Forming a lifelong bond in a week seems nearly impossible; however, during the 17th Annual Dominican High School Preaching Conference, I made countless friendships and relationships with other student preachers from Dominican high schools around the country. As one of the eight newly selected student preachers from St. Mary’s Dominican High School, I traveled to Siena Heights University in Adrian, Michigan, to attend a week-long conference filled with prayer, seminars and group activities.
Soon after arriving, our group settled into our dorm rooms and toured the university’s beautiful campus. A few icebreakers relieved any anxiety before the conference began. It was easy to feel overwhelmed with the large number of students, but that night we were all divided into our small, intimate Home Groups. In my Home Group were six amazingly kind and unique students from all corners of the nation and two adult mentors from different Dominican high schools. Our group met daily to discuss the day’s events and our unique experiences. Home Group became my “home.” I always looked forward to sharing stories and experiences.
The conference focus was to help us grow in our faith and to teach us to fearlessly preach the Gospel. One of the four Dominican pillars is study, and most days were filled with presentations and seminars given by spirit-filled leaders who encouraged us to turn up the volume of our prayers and turn down the noise of outside distractions. I learned a great deal of information about the Dominican identity and was eager to go out and spread all the great things I had learned. We visited our Dominican family of Sisters, friars, lay Dominicans, and many others, and learned how we fit into the Dominican family. One way we learned to preach the “signs of the times” of current social justice issues, was by attending seminars on human trafficking and migration. Now I know to spread awareness of these issues and to pray without ceasing for those affected. We were taught , like St. Dominic, to have a Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other.
I have never felt a stronger sense of community than at the conference. Mass was a transcendent experience with every person singing hymns confidently and actively participating in the liturgy. I was struck by the group’s energy and engagement. This was the feeling that I wanted to bring back home and share with all of my classmates. On our day of service, participants were randomly assigned to groups and we volunteered some of our time at various locations. I spent the day at the Hope Center, a community center for adults living with disabilities. My friends and I played soccer and football with these kind and sweet adults. Before this trip, I was nervous to be around adults with disabilities; however, this experience helped bring out the inner joy and selflessness within myself.
Not only were we taught how to preach through words and actions, but we were also taught how to preach through the arts. From improv comedy to T’ai Chi, we were shown how God speaks to us through art. My Home Group prepared the morning prayer of the creation story, using colors and interpretive movements. In the talent show everyone was able to showcase their talents.
As the conference was drawing to a close there was a flurry of exchanging contact information. Everyone wanted to stay in touch. Happy and sad tears, long goodbyes were exchanged, but the memories and friendships I made will never leave me. There is much more that I could write about the Dominican High School Preaching Conference because it was such an absolutely life-changing opportunity. I hope that I will continue to convey how wonderful this step in my faith journey was through my future preaching missions.
Since 1860, St. Mary’s Dominican High School has been a leader of Catholic education in the New Orleans region. The school’s 155-year legacy is rooted in the tradition of prayer, study, community and service. These are the pillars of Dominican life and form the foundation for the Dominican student’s experience.