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Summer Study in Fanjeaux: Discovering St. Dominic’s vision on a medieval French hilltop

 Staff member John Della Penna playing a guitar
A Historic Monument in Fanjeaux, France
 Staff member John Della Penna in Fanjeaux
Members of Caldwell Community in Fanjeaux
A Cathedral in Fanjeaux, France
Visitors at Medieval French hilltop
Members of the Caldwell University community at Fanjeaux
 Staff member John Della Penna playing a guitar
Caldwell Community in Fanjeaux, France
Historical Monument in Fanjeaux, France

Caldwell, N.J., – June 29, 2016 – Members of the Caldwell University community traveled to the medieval hilltop village of Fanjeaux, France, to take part in an annual international study experience from May 30 to June 16. They joined students, faculty and staff from other Dominican schools to learn the history of St. Dominic’s vision for an order devoted to seeking and sharing the truth.

Students Marisa Juliano and Emma Nicholas, staff member John Della Penna and graduate counseling faculty member Dr. Emma Kendrick studied in the mornings and visited historic sites in the afternoon. The students had the chance to earn three credits. They shared meals with the larger group and reflected on the ways St. Dominic’s inspiration could influence their lives.

John Della Penna, director of media services at the university, said he went on the trip with “no expectations” and with an openness to a new discovery. He found the richness of a Catholic Dominican tradition that lives on in contemporary life and was struck by the “antiquity” of the experience and the fact that he was “sleeping in the convent where St. Dominic stayed,” a section of which is some 800 years old. Clearly the Holy Spirit was at work, as Della Penna realized that “we are the continuation of the Bible as a reflection of the Word of God.” He also found that contemplation and prayer are important in today’s world.

Kendrick was inspired by many aspects of the Dominican tradition. “The most impactful moments were from my conversations with the sisters during our dinner and social time.”

Nicholas, a Caldwell senior and nursing major, made good friends and was pleasantly surprised by that fact that “so many personalities could get along at once.” Juliano, a senior, enjoyed the communal meals and the “every-night hangouts after long days of classes and excursions” when students and faculty would share life stories and experiences. Della Penna was moved by the “generosity of spirit and dynamic interactions.” Juliano experienced a “better understanding of that Dominican sense of community and sharing with others.”
Kendrick particularly enjoyed the outdoor excursions when they would climb or hike to places like Montsegur or the Chateau de Puilaurens. “Collioure was also a nice day where everyone got to enjoy a boat ride and relax in the Mediterranean Sea,” she said.

Della Penna was grateful to be able to borrow a guitar so he could use his musical talents at impromptu sing-alongs that “created a greater sense of community and fellowship.”

Nicholas and two friends rode bicycles down the Seine River one night after missing their boat tour. “Paris was definitely a highlight, as we had so much freedom to explore and learn about how the city works.”

They came away from the excursion happy to encourage others to attend the annual trip and ready for their next adventure. “Fanjeaux gave me a lot that I will never see again in my life and the inspiration to go back and see more,” said Juliano.
Della Penna shares his experiences in this poem “With Joy”:

With joy

I sit here filled with wonder
On how the time passed by
And try to capture moments
On how your lives touched mine
You showed me love and faith
and hope in the Divine
As we tried to solve the riddle
Of our roles within our time
We spoke of justice, peace and truth
And human dignity
The fruits of contemplation
And Dominican spirituality
Meeting people where they are
Inclusiveness, diversity and change
Feelings, thoughts and actions
Were the bread of our exchange
How bitter sweet the wine we drank
And shared a laugh or two
But it’s a heavy heart to carry
As I say Au Revoir to you
But with me lives the message
And the memory of Fanjeaux

-by John Della Penna