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The view from Montsegur, a Cathar castle, in southern France, almost 4,000 feet above sea level.
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Dr. Laura Greenwald has taught music at Caldwell for 33 years, worked with many Sisters of St. Dominic and learned quite a bit about the Dominican tradition, which is why she has always been curious about the place where St. Dominic de Guzman founded the Dominican order.   

She had often heard from colleagues about the annual Fanjeaux Summer Study Program in France, which focused on culture and the Catholic Dominican heritage, but the timing for the trip was never right for her. “As we emerged from the pandemic, I could not take the chance of missing it again,” said Greenwald. And this time she did not. After graduation, Greenwald traveled to Paris and then Toulouse, France, where she caught up with the group of 29 pilgrims—students, faculty and staff members—from U.S. Dominican colleges and universities.  

Music Professor Laura Greenwald with Dominican Sister Lioba, who lives at the convent in Prouilhe, France, that was founded by St. Dominic.
Music Professor Laura Greenwald with Dominican Sister Lioba, who lives at the convent in Prouilhe, France, that was founded by St. Dominic.

Highlights of her adventure included visiting churches and cathedrals in towns and cities in France such as Albi, Toulouse, Vals, Collioure and Carcassonne, exploring Fanjeaux and praying in the church where St. Dominic preached, and hiking through the fields—led by Dominican biblical scholar Father Renaud Silly, O.P.—to Prouilhe, the location of the convent where St. Dominic formed his order’s first group of nine Sisters. Greenwald and her group prayed vespers with the Dominican Sisters who live at the convent today. She was awestruck staying in a guest house in Carcassonne outside the walls of the restored medieval fortress, entering the caves of Niaux in the Pyrenees, which contain drawings reportedly 16,000 years old, and hiking up a path led by Father Renaud to see Montesegur, the remnants of a Cathar fortress almost 4,000 feet above sea level. “We were literally in the clouds, and when they lifted, the view was breathtaking,” Greenwald said.  

Dominican Father Renaud Silly, O.P. near Prouilhe, France.
Dominican Father Renaud Silly, O.P. near Prouilhe, France.

Greenwald appreciated connecting with faculty, staff and students of other Dominican institutions, experiencing the sense of the larger Dominican community and learning that Caldwell former president Sister Patrice Werner, O.P. was instrumental in helping start the program. There were inspiring philosophy, history, art and literature study and reflection sessions. She found learning the Pilgrim’s Credo particularly valuable and said “I am trying to live into” it. Greenwald repeats it: “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.” 

The connections proved beneficial on many levels as later in the summer she attended the Dominican Consortium on Caldwell’s campus with representatives of several Dominican institutions and discussed collaborations and partnerships. As a result, Greenwald hopes to initiate a musical gathering with students and directors from several of the East Coast Dominican schools.  

Greenwald said she came away from the Fanjeaux trip with an appreciation for the relationships she built and how these connections are rooted in the legacy of a man whose vision lives on: St. Dominic de Guzman, born in Spain, who preached in France, Spain and Italy and whose life ended in Italy. She learned how St. Dominic founded the Order of Preachers and established convents and monasteries in the early 13th century and how his legacy has spread throughout the world. “I am struck by both the geographical and historical vastness of his influence and how the Sisters have done the same, coming from Germany to Long Island, then Jersey City, then Caldwell and across the U.S.”  

Dr. Greenwald’s view of a restored medieval fortress from her guest house in Carcassonne.
Dr. Greenwald’s view of a restored medieval fortress from her guest house in Carcassonne.

Greenwald sees St.  Dominic as a powerful role model for today because he “tried to reach others through his example of prayer and service rather than by threatening them. He lived at a time when heretics were burned at the stake, but he tried to win them over by living among them and teaching them of God’s love.” The four pillars of Dominican life—prayer, study, community and service, based on St. Dominic’s life—are still lived out by Dominicans and Dominican institutions today. “I think the fact that the Dominican order has lasted 800 years now, serving so many people around the world, is a great testament to St. Dominic’s vision and is an example that we can all follow,” said Greenwald. “The trip was inspiring on so many levels, and I hope that others from Caldwell will have the opportunity to experience it.”

Dr. Greenwald at Niaux caves Pyrenees