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Dominican Volunteers gather with Sister Connie Schoen, OP (Peace) and Fr. John Pitzer, OP (Southern Province) in the Sansbury Care Center Chapel.

Volunteers gather for mid-year retreat in Kentucky

by Erica Greil

During the last weekend of January, including the Feast Day of St.
Thomas Aquinas, the Dominican Volunteers had the opportunity to reflect on their call to service before returning for the second half of their ministry year. Graciously hosted by the Dominican Sisters of Peace at their motherhouse in St. Catharine, Kentucky, 13 volunteers gathered for Midyear Retreat in what has been called the “Kentucky Holy Land.”

Paul Wizniuk, serving at the St. Catherine of Siena Newman Center in Salt Lake City, Utah, with Sister Margaret Marie Hofstetter, OP (Peace).

In this pioneer area, there are the original American foundations of the Dominican friars (by Bishop Edward Fenwick in 1805), the Dominican sisters, Sisters of Loretto, Sisters of Charity at Nazareth, and the Trappist Abbey of Gethsemani. The long weekend started Wednesday with a tour and humorous history presentation given by Sister Elaine Des Rosiers, OP (Peace). Learning of the seven original Dominican sisters who responded to the call of their parish priest about 200 years ago was an incredible inspiration to these volunteers who now sacrifice salaries to serve their neighbors as examples of lay contemplatives in action.

Thursday was spent sharing stories of ministry and community.
Volunteers performed skits highlighting their successes and challenges, and then shared a reflection letter they had written to their pre-volunteer self. Laughter and tears were shared as volunteers were reminded that they are not alone in their experiences, but share community across the country with other volunteers. We also were able to meet several students from the next door St. Catharine College’s Dominican Young Adults group, welcomed by Sister Grace Simms, OP (Peace), their former campus minister.

Retreat facilitators Sister Connie Schoen, OP (Peace) and Fr. John Pitzer, OP (Southern Province), with Dominican Volunteer Kristen Dempsey.

Friday we were joined by Sister Connie Schoen, OP (Peace), and Fr. John Pitzer, OP (Southern Province), who facilitated two days of sessions which focused on the four Dominican pillars of prayer, community, study, and preaching. Volunteers were encouraged to contemplate their personal prayer timelines, develop ideas to extend community after the year is over, and each preached about the parable of Jesus and the Samaritan Woman. The facilitators surprised the group with a presentation of St. Dominic’s life with pictures from Spain, France, and Italy intermingled with pictures of the volunteers themselves in ministry.

Saturday morning allowed us to explore the countryside as we visited the Abbey of Gethsemani, the resting place and former residence of Thomas Merton. While we were unable to participate in prayer (mostly due to the fact that we were still sleeping when they started at 3:30 a.m.), we all had a chance to visit the chapel and explore the grounds, finding solitude among the graves of deceased brothers, the Stations of the Cross walkway, or contemplating the meaning of the Trappist motto, “God Alone.” The afternoon return to the motherhouse brought a Lifeframe and personal mission statement activity, enabling volunteers to consider how they approach the world. In the evening, Fr. John and Sister Connie led us in a Reconciliation and Eucharistic Adoration service in the Magdalene Chapel at St. Catharine’s.

Retreat ended Sunday morning with a Mass at the Sansbury Care Center, where we joined active and retired sisters in singing the Dominican Magnificat and all three verses of the Dominican Blessing.

St. Thomas Aquinas, OP, once said, “Better to illuminate than merely to shine, to deliver to others contemplated truths than merely to contemplate.” As the volunteers spent time learning about the Dominican pioneers of 200 years ago, they left to deliver their part of the Truth at the new frontiers of the faith in their ministries across the United States.

DVUSA also offers special thanks to Sister Diane Traffas, OP who spent hours with staff coordinating the logistics for the retreat.

Erica Greil is assistant director of Dominican Volunteers USA. For more information about DVUSA, visit their web site or become a fan on Facebook.