Puerto Rico Dominican charism, education brings students together

Sister Teresa Fontanez, OP, and Sister Ida Negron, OP. with the newly formed DYA USA group in Puerto Rico.

Sister Teresa Fontanez, OP, and Sister Ida Negron, OP.
with the newly formed DYA USA group in Puerto Rico.

By Sister Gina Fleming, OP

I recently returned from a trip to Puerto Rico where I visited the Collegio San Antonio, our high school in Isabella. The collegio has been sending students to our National High School Preaching Conference for nearly five years now, and two years ago was named Dominican High School of the Year by that conference.

I have made this trip twice before, and it is always a highlight for me to walk around the school meeting the students who have attended the conference and speaking to the students who may attend in the future. There is no doubt once you enter the school grounds that this is a Dominican high school, as pictures and sayings of Dominic are visible everywhere. The administration, faculty and staff work very hard to make sure the students are well aware of their Dominican heritage.

Other than just speaking about the National High School Conference, this year’s trip had another purpose. Many of the students who had participated in the conference in previous years had now graduated and were attending the universities. I wanted to speak to them about our new organization, Dominican Young Adults USA, to see if they might be interested in forming a chapter in Puerto Rico.

With the help of Sister Luby, OP (the adult supervisor for many of the trips to the high school conference), and Sister Ida, OP (the principal of the school), on the evening of my arrival in Isabella, we were able to gather a group of former high school preachers to talk about DYA USA. I must say, I thought there was a good chance that these students, who are on fire with the Dominican charism, would want to start a chapter, but I didn’t realize how excited they would be and how quickly they would act. By the time I returned home (a day later), they had already set up their first meeting date and time, contacted other students from previous conferences (totaling 14), and created a facebook group (Dominican Young Adults USA Isabella, Puerto Rico). Now that’s what I call moving on a project!

The next day, I spoke to grades 7-12 about this year’s high school conference, the National Preaching in Action Conference for College Students and other organizations such as DYA USA, and told them they could become a part of these programs once they graduated from the Collegio. At the end of the presentation, six students (former high school preachers who attended the high school conference either last year or the year before) came to me saying, “We are just graduating this year, but we would like to go to the College Conference next year. Would you keep in contact with us so we can come?” Once again, I was amazed. They had indeed been touched by our Dominican spirituality and life and wanted more. What a grace!

As if that was not enough excitement for me, upon going back to the convent for lunch, I was informed by Sister Ida that arrangements had been made for me to speak to the sister in charge of three other Dominican high schools on the island, as well as a friar who was the chaplain for the university run by the Dominican friars. So, we rushed back to Bayamon (a two-hour trip from Isabella) to our next meeting.

I have always been told that “God’s time is not our time,” but during this trip that phrase really hit home for me. We met with Sister Margarita and Brother Raphael for about an hour speaking about the high school conference, the college conference and Dominican Young Adults USA. The spirit was definitely present and very active during our discussion. Both of them were explaining to me that they were trying to initiate a “Dominican Youth Movement” on the island. I said to them, “I guess my third trip here is a charm, because these programs would provide a great foundation to initiate such a movement.”

They agreed, and said they would like their students to participate in both of the conferences, hopefully this year! In addition, Br. Raphael said there are about 70 or 80 lay people who have been studying and praying with the friars for a number of years now. They have been yearning to learn more about our Dominican life. I told him that Dominican Young Adults USA would be the program for them. We spoke about the group in Bayamon forming their own chapter and then connecting at times with the Isabella chapter to possibly collaborate on projects. Needless to say, I was thrilled with the conversation, and plan on following up with these two people in the coming days!

So, I must say, the sisters, the sand and the sun were great, and I enjoyed my time on the island, but the real pleasure came from knowing that these young people will become participants in our Dominican programs and organizations. And so from New York to Puerto Rico, the preaching will continue!

Gina Fleming, OP (Amityville) is the co-director of the National College Preaching Conference and the promoter of youth for the Dominican Sisters of Amityville, New York.