December 12, 2013
In the gardens of the Bishop’s residence in Albi, now part of
the Toulouse-Lautrec Museum: sojourners Charles Zola, assistant
professor of philosophy and director of the Mount’s Catholic and
Dominican Institute; Beth Roeper, former Mount health services
director; Asma Neblett of Port Jefferson Station, NY; Sarah Favata
of Northvale, NJ; and Douglas Robinson, assistant professor of
Some 800 years ago, St. Dominic de Guzman made innumerable
contributions to Christianity while living a simple, joyful
A group of students and administrators from Mount Saint Mary
College in Newburgh, NY, recently made a pilgrimage in the
footsteps of the 13th century saint.
Following Dominic’s missionary trail in France were Asma Neblett
of Port Jefferson Station, NY, a media studies – journalism major
who is president of the Black Student Union; and Sarah Favata of
Northvale, NJ, history major on the childhood education track who
is president of C.I.R.C.L.E., a children’s literature club for
prospective teachers; along with Charles Zola, assistant professor
of philosophy and director of the Mount’s Catholic and Dominican
Institute; Douglas Robinson, assistant professor of biology; and
Beth Roeper, former director of the college’s health services.
In France, the five academics focused on where Dominic’s
movement began. They studied the roots of the Order of Preachers in
the very places Dominic had lived and preached.
“The experience was very powerful, but very humbling too – it
was faith in a very raw form,” said Neblett. For more than a week,
“We got to live it, to act it out. The experience brought longevity
and authenticity to the message of being a Dominican at the
At Mount Saint Mary College, education attempts to illuminate
the human spirit: always open to relationship with God and one’s
fellow human beings. The tradition of St. Dominic’s order includes
respectful dialogue and the search for “veritas” (truth) in all
facets of study and life.
By learning about literature, art, architecture and more,
Neblett and Favata earned credits in a course on France in the
Fanjeaux, the group visited the home where Dominic briefly lived
while he debated the Albigensian Cathars – a radical sect of his
time the held that matter was evil and only spirit was good – as
well as the nearby basilica and monastery of Sainte Marie de
Prouilhe, where Dominic established his first community of nuns in
Right: Douglas Robinson examines a skull on top of a
sarcophagus, in a museum in Albi.
They also explored Toulouse, where Dominic founded the Order of
Preachers in 1215, and where early follower Thomas Aquinas is
buried in the Church of the Jacobins. Thomas is one of the
intellectual giants in Catholic Church history. The Mount holds an
annual conference which explores Thomistic philosophy.
“Being in the sites that were sacred to Dominic and the
Dominicans was incredible,” said Zola. “It’s one thing to talk
about it as a philosopher, but to actually walk where Dominic
walked and live where Dominic lived brought it all to life. This is
ground zero of our Dominican faith.”
The Order of Preachers was a response to a call for informed
preaching. Dominic educated a community which would serve the
Church in its affirmation of the world as the place where Christ is
Favata said that the sojourn strengthened her Catholic
“I was pulled in by the religious component,” said Favata. “By
studying the religion and history, I feel more connected to my
college. As a Mount ambassador giving tours, it made me more
knowledgeable and I can share that with other people.”
Zola echoed the impact.
“No matter where we came from in terms of our faith journey, we
found the spirit in individual and group conversations,” said Zola.
“We shared our journeys and had a common experience in the
Robinson viewed the journey in a scientific light.
“In evolutionary biology, we don’t know what traits organisms
had and what allowed them to survive though time, but we can get
some insight by examining them,” he explained. “I wanted to learn
what facets of this branch of Catholicism led to its long-term
The Dominican Order is “a survivor of time,” he said, in part,
because “Dominic was very good at meeting challenges. He instilled
those principles in his early followers.”
Robinson also enjoyed the historical aspect of the journey.
“The college is steeped in the Dominican Order’s traditions, and
to get a better understanding of how the Mount operates at its
roots is very important to me,” Robinson explained, noting that
anyone can embrace Dominican ideals such as commitment to study and
Zola pointed out that although the Dominican pilgrimage shines a
spotlight on the historic sites where St. Dominic lived and
traveled, the saint lived a humble life. Much can be learned from
his example and from the pillars of the Order of Preachers:
community, study, ministry, and prayer.
“Looking at the house he lived in for about a decade, it was
very ordinary,” Zola said. “That was inspiring: Sometimes you think
you’re not being effective or you’re doing very ordinary things,
but you never know what the future holds. After 800 years, look at
what a difference Dominic has made.”
Funding for the pilgrimage was provided by the Dominican Sisters
of Hope in Ossining, NY.
Back on campus at the Mount, the pilgrims share their
reflections in front of the Dominic Center.