July 3, 2019, Adrian, Michigan – The campuses of Siena Heights University and the Adrian Dominican Sisters’ Motherhouse were a beehive of energy, joy, and community June 25-30, 2019, as 76 students and their mentors from 18 Dominican High Schools participated in the 21st Annual Dominican High Schools Preaching Conference.
“I’ve been very fortunate to meet a lot of other people and I’ve become very welcomed into this Dominican community,” said Grace Rado, a student from Marian Catholic High School in Chicago Heights, Illinois. “I’ve found that there are a lot of other young people who are on the same path, and we’re all learning to walk in God’s light and to preach.”
That is the intention of the preaching conference, which forms students from Dominican high schools in the Dominican spirituality of preaching – not just from the pulpit, but through their lives. The conference is structured to teach students the various ways Dominicans preach – and to encourage them to take what they learn at the conference back to their schools. Participants also plan and participate in prayer services, get to know one another at meals and other social events, and discuss the day’s events each night with specially organized groups.
The students first learned to preach in the Dominican tradition through portrayals of St. Dominic by Patrick Spedale, a mentor and teacher at St. Pius X High School, Houston; St. Martin de Porres by Brother Herman Johnson, OP, of the St. Martin de Porres (Southern) Province, and St. Catherine of Siena, by Adrian Dominican Sister Nancy Murray, OP.
In later sessions, students studied the signs of the times through sessions on the social justice issues of immigration, racism, exclusion of persons with disabilities, and human trafficking. Reinforced by their review of social justice issues, participants then spent a full day learning to preach in action through service at agencies in the Adrian area.
On the last full day of the conference, students attended workshops by Dominican artists to learn how to preach through the arts. Among the presenters were Adrian Dominican Sisters Tarianne DeYonker, OP, on the labyrinth as a tool of contemplation; Sara Fairbanks, on liturgical preaching; and Luchy Sori, OP, on liturgical movement.
The closing Liturgy – celebrated with the Sisters in St. Catherine Chapel – was an exuberant experience as the students were sent off to their homes and their schools to continue their preaching.
“We have taken the time to listen to each other, to fan the fire inside each person to let God’s love shine forth like the stars in the night sky,” Sister Mary Soher, OP, an Adrian Dominican Sister and Director of the Preaching Conference, told the students. “From such a wondrous week, how do we leave each other?” She encouraged them to consider their going back to their homes and schools as another call from God. “You gave your all to come here, and I know you will do no less for those whom God loves back home.”
Each school group then came forward to announce their commitment for the coming year: from organizing creative prayer services and teaching their classmates about different types of prayer to emphasizing the four Dominican pillars of prayer, study, community, and ministry or preaching, and educating them about social justice issues.
“It has been very humbling,” said Sean Repinski, of Dominican High School in Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin. He said he appreciated the opportunity “to come together as a group with other Dominicans and see how they do things differently, and what we can take back to our school to enhance our preaching experience.”
Feature photo (top): Patrick Spedale portrays St. Dominic in a dramatic account of the saint’s life and his founding of the Order of Preachers.
Top, from left: Sister Mary Soher, OP, Director of the Preaching Conference, addresses the assembly. Students prepare the altar during the exuberant offertory hymn, “We Come to your Feast.”
Bottom, from left: Students from Marian Catholic High School in Chicago Heights, Illinois, present their commitment to enhance the Dominican spirit at their school. Students from St. Agnes Academy in Houston share a laugh with Sister Joan Baustian, OP, during the ice cream social, which brought together the young preachers and their prayer partners.
June 5, 2019, Adrian, Michigan – Political science, English, social work, and psychology majors – along with students studying biology and environmental sciences – spent the early days of their summer vacation to learn something new: to study the environment and learn sustainable practices in gardening.
The students – eight from Barry University in Miami, Florida, and seven from Siena Heights University in Adrian, Michigan – were participating in the third Environmental Leadership Experience, held May 14-23, 2019, at the Motherhouse Campus of the Adrian Dominican Sisters. Also attending were two faculty members from Barry University: Dr. Anita Zavodska of the Department of Environmental Sciences, and Dr. Flona Redway of the Department of Biology. Both universities were founded and are sponsored by the Adrian Dominican Sisters.
Led by Sister Corinne Sanders, OP, Director of Sustainability for the Adrian Dominican Congregation, and Jarod Aslakson, the Congregation’s Permaculture Specialist, the Environmental Leadership Experience focuses on the environment, permaculture, and sustainability. Participants are encouraged to apply what they learned when they return to their universities in the fall.
Participants spent much of their time in the permaculture area of the Adrian Dominican Sisters Motherhouse Campus. Permaculture is a system of agriculture that seeks to learn from and replicate the natural systems of Earth. Students learned about and worked in various areas of permaculture, from harvesting worm castings for compost to planting rain gardens and pollinator gardens.
In addition, participants studied soil samples in the Siena Heights biology lab, learned about sustainability and ways to reduce their carbon footprint, studied and learned to identify various local plants, and took field trips to sites such as the botanical gardens at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. They gave a presentation on their experience to Sisters on campus on May 22, 2019, the day before Barry students returned home to Miami.
The Environmental Leadership Experience was an eye-opener for many of the students. Paige Pokryfke, a sports psychology major at Barry University, said she learned about sustainability, and particularly about composting – and the role that worms play. “They’re such a small creature, but they make such a big difference for us,” she said. She hopes to begin composting at Barry University and to transform some of the university’s unused land into a rain garden or pollinator garden.
Alexia Ferguson, a Siena Heights student majoring in social work and minoring in political science, said she learned about the concept of the carbon footprint – the measure of carbon emissions that one’s lifestyle produces – and about different ways to garden.
“I worked here during the first semester with the Honors Program, so I learned a little bit about everything that goes on [in permaculture],” Alexia said. “This program has really allowed me to get an in-depth knowledge about how [permaculture] really works.”
Jerry Patrick, an Environmental Science and Environmental Engineering student at Siena Heights University, said the Environmental Leadership Experience said he gained a new perspective. “This has gotten me interested in storm water management,” he said, explaining that rain gardens protect water at the source by filtering rain water through plants before it gets to larger bodies of water.
Along with the physical labor involved in the program and the opportunity to learn about the environment, many students said the highlight was the bond that they shared with each other and the opportunity to meet and get to know the Adrian Dominican Sisters.
“The highlights have been talking with the Sisters and learning their life stories and creating bonds with the Barry students,” said Emily Yensch, a psychology major at Siena Heights University.
Ashley Lycke, a biology student from Barry University, said the experience helped the Barry students – who previously didn’t know each other – to create a bond. She also appreciated having lunch with Sisters and developing friendships with all of the participants.
Many of the students finished the program with greater determination to make a difference in the environment – no matter their major. Michidael Ceard, a student at Barry, decided to participate “because I wanted to see what my major could do or what my field could do for sustainability and moving that forward. This trip opened my eyes to different avenues that as an English major I could take part in.” She hopes to use her focus on advocacy to speak out on behalf of the environment.
Holly Kachler, a political science major at Barry University, wants to use her field to make a difference. “My passion is activism, and obviously a huge part of that is the environment.” She hopes to bring back what she learned in the program and work on legislation to combat threats to the environment. “I feel like that’s where we need to go to fix a lot of our problems.”
Sisters on campus listen to a closing presentation by students participating in the 2019 Environmental Leadership Experience.