!
Gina Fleming, OP