Ten Days in the South of France:
How the President of Fenwick High School Spends His Summer Vacations
The inspiration to establish the Order of Preachers came to St. Dominic during his time living in the South of France. There he encountered people who had been led astray by the Cathar heresy. Before too long, it became clear to him that the Church needed a religious order dedicated to preaching the gospel. Pope Honorius III agreed and in 1216 formally approved the Order of Preachers with Dominic as its first Master.
There are a number of significant places in the South of France that tell the story of the founding of the Dominican Order and that evoke the presence of St. Dominic and the early Dominicans. I have had the privilege of helping to lead a summer pilgrimage to these “lands of St. Dominic” for the past 12 years. Sr. Jeanne Goyette, O.P. (Caldwell, NJ), Sr. Mary Ellen O’Grady, O.P. (Sinsinawa, WI) and I take 25 pilgrims on a trek to St. Dominic’s country in France. We stay in Fanjeaux with the Dominican Sisters of Sainte-Famille who operate the “Couvent St-Dominique”—a guest house that had been a Dominican priory in the 15th century.
The goal of the pilgrimage is to deepen one’s sense of Dominican life and spirituality. Most of the participants are lay women and men who serve in Dominican ministries—usually in Dominican schools. Since I became president of Fenwick High School, we’ve sponsored one faculty member a year to participate in the pilgrimage. The only stipulation is that he or she must give a presentation on the experience to the full faculty and staff at one of the first meetings of the new school year. This past year, Ms. Toni Dactilidis from the Mathematics Department was our Fenwick pilgrim.
Each day of the pilgrimage begins with Morning Prayer and a conference. The conferences that I present include “Dominic in Fanjeaux,” “Dominic the Itinerant Preacher,” “Dominic and Prayer,” “Truth and Compassion in Dominic’s Life,” “St. Thomas Aquinas and Study,” “The Life and Legacy of Henri-Dominique Lacordaire, O.P.” and “Art as a Means of Preaching in the Dominican Order.” Each day includes an excursion to a significant Dominican site and time for personal and communal reflection. I celebrate Mass for the group several times during the course of the 10-day experience. I can’t help but note that, since it is France, each meal is exquisite!
It is wonderful to watch the participants come together as a community, deepen their Dominican spirit and claim their identity as collaborators in the Dominican mission.
Snapshots of the places on our itinerary each year:
The village of Fanjeaux sits on a hilltop. The view from the “Seignadou”—a lookout point associated with St. Dominic—is spectacular. The fields below alternate between wheat and sunflowers. As you can see, it’s easy to imagine that you’re in the 13th century!