By Gina Fleming, OP
During the week of May 24, 36 students from Dominican universities/colleges or colleges with a Dominican presence gathered at Dominican University in River Forest, Illinois, for the ninth National “Preaching in Action” Conference. The participating universities/colleges included Albertus Magnus College, Connecticut; Barry University, Florida; Caldwell College, New Jersey; Dominican College, New York; Dominican University, California; Dominican University, Illinois; Edgewood College, Wisconsin; Molloy College, New York, New York; Siena Heights University, Michigan; St. Catherine’s College, Louisville, Kentucky; St. Louis University, Missouri; St. Thomas Aquinas College, New York; and the University of Arizona.
These young people came together to learn about the Dominican charism of preaching, and how that charism can be incorporated into their own lives and passed on to others. They were given the opportunity to experience themselves as preachers using the mediums of art, dance, drama, and music. Once again, students who had previously been participants of the conference and are now members of Dominican Young Adults USA, came back as adult mentors for their respective schools. The transferal of leadership from adult mentors to Dominican Young Adult mentors is wonderful to see. This year we were also blessed with many new mentors, and three new schools, who were experiencing the conference for the first time.
The conference began with a brief history of Dominic and the order complete with an array of Dominican songs. There was definitely a Dominican spirit in the air! A presentation depicting “Dominicans Through the Ages” welcomed some of our Dominican Saints to the conference. Mary of Magadala, Dominic, Catherine of Siena, and Antonio de Montessino spoke about their lives and their own call to preach in the early years of the order. Joe Kilikevice, OP highlighted the interfaith mission of the order by introducing the students to dance and song from a variety of different faiths.
Diana Momeka, OP, a Dominican sister from Iraq, introduced the students to her congregation while helping them visualize life in Iraq now. Jessica Howell, from Catholic Relief Services, presented some thought-provoking information on “Preaching in a Globalized Culture.” The next day, Margaret Mayce, OP, UN/NGO representative, introduced us to her work at the UN, followed by a trip to the Pilsen neighborhood, where Chuck Dahm, OP spoke to the students and guided us on a bus tour of the neighborhood. Students and mentors also had time for fun and recreation at Navy Pier in Chicago.
On the next day, the participants were ready to put their “preaching into action.” They spent the day in immersion sites ministering to the poor at the Pilsen Neighborhoods soup kitchen, the children of San Miguel School, caring for the earth at Urban Habitat, ministering to former incarcerated peoples at St. Leonard’s Ministries, helping the elderly at H.O.M.E., and working with immigrants wanting to learn English at Casa de Providencia. Once again we added time for “Theological Reflection.” There was a wonderful sharing of stories, people, reactions, fears, attitudes, and underlying issues. Many of the students were so moved by their experiences that they made commitments to get more involved with their own communities back home.
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. Doug Greer, OP; Sara Fairbanks, OP; Sharon Bossler, OP; Kaye Ashe, OP; MaDonna Thelen, OPA; and Sister Barbara presented additional breakout sessions for the students to use their creative energies.
Highlighting the conference are the morning and evening prayer services prepared by the student participants. Students use their creativity, musical talents and giftedness of voice to lead the entire group in prayer which begins and ends each day. This is but one of the elements of the conference that students enjoy immensely and plan on recreating on their college campuses. At the closing liturgy, each student presented his or her individual action plan which is a vehicle for incorporating what they learned at the conference into their own lives and the life of their campus. It was moving to witness each student making a commitment to continuing the “Holy Preaching.” Each then received the Dominican cross and were commissioned to go forth and preach the “Good News” to their fellow students.
As you can see, it was a jam-packed week, full of opportunities for study, community, prayer and mission/preaching. Upon leaving, these young people feel 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!
Next year’s conference will again be held at Dominican University in River Forest, Illinois. The dates to put on your calendars are May 22-27, 2012. Keep checking www.domlife.org for more details on next year’s conference.
Gina Fleming, OP (Amityville) is director of the Dominican College Preaching Program.