The campuses of Siena Heights University and the Adrian Dominican Sisters’ Motherhouse in Adrian, Mich., were a beehive of energy, joy and community in June as 76 students and their mentors from 18 Dominican High Schools participated in the 21st Annual Dominican High Schools Preaching Conference, including three students from St. Agnes Academic H.S., College Point.
“The encouragement I received from the mentors and my peers have helped me broaden my faith with God,” said Kayla Vitolo, a rising junior at the Queens high school. “I am now more aware of the Dominican Pillars in my life and how I can spread them to those surrounding me. I truly learned the meaning of being a Dominican Youth Preacher during the Conference and I hope I am able to continue following out this significant aspect in my life!”
That is the intention of the preaching conference, which forms students from Dominican high schools in the Dominican spirituality of preaching – not just from the pulpit, but through their lives. The conference is a program of the Dominican Youth Movement USA and is structured to teach the student the various ways that Dominicans preach – and to encourage them to bring what they learn at the conference back to their schools. Participants also plan and participate in prayer services, get to know one another at meals, and discuss the day’s events each night with specially organized home groups. Many of the Congregations of Sisters and provinces of the Friars sponsor the schools that participated in the conference.
The students first learned to preach in the Dominican tradition – from the lips of St. Dominic played by Patrick Spedale, a mentor for St. Pius X High School in Houston; St. Martin de Porres, played by Brother Herman Johnson, O.P., of the St. Martin de Porres (Southern) Province; and St. Catherine of Siena, played by Sister Nancy Murray, O.P.
The opening sessions also included a morning keynote address by Michael Petro, teacher and Dean of Students at Cardinal Stritch Catholic High School in Oregon and an afternoon talk, “The Interfaith Mission of the Order,” by Brother Joe Kilikevice, O.P., of the St. Albert the Great (Central) Province.
In later sessions, students studied the signs of the times through sessions on social justice issues like immigration, racism, people with disabilities, human trafficking and peace. They also spent a full day learning to preach in action through service at agencies in the Adrian area. On the last full day of the conference, students attended workshops by Dominican artists to learn how to preach through the arts. The Sisters at the Adrian Dominican Motherhouse had the privilege of praying for a particular participant and of meeting him or her during an ice cream social. Together they celebrated through prayer and with a closing Mass.
The closing Liturgy – celebrated with the Dominican Sisters of Adrian in St. Catherine Chapel – was an exuberant experience as the students were sent off to their homes and their schools to continue their preaching.
“We have taken the time to listen to each other, to fan the fire inside each person to let God’s love shine forth like the stars in the night sky,” said Sister Mary Soher, O.P., an Adrian Dominican Sister and Director of the Preaching Conference. “From such a wondrous week, how do we leave each other?”
She encouraged them to consider their going forth back to their homes and schools as another call from God. “You gave your all to come here, and I know you will do no less for those whom God loves back home.”
Each school group then came forward to announce their commitment for the coming year: from organizing creative prayer services and teaching their classmates about different types of prayer to emphasizing the four Dominican pillars of prayer, study, community, and ministry or preaching.
“It is an experience that I will never forget and it contains memories that I will forever hold close to my heart,” said rising junior Skylah Lorenzo. “As Catholics, it is important to remember that we are all united no matter how different we may be. I was also able to broaden my knowledge of the Catholic faith.
This new knowledge included learning new information about the four Dominican pillars, raising awareness on certain social and political issues around the world, going into depth with the history of our saints, and most importantly learning what it means to be a Dominican youth preacher! It has been such an honor and a true privilege to be part of this life changing experience! I hope to influence others to live up to the true meaning of Veritas and to take this experience with me for the rest of my life!”
As the hosting Congregation, Sisters at the Adrian Dominican Motherhouse had the privilege of praying for a particular participant and of meeting him or her during an ice cream social – and of celebrating Night Prayer that evening and the Closing Mass with the students. But the preaching conference, a program of the Dominican Youth Movement USA, was a collaborative effort of the U.S. Dominican family.