Lands of Dominic Armchair Pilgrimage
By Jennifer Schaaf (Blauvelt, Collaborative Dominican Novitiate)
The Dominican novices and formation directors from the Dominican Friars of the Province of St. Albert the Great (Central) and Dominican Friars, Province of St. Martin de Porres (South), as well as the Collaborative Dominican Novitiate, joined three Dominican sisters from Africa studying in the United States for the recent Armchair Lands of Dominic Pilgrimage. Led by Sister Ann Willits (Sinsinawa), the pilgrimage began at Aquinas Institute of Theology with a meditation on the spirituality of being pilgrims: “The Communal dimension of pilgrimage is going to make it Dominican. That is why we ate together and prayed together before anything else. The Dominican dimension of the pilgrimage will make it unique.” As a pilgrimage, this particular one was unique in that it is the first Lands of Dominic experience to include both male and female novices exploring Dominican Life together.
Beginning with the landscape of Caleruega, a place that may look desolate, Sister Ann shared some of the factors that influenced Dominic’s spirituality. Arid, rocky land, which is difficult to farm, speaks of the hope that Dominic and his family must have had in order to remain living in the area. Determination and steadfastness, despite obstacles, influenced Dominic throughout this life as the Order of Preachers developed.
Dominic was sent away from his home to study at a young age. As a Canon, he was called out of the Cathedral to travel by his friend Diego. Dominic learned itinerancy through the needs of the people. Ann challenged the group to look at our own view of itinerancy, “If you find yourself comfortable, don’t stay there. Go where it is uncomfortable… where you are a stranger… where you don’t want to go… because you can always come home.”
Fr. Jim Barnett (Central Province) joined Ann in co-directing the pilgrimage through his presiding and preaching at Eucharistic celebrations throughout the week. Drawing on many of the experiences he had serving in Latin America, Jim provided a model of integrating the story and life of Dominic with his own life. Jim began a presentation on Dominic as Contemplative Preacher with the statement that, “Dominic was first called ‘Brother’ by Diego. It was the only title that Dominic accepted.” Both Ann and Jim emphasized the fact that we are first called to the Order of Preachers and called to be brother and sister to each other—Family—no matter what other titles we may have in life. As Br. Brent Bowen (Central Province) shared, “The Armchair Lands of Dominic has been especially formative for my participation in the Order. The fact that I was able to have this experience in the midst of the rest of the Dominican Family only made the experience more fulfilling. I would recommend it to anyone, but especially to those in initial formation.”
The presence of Sisters Kate Okolocha (Nigeria), Lucy Mwesa (Zambia) and Grace Malama (Zambia) broadened the experience of Family for the group. As professed sisters studying in the United States, Kate, Lucy and Grace have unique challenges and blessings, but are witnessing and being Dominican Family within the context of their living and educational settings. In sharing their own experiences of formation, they were moved by the collaboration that exists among the Congregations and Provinces in the United States. In the last day together, the group shared their own hopes for the future. They dreamed of ways in which the experience of Dominican Family shared during the week can be continued.
Fr. Scott O’Brien (Southern Province) summed up the experience with, “It was a renewed opportunity to come together as Family, which hasn’t happened in many years. It represents a new beginning as Family, with its renewed recognition of our shared charism. Jim and Ann, as well as the formation directors will continue to reinforce the experience of Dominican Family through our own modeling.”