Introduction by Sr. Amy McFrederick:
On this feast day of St. Dominic de Guzman, founder of the Order of Preachers, I wish all who are drawn to the Dominican charism and spirituality special blessings as we celebrate with gratitude and joy! In the spirit of Dominic whose love for the poor and marginalized led to the founding of the Dominicans 800 years ago, I am happy to share Associate Mary T. O’Connor’s presentation given during the Associates’ Panel at our Congregational Assembly. She was asked to share how she is living out this Chapter Commitment made by Dominican Sisters of Peace and Associates, together in mission: Radically open to ongoing conversion into the peace of Christ, we commit ourselves to be women and men of peace who promote justice through solidarity with those who are marginalized, especially women and children, and work with others to identify and transform oppressive systems.
“Radically open” by Associate Mary T. O’Connor
Within a few months of moving to Akron four years ago, a young friend and I began attending daily morning Mass at St. Vincent’s. He was from a different faith background, and we would have great conversations on the way to Mass. I saw a small item in the bulletin about Dominican Associates and was drawn to make the phone call. Like so much of my life over the past ten years, I cannot explain the direction of my spiritual life, but it has radically altered my physical life. Being a Dominican Associate continues to be a place of challenge, growth, familiarity, safety, community, direction – a wonderful paradox for which I am deeply grateful.
The challenge of being radically open asks the impossible, but it is a challenge to be welcomed. In response to that challenge, I have completely discarded my remarks. And like almost all things that seem impossible, one only need be willing to consider an idea that seems fearful, threatening or overwhelming. God really does the rest. That is the best explanation I have for my presence in an intentional community in Summit Lake, Akron Ohio. It certainly wasn’t my idea! We are given a chance to really take the journey – and like any accomplishment, you do not get there by accident – I see that I was stepping into a way of living, into service, but for a long time it was only practice. Then one day you realize that you have become what you were practicing.
The architect part of me gives me a framework for the practice. It became an instrument for service. Sure, the result of the work of an Architect is important – the finished project. But that is but a moment in the life of whatever WE think is the finished project. It is the entire process – and every part of it is equally important for integrity and connection, and that is without end, constantly evolving and what gives a place its underlying spirit.
So if I say that everyone deserves good design, and I try to see what that means to live that – I am alive to the world around me at all times. I am a part of a much greater process – and I can do my part, imbue everything I do with what I call ‘good design’ – and know that this intention will bear fruit that I cannot know of. The work we do, whatever it is, does live after us. So what does all this mean in the context of social justice meets architecture? If I live in an intentional community in a challenged neighborhood, as I do, it means that the work we do in community needs to be for the community that lives there. We need to really see our neighbors and to throw out the ideas we have for what it COULD be and to see it for what it is, and what is good in it as it is. This is not to romance poverty! But over my own lifetime I have seen again and again how good intentions by professionals actually hurt those they were intended to serve. That the system is rigged towards a kind of development that benefits those who would make money on the development rather than what is best for the people already living there. So the entire setup – planners, funders, architects, builders – becomes a machine that feeds on poverty. My neighborhood is beautiful. Since I have been living there, I see how this house is changing the street, the feeling in the immediate area. It is a good thing, a safe place, an open door for all sorts of things that did not exist before. We may be the first house in the whole area who chose to live here, who wanted to live in this neighborhood instead of having no choice. That fact alone makes for a change – that this is a place that has value, such that someone can want to make it home.