Dominican Volunteers USA
By Kelly Litt, Dominican Volunteer
From Jan. 28–Feb. 1, the Dominican Volunteers reunited in Ponchatoula, Louisiana, for their midyear retreat. Hosted by the Dominican Sisters of Peace at their Rosaryville Spirit Life Center, the current volunteers joined to reflect, re-center, refocus, and reignite their spark for the remainder of their volunteer year.
“I really valued the opportunity to make a retreat at the midpoint of our service year. DVUSA consistently puts forth a commitment to reflection as part of Dominican spirituality, ‘to contemplate and share the fruits of contemplation.’ It is really easy to get burnt out in service, giving so much of yourself without necessarily feeling any reward. The opportunity to reunite and share joys and sorrows with my fellow volunteers was really refreshing.”—Grace Urankar, Volunteer in San Francisco at Immaculate Conception Academy
The volunteers opened the retreat with laughter as communities acted out short skits to explain what their day to day life was like living in community with Dominican Sisters or other volunteers. Though the skits pointed out the most comical aspects of community, it was apparent that the DVs truly value their experiences of living in community and have grown in numerous ways through that experience. Each community also had an opportunity to lead prayers and social activities for the larger group throughout the retreat.
The Dominican Volunteers were also given an opportunity to preach in Dominican fashion through their lives and experiences. DVs wrote “pre-volunteer letters” addressed to themselves before they began their volunteer year. Many letters included suggestions on essentials to pack and surprises they might find through moving to a new city. These letters also discussed expectations of their service year explaining what would be their largest struggles and greatest joys. These letters were both heavy as they explained times of tears but also uplifting as they spoke of laughter, passion, and life-changing experiences.
“Retreat is usually a time spent taking a break from all of the work that we live through on a daily basis. However, on mid-year retreat, it felt like we continued to live our experiences when we were sharing them with our fellow volunteers. For a time, it felt like I was living in 15 other lives when we all shared our letters. It also reminded me that we’re all living with each other in spirit throughout this whole year and I couldn’t be more blessed to share an experience so powerful and breathtaking with this group of women and men.”—Chris Bargeron, Volunteer in Chicago at Heartland Alliance
The volunteers were also able to have dinner with the Dominican Sisters of Peace in New Orleans. Many volunteers enjoyed gumbo for the first time! The volunteers also appreciated time and pizza with the Dominican Friars after attending Mass at St. Anthony of Padua, the Dominican church in New Orleans.
“It was great to join the rest of the DVs on our mid-year retreat in Lousiana! The best part was definitely having an opportunity to hear about the amazing work that all of the volunteers are doing across the nation. I am truly impressed with how incredible the DVs are this year and our retreat reminded me of the passion that our group of volunteers shares for ministry and for improving the world that we all live in!” —Amelia Vojt, Volunteer in Chicago serving at Sarah’s Inn.
The volunteers were blessed to share in prayer and learning with some of the Dominican Sisters during their retreat. The Dominican Sisters of Peace gave the volunteers an opportunity to reflect on spirituality and prayer as Sister Dot Trosclair led a meditative prayer. Sister Ceal Warner shared some insight on personal and spiritual growth with the volunteers and gave them an opportunity to better understand their own personality through the Color Code personality test. Sister Suzanne Brauer shared about Saint Dominic and the Dominican charisms with the volunteers and gave them an opportunity to reflect on the history and mission behind their service. With the opportunity to prayerfully reflect and craft their own earthen vessels, Sister Pat Thomas led the volunteers in a reflection on their passions and spiritual gifts.
“I found the DVUSA Midyear Retreat to be prayerful and uplifting. I loved all of the presentations, in particular, the ones on prayer and Dominican Spirituality. It was helpful to hear the experiences and stories of my fellow volunteers. I feel rejuvenated and ready to begin the second half of my year as a Dominican Volunteer.”—David Gayes, Volunteer in Chicago serving at the Tolton Literacy Center and Casa Juan Diego
“Mid-Year Retreat was a refreshing reminder as to why we, the volunteers, are taking this journey together. We were able to share our stories, challenges, successes, and how we are living out the four pillars. We re-sparked the passion and mission that bind us together and were able to provide encouragement and support for one another.”—Rebecca Morgenstern, Volunteer in the Bronx serving at Dominican Sisters Family Health Services