I was invited to attend my first preached retreat EVER eleven years ago! I had no idea what to expect! I knew I was going to the magical state of Kansas, home to Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz story and the Dominican Sisters in Great Bend. I knew that I would be meeting other discerners and Dominican Sisters. I also knew that THIS retreat would allow me the opportunity to pray and to hear God’s Word regarding my future. No one could have ever prepared me for the AMAZING experiences, profound insight, and the seeds that would blossom from that retreat.
In 2011, Mary O’Driscoll and Brian Pierce led the retreat. I recall Mary and Brian discussing our pilgrimage with God, of walking a road filled with uncertainty, encountering companions and in the process embracing a transformation, allowing us to be closer to God. In one of her preached sessions, Mary made reference to the El Camino de Santiago de Compostela and made reference to the movie, The Way, which is a story about “an American father who travels to France to retrieve the body of his estranged son, who died while attempting the pilgrimage to Spain’s Santiago de Compostela. He resolves to take the journey himself in an effort to understand both himself and his son.”
My retreat and experience in Kansas were life giving and provided the directions to follow a map that led me to a life with Jesus. My desire to see this movie, The Way, and eventually to want to walk the Camino de Santiago de Compostela was a way to hold on to the retreat that changed my life.
A year later in 2012, the road map of discernment had clear and obvious signage of the path I was meant to follow. I had no idea how I would get there, where it would take me, but I knew that Dominican Life was the pilgrimage that I needed to take to follow The Way. From 2012 to 2021, my discernment was accompanied by some difficult hills and rocky roads. Fortunately for me, I had amazing companions and expert guides who empowered me in my journey and helped me be grounded in our Dominican Charism on my pilgrimage to The Way. I would be remiss not to mention the ABUNDANT experience of LOVE, Joy and Peace. I have come to learn that the pilgrimage as a Dominican Sister of Peace is one of adventure, discovery, and love.
Fast forward to May 2, 2022. On this day, Sisters Barb Kane, June Fitzgerald, and I took our first steps on the Camino. As I began the pilgrimage, I knew that I needed to get to Santiago de Compostela, I knew that I needed to get a pair of castañuelas, and I knew that I needed to be open to the presence of God. As I started the pilgrimage, I was anxious because of my own limited experiences with the land and people. I thought I knew what to expect, but SORPRESA, I did not. There were SO MANY surprises and food for thought.
The landscape is mixed from forest to country to farms to cities, and while I did not have a map, the directions and signage was obvious and very clear. Follow the Shell and Yellow arrows. The paths varied from concrete, dirt, and rocks to bridges and wood. I followed the advice granted to me by Sister Joan Franks, to stop at every chapel and little town. I discovered profound history, from settlements of the Celts, Roman roads, and a path walked by many pilgrims, including Dominicans. I was surprised to see Dominican Life along the Camino from stories like San Telmo, and ultimately learning that St. Dominic also walked the Camino.
I met amazing people such as Pilar and her friends, the muses. Pilar is a breast cancer survivor who promised to walk the Camino if she would win the battle against cancer. She won! She and her five best friends walked the Camino with Pilar in gratitude for her life. They were also asking for a good boyfriend for one of the friends. There were mothers and daughters walking together, groups, individuals, and they were all taking the road to Compostela. I bonded with some of my peregrino companions and learned little tips and insights from them. The pilgrims shared their stories and what motivated them to make the pilgrimage. We bonded over the beauty and the challenges we encountered.
I also learned so many wonderful stories, great myths, a song, and gained so much insight. I was grateful to experience God in my interactions, on the journey and so much more!
Now, a month later, I am aware that my introduction to the El Camino started eleven years ago with a retreat. Yes, I was able to walk the El Camino, but most importantly, this journey now as a Sister is a simile to the Camino that I started walking as a discerner. I am on a pilgrimage, following Jesus’ way. The road is uncertain, yet it is an adventure with God and my Dominican Sisters!
If you are interested in joining us on this adventure of religious life as a Sister, please contact one of our Vocation Ministers or consider attending our upcoming Mission For Peace program, June 22 -27 in Kansas.