November 22, 2019, Adrian, Michigan – U.S. Dominican Friars, Sisters, Nuns, and Associates gathered at Weber Retreat and Conference Center in Adrian in October for a regional Dominican Preaching Colloquium. The gathering gave members of the Dominican family the opportunity to discuss their call to preach and ways to pass on the preaching mission to the next generation of Dominicans.
The Colloquium included a keynote address by Father Anthony Gittins, CSSp, Professor Emeritus at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago and a noted speaker and author. He spoke of “Evangelization in the Mission of Jesus and in our Mission as Church.”
Father Anthony noted that evangelization is not only proclamation of the Gospel but “it’s everything that Jesus does.” As disciples, he said, we are to be “co-missioned into the mission of Jesus, brought down to Earth 2,000 years ago, but needing to be embodied by us here in the 21st Century.” He noted that Jesus did not just proclaim the coming Kingdom of God through his words but primarily through his actions in four ways: encountering people one-on-one; table fellowship, eating with all people, even “tax-collectors and sinners;” foot-washing, offering humble service to all people; and boundary-crossing, cutting through barriers of exclusion and privilege which demean people.
Participants reflected on how they live out Jesus’ four ways of preaching the Good News of God’s love. Father Anthony reminded participants that all of the baptized have the “vocation of discipleship,” yet many parishioners do not have that understanding of their own call.
Finally, he noted that God – not the Church – is the subject of mission. “The mission has the Church,” and God managed well before the Church was established, he said. “The mission has the Dominicans – and before the Dominicans God was happy with the mission. The mission has you and the mission has me. I don’t have the mission – so I can die in peace because God is in charge.”
Ann M. Garrido, DMin, former Professor of Homiletics at Aquinas Institute of Theology in St. Louis, Missouri, presented the results of 20 interviews she had conducted with 10 older Dominicans and 10 newer Dominicans. “Dominicans are all across the board in how they see preaching,” she said, noting that some see their ministry as the preaching while others confine preaching to proclamations from the pulpit.
She saw differences among Dominicans in many areas, and focused much of her time on equipping participants to hold “difficult conversations” with one another on issues in which they disagree. She urged them to still their own “inner voice” during conversations so that they could truly listen and find common ground.
During the Colloquium, participants had the opportunity to get to know one another through meals and social time, to pray together, and to attend Mass together.
Adrian Dominican Sister Sara Fairbanks, OP, one of the organizers, said that global colloquiums have been organized by the Dominican preaching institutes at Aquinas Institute in St. Louis, Missouri; in Cologne, Germany; and in Manila, the Philippines. The first global preaching colloquium for Dominicans was in 2016 in St. Louis. The next was in Manila in 2017, and last year’s colloquium took place in Cologne. Dominicans who attended the global gatherings set in motion the regional gatherings this year in all three areas.
“We’re trying to collaborate as a Dominican family on our preaching mission and talk about the challenges,” Sister Sara said. Participants in each region focused on the particular issues that they face, she explained. “In the United States, there’s a lot of polarization in the Catholic Church and within the Dominican community. How do we think about the future of our preaching mission together as an Order without taking a look at the things that divide us, as well as what unites us? If we don’t have relationships with one another, it’s really hard to collaborate.”
Sister Sara said that Ann’s presentation on “difficult conversations” gave participants some effective tools, ways to “understand where the other party’s coming from and why they hold the position that they do, and to just be more able to talk to each other.”
Collaboration and group sharing was also at the heart of evening communal reflections organized by Sister Sara, in which participants gathered at tables, listened to the Word of God, contemplated in silence, and shared their reflections with one another. “For me, as a planner, I wanted us to experience this idea of communal preaching, where we actually come together as a community and sit in small circles and reflect on the Word together,” she said. “That’s very powerful. Not only are we enriched around the Gospel, around the Word, but we are also enriched by each other and what we’re sharing.”
Sister Sara noted the establishment of Preaching Promoters for each Mission Chapter of the Adrian Dominican Sisters, and their communal service to the Congregation as members of a Preaching Commission.
“I think our Congregation in the past 30 years has more and more identified [ourselves] as preachers – and you preach with your life,” she said. “We have certainly claimed that identity. I think we could do more. We could do a little bit more in terms of relating our justice work with the mission of Jesus.”
The next Global Preaching Colloquium will be in Manila, the Philippines, in 2020.
July 17, 2019, Laredo, Texas – Two Adrian Dominican Sisters have spent weeks on the border of the United States and Mexico this summer, volunteering their services to migrant families who come to La Frontera Migrant Shelter in Laredo, Texas.
Sisters Patricia Erickson, OP, and Sharon Spanbauer, OP – along with other Adrian Dominican Sisters – have been serving at the shelter at the invitation and encouragement of the General Council of the Adrian Dominican Sisters, as well as the invitation of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR). Sister Sharon served at La Frontera from May 31, 2019, through June 22, 2019. Sister Pat arrived at the shelter on June 23, 2019, and will serve through July 20, 2019. Sisters have also volunteered their time at similar hospitality houses in El Paso and McAllen, Texas.
Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Laredo recently opened La Frontera when the Border Patrol announced that it would be releasing immigrants from detention centers to the streets. Twice a day, Border Patrol buses drop off migrant families who have been in detention centers to La Frontera. Up to 250 migrants come to the shelter each day.
Sister Sharon explained that the migrants who are released to La Frontera all have host families in the United States. New arrivals at La Frontera go through an intake and assessment process and then receive clean clothes, a shower, a meal, and help in getting to their host families.
“Mostly they were young families and some came in with vacant eyes, they were so exhausted,” Sister Sharon said. “Once people have had a shower, clean clothes, and a meal, they’re looking a lot better.”
Typically, the migrants arrive at La Frontera after traveling for weeks from their homes in Central America to the border and after spending time being processed in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention centers. “The resilience of the people coming to the shelter is amazing,” Sister Pat said. She recalled a young father who had traveled for three months with an 8-month-old infant. There were many similar stories and Sister Pat the “sheer determination” needed for families to make that journey.
“Walking into the shelter, some of the people are smiling and some are apprehensive about what they will experience in yet another facility,” Sister Pat wrote in a reflection on her experience. “We greet them with smiles and say ‘Welcome,’ hoping to alleviate their fears and say that this is a safe place.”
Volunteers at La Frontera serve in a variety of ways: preparing mattresses for the guests who will spend the night in the bedrooms on the second floor of the shelter; monitoring the men’s and women’s showers; organizing donations; preparing meals; making bag lunches for migrants to take when they leave; and helping guests select new clothes from a room full of donated clothing. Spanish-speaking volunteers can also help the migrants make arrangements to get to their host families – either arranging for a time for the host families to pick them up or for transportation of the migrants to their new homes.
Both Sister Pat and Sister Sharon – a nurse practitioner – used their skills to provide some medical care for the migrants. Sister Pat handed out over-the-counter medicine for minor aches and pains and colds. Sister Sharon served for part of the time in the health clinic at the shelter. “I could see patients and assess them and give them over-the-counter medicines,” Sister Sharon said. “I was able to be a resource and use some of my skills.”
Sister Sharon also spent much of her time changing sheets after one group of migrants left, preparing for the arrival of the next group. “It felt so appropriate that I was making their beds,” she said, adding that many immigrants make the beds in hotels and motels in the United States. “It touched me that I was cleaning for them, but that’s the way it should be.”
Both Sisters Pat and Sharon were impressed and inspired by the migrant families who came to La Frontera. “The people in the shelter are so grateful for everything they receive, saying ‘Gracias’ after being given a bottle of water, after each meal, after getting clean clothes, a shower, even when told that we don’t have a certain item,” Sister Pat wrote. “As people leave to go to the bus station, there are smiles on their faces and again ‘gracias por todo’ – thank you for everything. There are hugs and even tears as they leave to continue their journey.”
Sister Sharon described her experience in June as three weeks of payback. “I’ve been given so many things in my life,” she said. “This has just been an opportunity to pay it forward, not expecting anything in return.” She said her experience at La Frontera “put a face” on the issue of immigration. “Personally, I’ve always felt that each immigrant who comes improves the United States – anyone who has the gumption to get up and leave their home and get here brings a blessing.”
Both Sister Sharon and Sister Pat encouraged people to volunteer at La Frontera or other shelters or hospitality houses for immigrants – especially if they speak Spanish. “You can do anything there – whatever the gift is, and whenever you see that something needs to be done, you just do it,” Sister Sharon said. “You have to be willing to pitch in wherever you’re needed.”
Sister Pat, after a previous experience at McAllen Respite Center in McAllen, Texas, gave similar advice. “It’s a great experience,” she said. “Go without any expectations and be open to whatever comes your way. … You’re just there to be with people and to do whatever you can to help.”
While not everybody can travel to Texas to serve as volunteers at the hospitality centers and shelters, Sister Sharon noted that La Frontera is looking for donations of children’s, women’s, and men’s slacks, shirts, socks, and undergarments in sizes small and medium; practical shoes but no heels; and socks and belts for men. Donations can be sent to La Frontera Migrant Shelter, 1616 Callaghan Street, Laredo, Texas 78040. For information or to volunteer, contact Benjamin De la Garza at 956-220-3785.
Feature photo (top): Bishop James A. Tamayo of the Diocese of Laredo blesses plaques, made by a volunteer. The plaques hang in the guest rooms of La Frontera Migrant Shelter in Laredo, Texas.
Sister Patricia Erickson, OP, fourth from left, enjoys dinner at Rochas, a Mexican restaurant in Laredo, with other volunteers, Sparkill Dominican Sisters, and the coordinator of La Frontera Migrant Shelter.