Dominican Laity Newsletter #28



Seal_of_the_Dominican_OrderNewsletter #28




May 2013

From Invercargill, two pieces of news, one sad one glad.

╬ We note the death of NICOLA PARKES, daughter of Tui and Geoff Pasco. Requiescat in pace. And our sympathy and prayers go to her family.

╬ Sr Judith Robinson OP has celebrated her golden jubilee of life with the Dominican sisters. Our prayers of thanks and joy for Sr Judith!




This is the second in our series of pieces written by Dominican lay folk, on how they find STUDY a help in their spiritual life.


How to study –perhaps that’s the question?

I think the pillars of Dominican spirituality are all interconnected – like parts of a body – I recall Fr David Kammler using that analogy. They make the whole. Many things occupy my mind and body. How then to fit study into this busy life? For me, it works its way in, not by being a separate issue, but by being part of the whole.

I read. There are many inspiring authors. I have recently read books written by Richard Leonard, Joy Cowley, Michael Leunig, Neil Darragh and Jo Ayres and currently by my bedside is ‘Abba, give me a word’ written by L Rogers Owens – a co-pastor of a United Methodist Church in America promising a story of struggle and transformation and an introduction to the practice of soul care. That sounds like a good idea!

And of course there is scripture. I seem to be heading into a stage of wanting less. Often I will read a passage from the bible and take a single word or a simple phrase. I carry it around with me. It is there while I am waiting outside school for my daughter, or when I am at the supermarket or as I login on my laptop. Or it is personified when I take a meal to a sick friend or call on a grieving one.

The other contribution to my study is to take advantage of the many opportunities that are offered in the city. There is an array of interesting lectures, retreats, courses and meetings being offered at various venues by different organizations around Auckland.

Some of my study comes from places you might not expect. The seasons show me that there is a time for shedding – to make way for growth. It takes some honesty to look at myself with no leaves attached – what are the bones of my spiritual life? What nourishes me? And what of spring growth – new buds bursting out – do I feel that anticipation and that energy about my faith? Is my faith fruitful? Our family has recently grown to include a dog – he loves to go for a w.a.l.k. – we spell it out because when he hears the word, he starts shouting with excitement. He is so delighted to be out amongst it – his joy ‘in the moment’ is contagious. I caught myself last autumn counting seconds between falling leaves. It’s a really fun thing to do. It is awe inspiring. Because we walk regularly, sometimes the changes are subtle. That makes me look anew at all things. I notice details now. I notice facial expressions and body language which tell me more about a person than the words we sometimes use. My study time in the environment connects me to God, to creation, to prayer, to others and an inner peace. And it is teaching me to be patient.

The colour green… God, that has to be one of your better ideas. Good on you God.

Ali Bryant – Auckland


When, Where, Why

I found the items on Prayer, first of the Four Pillars, in the recent newsletter inspiring and encouraging. For me these short articles came at an appropriate time as I was busy reading a book entitled Lord teach us to pray, published in 1975 by B A Johanson, Principal Emeritus Union Bible Institute in South Africa.

The book opens with When, Where and Why to Pray – I have found that in reading of how simple prayer really is – there are no rules except that our prayers should be genuine and sincere, has helped me in my efforts to “really” pray. I read each section and spend time thinking and dwelling on the words of the book, relating them to where I am in my quest for meaningful sincere communication with our Lord God. I guess you could call this “study” because the meaning of the word study is the pursuit of knowledge and I am trying to learn to know better our God and the Trinity.

Subsequent chapters of the book takes a phrase from the Lord’s Prayer and taking time to re read and think on each phrase brings me to study when and where Jesus taught the disciples to pray – Bible reading. It takes discipline to pause one’s daily life and give time to studying – aren’t we all sooooo busy? But it is satisfying to actually stop and spend time getting to “know” the Father/Son and Holy Spirit. So the simple act of reading is in a way study – particularly if it makes one delve deeper into the subject, which is happening for me.

My study/reading is not very structured, sometimes I read and consider more than just one phrase – other times the one phrase is enough. There will be no “gold star” or certificate at the end of the reading/study, but I feel sure I will have got closer to where I want to be in my prayer life.

Denise Leonard, Oamaru




For many years I have had an interest in spirituality and over the last ten years this has influenced my work as a teacher and led me to do research in this area. My Masters thesis investigated teachers’ personal understanding and experience of spirituality and how they recognise and nurture the spiritual lives of the children they teach. Because the teachers were all Catholic their immediate responses to what spirituality means came from a Catholic frame of thinking. Spiritual experiences reflected their involvement in school and parish liturgical celebrations, personal prayer experiences and their relationship with God. As the discussion evolved they recognised that spirituality was more than religious expressions and experience. It encompasses a person’s values and beliefs, identity, relationships with self, with others, with the earth and for some people with God. The teachers recognised that spirituality reflects how you search for meaning in your life, how you connect with others and your sense of belonging. One of the conclusions they came to was that spirituality permeates all aspects of human life and can be understood in a wider frame than religion. They felt Neil Darragh’s description that spirituality is “the combinations of beliefs and practices which animate and integrate people’s lives” fitted well with their understanding.

