I am an Associate of the Dominican Sisters of Peace from Columbus, OH. At our July 2016 Assembly in Columbus our Associates’ panel was asked to share on ways in which we live out the Chapter Commitments. I was assigned the first commitment: Study, contemplate, and preach God’s revelation discovered in the unfolding mystery of creation and in Sacred Scripture.
In 1991 St. Dominic’s preaching charism drew me to the Dominican Sisters in Akron, Ohio, whose mission statement read (in part), “We are called by God in the spirit of the Dominican tradition to be women who hear, remember and proclaim the Word spoken to us in Jesus Christ.”
Before this, although I was a cradle Catholic, I had married a Free Methodist Protestant evangelical preacher and had spent several years actively evangelizing through preaching missions and radio and television talk shows. After he died of cancer in 1988, I returned to my Catholic roots, but I missed the preaching. “Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel!” (1 Corinthians 9:16) I still felt called, but I thought, as a Catholic woman, to be called meant I was supposed to be a sister, so I started out in formation towards that end. That changed as I learned of the then-fledgling associate movement and realized, through prayer and discernment that yes, I am called, but my calling is as a lay person.
Fast forward 15 years to 2006. I was living and ministering in the Alaska missions. I was in Fairbanks, where there were no other Dominicans, but 350 miles away in Anchorage, Akron Sister Mary Noel ministered at the Holy Spirit Retreat Center. One day I got an email from her with an attached 12-week outline for a Lectio Divina series called ‘Hear and Proclaim.”
I had been advocating for some sort of contemplative prayer group. When I read through Sister Mary’s “Hear and Proclaim” outline, I thought, “Wow, this is just what we need.” The lay faithful in Fairbanks were starving for spiritual sustenance, and I had been whining about the dearth of resources and such to our bishop. I “pitched” the idea to him of using the outline to start a diocesan prayer group. He said yes and Voices of Hope (VOH) was born. The first session was on Fat Tuesday, 2006.
I facilitated the group for its first eight years before I came back to Ohio. Although it is not a Dominican group per se, I think it still has a Dominican flavor. VOH began with that original “Hear and Proclaim” 12-week outline from Sister Mary Noel. Afterwards, she forwarded several more weeks of readings that were formatted a little differently so, with her permission, I edited them to fit the original format; and then, after we’d gone through all the readings Sr. Mary compiled, I used the same structure to continue weekly readings centered around various themes, forgiveness, trust, etc.; – and ended up with 52 weeks of “Lectio Divina – Hear and Proclaim” readings. After that, we did lots of other scripture studies and prayers, Ignatian exercises, Taize, etc., but we always came back to Lectio Divina and we always stuck with scripture based prayers and exercises, “Hear and Proclaim!”
The blessings are numerous. VOH has seen much spiritual growth. The group gathers still Tuesday evenings (unless it’s colder than 30 below zero) – preach the Gospel in every season! Weekly attendance is about 15-20 people, though interestingly some people come almost every week, while others come only once or twice a month as their schedules permit, and visitors stop in. This changes the makeup of the group from week to week and always keeps things interesting. VOH sometimes host retreats or social gatherings at which about 30 to 50 people show up, like in 2012 when Associate Anita Davidson and Sister Amy McFrederick came up to Alaska – in the middle of winter! – and put on a retreat for us, called “Be All You Can Be.” It was awesome, and Fairbanksans loved them.
VOH’s “core group” itself has evolved into a small faith group whose participants have become quite close and supportive of each other through life’s joys and tribulations. They even adopted a group theme song, “We are Companions on the Journey,” – as are all of us, in a way.
Today, ten years after it began, the Fairbanks, Alaska, Voices of Hope prayer group is going strong, even without me or Sister Mary Noel being there. So, in a way, the Dominican presence is still at work in Fairbanks, and the Word of God is still being proclaimed. God is good!