By Sister Margaret Mayce, OP
Saturday, Sept. 19, was an extraordinary day in the soon-to-be 800-year history of Dominican Life and Mission. A group of 100+, men, women and children, including Catholic Workers, Jesuit Scholastics, Passionists, Sisters of St. Joseph, Dominican Sisters and Brothers from the Northeast and Dominican Sisters from the Midwest gathered to celebrate the Eucharist and offer prayers of blessing for the newly established Benincasa Community. We listened to the Gospel story of Mary and Martha, who lovingly extended their warm hospitality to Jesus and his companions. Our Preacher, Pat Daly, OP (Caldwell), invited us to see the integration of the active and the contemplative in our lives as disciples; of service rooted in prayer. It could not have been a finer message for this fledgling community, whose enthusiasm for life rooted in the Gospel is palpable. At the conclusion of the Liturgy, Sisters representing the five Northeast Congregations (Amityville, Blauvelt, Caldwell, Hope and Sparkill), processed through the house, blessing each room:
May this good house be blessed with the rich heritage of Dominic and Catherine; may it be Truth, may it be Love for all, near and far, and may it awaken a new hope for the future of our life together on our blessed and broken planet.
Housed in the former Blessed Sacrament Parish Convent on West 71st Street in Manhattan, Benincasa is the fruit of the vision and persistence of Karen Gargamelli. Karen, a former Dominican Volunteer, lived with Amityville Sisters Pat DeMarco, Connie Kavanagh and Janetta McAlevey while she taught at Most Holy Trinity School in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. Upon completing her year’s commitment, Karen studied law at City University of New York., and is now a public interest attorney, specializing in housing law. Though she never felt quite called to the religious life, her experience of Dominican life and mission captivated her heart and spirit. She feels strongly that we need to acknowledge and cultivate the seeds of new expressions of Dominican life already implanted in the laity. Thus, her great desire to establish a lay community, which would live in the spirit of Dominic and Catherine, guided by the four pillars of our Dominican life – prayer, study, community and mission. In Karen’s words, “Benincasa Community seeks to break and share bread with those hungry for integration between their job and their spiritual life. We hope—through study and prayer and sharing resources—to cultivate a contemplative life and a community life that will support our active life of ministry.”
A great source of inspiration for Karen is Catherine di Benincasa—our dear Catherine of Siena—who, as a lay person, was an integral part of the Dominican Order, and offers us such a wonderful example of the active/contemplative life. This Benincasa Community—this good house—will also be an integral part of our Dominican life here in the Northeast. Sisters from Amityville, Blauvelt, Caldwell, Hope and Sparkill have committed themselves to nurturing this new community in many and diverse ways, from spiritual direction, mentoring in the Dominican charism, service on advisory boards, hosting visits to our Motherhouses and participating in weekly gatherings to share a meal, prayer and reflection.
The influence of the Catholic Worker Movement is also very evident in the vision of this new community. Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin, as lay people deeply rooted in the Gospel, created a new way to address both the physical and spiritual needs of their neighbors. Although the members of Benincasa Community will be involved in various ministries on the outside, they will honor the Catholic Worker call for hospitality by reserving two “Christ Rooms” for the working poor, or newly arrived immigrants who need a safe place to help them get back on their feet.
At present, Sean McCreight and Jimmy Hannigan are members of the core community of Benincasa along with Karen. Sean, originally from California, is a high school English teacher in the Bronx; and Jimmy, who was a Dominican Volunteer this past year in the Bronx, works for the Harlem Children’s Zone as a College and Career Coordinator. The hope is that the core community will grow to six lay members who will each make a two-year commitment. Benincasa Community is also blessed with the presence of two Dominican Volunteers – Julie Luliano, who serves at Siena House in the Bronx; and Alandra Scott, who serves at the DLC NGO office at the United Nations. The hope is that three to five Dominican Volunteers will reside at Benincasa each year.
This year’s theme in anticipation of the celebration of the 800th anniversary of the Dominican Order, is taken from the Gospel of St. John: “If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples. You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. Our brother, fr. Bruno Cadore, Master of the Order, has said that “Remaining in the Word means to stand closer to the conversation of God with humanity, which Jesus made visible to the eyes of all.” Our prayer is that Benincasa Community, this good house, rooted in the Word, will draw ever closer to God’s conversation with all those who find in it a place of shelter, of peace, and of the truth of God’s extravagant love.