Pilgrims Embrace the Spirit of St. Dominic

Sr. Mai-Dung Nguyen, Candidate Terri Schell, and Sr. Cathy Buchanan in the town center in Fanjeaux, France.

Recently, three of our members—Sr. Mai-Dung Nguyen, Candidate Terri Schell, and Sr. Cathy Buchanan—went on a pilgrimage with other members of the Dominican Order.  This pilgrimage focused on the life and travels of St. Dominic and on the early nuns and friars who lived and ministered near Fanjeaux, France, where the Order was founded in the 13th Century.  Sister Cathy Buchanan and Candidate Terri Schell share their experiences in the following essays.

Sister Cathy’s Reflection

My recent pilgrimage to Fanjeaux, France was just what I needed to remind me of why I’m professing vows with the Dominican Sisters of Peace in less than a month!

I began my journey running as fast as I have run in years, through the airport in Paris, even then, barely making my connecting flight to Toulouse. Then, my luggage was delayed and I fell flat on my face, tripping over the bed in my room at the monastery and that was just the first day!

Thank God, we, the 27 pilgrims on the journey together, were given the Pilgrim’s Creed on the first day of our pilgrimage, which read “I am not in control. I am not in a hurry. I walk in faith and hope. I greet everyone with peace. I bring back only what God gives me.”

Standing at the Assassin’s Cross where Dominic encountered thieves who attempted to take his life. Seeing how joyful Dominic was, the thieves were captivated by his joy and decided not to kill him. The cross is on the road that Dominic travelled from Fanjeaux to Proullie in France.

The creed was a wonderful reminder to me that God is the one who is in control and setting the path and the pace of my life’s journey. I can only imagine that Dominic was reminded of this fact on occasion as well. To realize the struggles and hardships that Dominic endured as the founder of the Dominican order was a reality check for me. I was just happy there was running water in the fourteenth-century monastery we were staying at in Fanjeaux! And I could imagine Dominic praying all night long in the dark chapel in his house in Fanjeaux. From re-reading Don Goergen’s book, St. Dominic: The Story of a Preaching Friar, I was able to calculate that from 1206 to 1221 Dominic walked over 30 thousand miles during the time he was founding the Dominican order! Amazing!

This journey reminded me that I am called to be peace, build peace, and preach peace through the way I will live my vows and my life from here forward. What God gave me to bring back with me was the new understanding of what it means to be a Dominican in the 21st century and what it means to belong to something bigger than myself. Walking through the fields in Fanjeaux, past the assassin’s cross, and praying evening prayer with the nuns in Prouilhe, these are some of the images that will stay with me for a lifetime. I am forever blessed by God to have had this opportunity to journey with Dominic’s spirit in France.

Candidate Terri Schell’s Reflection

Hiking in the Pyrenees Mountains.

As a candidate, praying in common with sisters has been new for me. The commitment, rhythm, and daily joining of purpose has been something I have come to treasure. One of my favorite lines from our prayer together in community is from Isaiah (52:7), describing how we are to be joyful peace bearers to the world. Isaiah says, “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’”

After spending nine days walking the fields of Fanjeaux, France, and hiking in the Pyrenees mountains following the footsteps of St. Dominic, this call from Isaiah has taken on a deeper meaning for me. During our trip, we reflected on the truth that Dominic was the messenger of Isaiah’s reading of “running swiftly over the mountains and through the countryside preaching the message of peace and good news of a God who is ‘for us’ always.” This description of Dominic, with the backdrop of the mountains and rolling hills of southern France, paints a vivid picture in my heart and mind, inspiring me to “proclaim peace” and “bring good tidings” of God’s reign to others in my journey as a soon-to-be novice with the Dominican Sisters of Peace.

Walking along the wheat fields between Fanjeaux and Prouilhe in France.

Dominic was overflowing with the desire to bring people to the fullness of life, preaching truth and compassion that leads to peace. His feet were certainly blessed. And they were also well-worn. As my fellow pilgrim, Sr. Cathy calculated, St. Dominic walked over 30,000 miles throughout his travels. His devotion and joy also blessed the land on which he traveled, often singing or praising God. While walking through the fields of sunflower and wheat on this nine-day pilgrimage, I could feel Dominic’s presence and encouragement. His spirit still inspires us to walk this lifelong path bearing good news and proclaiming peace in our world.

Why not start your journey exploring the landscape of Dominican life and learning about Dominic’s spirit by joining us at our upcoming Come & See retreat, September 8-10, 2023?   We will gather in the beautiful countryside in St. Catherine, Kentucky at our Motherhouse.  Click here for more information and to register.  We look forward to journeying with you and invite you to contact us to help you explore where God may be calling you.

Scripture and Quotes referenced by Terri:

Isaiah 52:7 “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’”

“[Dominic] was the messenger of Isaiah’s reading… running swiftly over the mountains and through the countryside preaching the message of peace and good news of a God who is ‘for us’ always.” Mary Ann Nelson, OP


Posted in God Calling?, News, Vocations Blog

5 responses to “Pilgrims Embrace the Spirit of St. Dominic

  1. Thanks for sharing about your experiences. I’m grateful too that you are both walking with Dominic and us!

  2. Sorry, I am so late in thanking each of you for such profound reflections and written so well of your journey in Fanjeaux. It brought many wonderful memories of my Journey of the Lands of Dominic in 1999.
    Much love and prayer as you continue your faith journey.
    Sr. Brigid

  3. “preaching truth and compassion that leads to peace.” This was the line in your piece that grabbed my attention. On reflection I believe that is the ministry that the Holy Spirit is calling me to.
    Thank you Terri,

  4. Cathy and Terri,
    I can tell you both have caught the FIRE of the Dominican Charism as you carry the Torch of Truth, Preaching, and Prayer with all you daily encounter with JOY. What a blessed experience in your early formation. Thank you for sharing.

  5. I feel joy reading your accounts and remembering my own travels of that sacred land. Thank you for sharing something of your experience.

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