In May 2013, three of us from Caldwell University, Mary Diercksen (Registrar’s Office), Gloria Friedman (Education Dept.) and Alison Self (English, History and Political Science Departments) attended the Fanjeaux Experience in Fanjeaux, France, as representatives of Caldwell University.
The Fanjeaux Experience brings representatives from all the 16 Dominican Colleges and Universities across the USA together to share in the teachings of St. Dominic and to discuss the importance of maintaining a Dominican identity in our individual institutions. The group consists of administrators, faculty, staff, students and also Sisters and Brothers from the Dominican Order.
The 17 day pilgrimage to the region where St. Dominic de Guzman began his preaching is an amazing mix of history, theology, culture and shared experiences that cannot truly be explained unless you have participated.
We studied the teachings of St. Dominic guided by the wisdom of Sr. Jean Murray, O.P., Sr. Patty Dougherty, O.P. and Fr. Jim Marchionda, O.P. We also studied the writings of Simon Tugwell, O.P. and a document commissioned by the Presidents of the Dominican Colleges and Universities entitled The Dominican Charism in American Higher Education: A Vision in Service of Truth. We were asked to explore these readings and discuss their impact on our own institutions and daily work lives. We reflected on the importance of contemplation in our lives and joined together in worship and song to enrich our experience. The depth of spirituality experienced during this time was an individual choice as we were encouraged to participate as much as we felt comfortable doing. While the faculty and staff attended the morning seminars the students studied “France in the Middle Ages” with Dr. Mary Haymann learning about the history, philosophy, art and literature of the period, both in class and on field trips.
We explored the gorgeous surrounding countryside and towns, visiting many places of importance during St. Dominic’s time, including the monastery at Prouhille where he housed 5 women who wished to follow his teachings and later received their official status as nuns. The cathedrals in Albi, Carcassonne and Narbonne were beautiful places of worship. We also had time to relax and experience French culture as we visited the market in Mirapoix and the beach at Collioure where Matisse found the inspiration for his art. We even climbed a mountain!
All through these experiences we forged friendships that will last forever. The mealtimes and evenings were spent discussing the day’s events and things we had learned. We bonded over food that, while delicious, was not always familiar. We shared wine, laughter, birthdays and sorrows that touched all of our lives in a deeply profound way.
This is an experience that is hard to explain and yet we hope that this will inspire other faculty, staff and students to apply to the program and see just what it is all about first hand! Yes, you are away from home for an extended period, but what you gain far outweighs leaving your family, and don’t forget, you go to Paris for 4 days as well. WOW!
You will return home and find yourself changed, and most importantly, able to understand and appreciate what it is to be a Dominican!
If you have any questions about the experience or just want to see our photos, please don’t hesitate to find any one of us so we can tell you more.
Mary, Gloria, Alison