This summer, members of Dominican colleges and universities – including four travelers from Mount Saint Mary College – embarked on a pilgrimage to Fanjeaux, France, the hometown of Saint Dominic de Guzman, founder of the Dominican order.
While the members of the Mount Saint Mary College community worked at internships, prepared for upcoming classes, or enjoyed a short break after the spring semester, a group of Mount students and employees followed in the footsteps of the 13th century saint Dominic de Guzman through a three-week pilgrimage in France.
Vicki Caruana, associate professor of Education; Amy Weit, assistant director of Residence Life; and students Kate Whitfield of Garden City, N.Y. and Madison Matos of Walden, N.Y. joined the Mount’s sister Dominican colleges for study and travel. They followed Dominic’s missionary trail throughout southern France, including Fanjeaux, birthplace of Dominic’s Order of Preachers.
Saint Dominic made innumerable contributions to Christianity more than 800 years ago, all while living a simple, joyful life. About seven centuries later, the Dominican Sisters founded Mount Saint Mary College, using as a guideline the four pillars of Dominican life: study, prayer, service, and community.
Matos revealed that visiting the same places at St. Dominic had been “surreal. I was almost in disbelief to stand where he once stood and touched the hearts of so many.”
Caruana agreed: “I was awestruck and humbled at the same time. Learning that Fanjeaux was a detour from his main mission at the time was eye-opening. That detour was a divine appointment, not an accident. Seeing the small stone chapel in Fanjeaux and then realizing that all of Dominic’s travels were on foot – hundreds of miles –was overwhelming to think about.”
The Education professor felt an instant connection with the other travelers, thanks in part to their shared Dominican heritage.
“Going through this experience with representatives from at least eight other Dominican colleges was illuminating,” she noted. “It was exciting to learn how other colleges live out the Dominican pillars and incorporate the traditions into all that they do. Hearing from the students about their own experiences was inspiring.”
Matos, too, felt this kinship: “I was fortunate enough to be surrounded by such caring people from Dominican schools all over the country,” she said. “Their drive, compassion, and friendship made all the difference in the world. I feel so lucky to have met and learned something from all of them.”
The experience in Fanjeaux had profound impacts on the Mount travelers. For example, it ignited within Caruana “a hunger to find places and spaces to ‘be still’ – to reflect on what I know is true and to be open to gifts that God is waiting to give me,” she explained. “I’m learning to approach each day with an open hand in expectation.”
Caruana also noted that she was struck with how applicable St. Dominic’s philosophy can be in her everyday work of education.
“Dominic engaged in what is called ‘disputatio,’ a way of debate or argument that goes to great lengths to understand the argument on both sides in an effort to hear and speak truth,” she explained. “This approach is quite appropriate for the challenging discourse we engage in higher education. It’s something we all should learn.”
What left a lasting impression on Matos was the Pilgrim’s Credo, which each day, the travelers would recite aloud as a group. It begins with, “I am not in control. I am not in a hurry.”
“As someone who struggles with both of these things, the prayer struck me,” she explained. “In times of distress, I still find myself repeating it in my head.”
The pilgrimage was jointly sponsored by Mount Saint Mary College and the Dominican Sisters of Hope in Ossining, N.Y. The trip was also made possible through the planning efforts of the Mount’s Catholic and Dominican Institute.