Since my initial research I have continued to work with teachers leading them to recognise that they are spiritual role models for children. They are responsible for nurturing the spiritual dimension of children’s lives along with their intellectual, social, emotional and physical lives. In the present educational environment in Aotearoa New Zealand the emphasis is on children’s cognitive outcomes with little emphasis on spiritual or affective learning. Children in Catholic schools have the advantage of a school environment that reflects the Special Catholic Character which provides holistic education that nurtures all dimensions of children’s lives particularly their spiritual lives.

Children are provided with experiences of prayer to help them develop their relationship with God and this is of primary importance. The Religious Education Curriculum enables children to understand what and how the Catholic Church believes, teaches, celebrates, lives and prays. The emphasis is on helping children to integrate their faith with their life and their culture and doing their part to build the kingdom or reign of God here on earth. While the RE programme is intentional in achieving cognitive, affective (beliefs, attitudes and values) and spiritual outcomes, teachers use all areas of the curriculum to develop children’s understanding of their spiritual lives in the wider frame that was identified earlier. For example teachers make use of current children’s literature, especially by New Zealand authors, dealing with themes about identity, relationships, belonging and making meaning. Through this teachers create opportunities for ‘spiritual dialogue’ with children.

One of the significant outcomes of my research found that children’s spiritual lives need to be nurtured with the stories, symbols, rituals, poetry, music, art, language and cultural experiences of their own context. Part of my job is providing examples of these to encourage teachers to explore how to make best use of these in the classroom. Another example that teachers can use to nurture children’s spiritual lives it to interpret children’s personal qualities as ‘spiritual’ qualities and help children to recognise these as part of their identity. In this way for example, children who are always generous or joyful become recognised by this spiritual quality and this helps to encourage the recognition and affirmation of other children’s spiritual qualities.

This can be done on a wider scale as well by re-framing our national traits such as ‘giving everyone a fair go’, ‘mucking in’ in time of need and having a creative approach to problem solving such as using ‘number 8 wire’ and seeing these as spiritual traits which enhance our relationships and our identity as New Zealanders. According to research done in United Kingdom children who ask ‘deep questions’ have a sense of their own spirituality. In a classroom these children open up conversations about topics such as life and death, justice and equality which can ignite all children’s interest and empathy for others. Teachers recognise the need to pay special attention to these children and their questions and use them as ‘spiritual resources’ in their class.

These ideas illustrate the dynamic nature of spirituality and the importance of continuing to explore its meaning and it relationship to our lives which is essentially the work of the Holy Spirit. For those of us with children and grand children it’s good to be aware of spiritual experiences and traits and encourage the next generations to recognise them in everyday life.

I give thanks often for my Dominican education that taught me to love learning and appreciate the fruits of study.

Anne Kennedy, Dunedin


Study as one of the pillars of Dominican life

A few rambling thoughts

I believe that, for a Dominican, study is very linked to contemplation. As a child I would lie on the ground and study the clouds, not in an academic way, but with a child’s uncomplicated contemplative gaze. I mention this because I think the word “study” can be off putting because of its association with academic work. However, we all have the capacity and need to be still; to gaze contemplatively; to ponder and assess what is happening in and around us; to find out more as needed; and to live and act truthfully as a result of our reflections.

For those doing formal study, keeping the links to the contemplative life and the search for truth is important. There is the temptation, and often pressure, to churn out material simply to gain academic credit. For the Dominican, study needs to have a far deeper purpose. It is about honest inquiry, inquiry that will enrich our lives and our world. It is about seeking what is true, beautiful or right; and discerning what is misleading and false.

To make a contribution through our study, the development of a healthy self-belief is important. It takes courage to keep questioning the accepted norms of our society. It takes courage and faith to stay true to ourselves, our particular approach to a subject, and the questions that arise in our minds. It is, of course, critical to listen carefully to others, their knowledge, questions and challenges. But a healthy self belief can enable us to listen to others without being unduly undermined or threatened; to learn from them and carefully reconsider our own values, convictions and received knowledge. Through prayer, we can be helped to keep faith with the mind God has given us; its oddities and peculiarities are a unique gift, one to be refined and honed by the discipline of study.

Susan Healy, Auckland


Study – a lifelong task

Study is something that one spends a lifetime practising. While formal study takes place at school and university, there is much more informal study going on in our lives all the time.

This dawned on me a couple of years’ ago, when I found myself reading a book and making notes in both the book and in a notebook I use for retreats and for our formation meetings. Also I take seriously the advice of Sr Margaret Butler OP who advises us to read with the bible in one hand the newspaper in the other.

The practice of reading a chapter of a book and then contemplating its implications for living in today’s world is, I find, very rewarding. One of the books I read in this way, is Cloister Walk by Kathleen Norris, a married protestant woman who immersed herself in the daily routine of a community of Benedictines, men whose days are centred around a rigid schedule of prayer and work. This is a book I can go back to time and time again.

Currently I have two books I study regularly. Taking the Plunge by Timothy Radcliffe op, and In search of Belief by Sr Joan Chittister osb. The Radcliffe book I put onto my e-reader, and if I have an appointment or know I have to wait anywhere, I take it in my handbag and read, and contemplate.

Then there is the newspaper, with or without the bible. Currently we in the Wairarapa are embroiled in debate about the merits of a unitary authority or to stay with the Wellington Region. This requires study of another kind, and new legislation on the Employment Contracts Act makes me open my bible and wonder what kind of society I live in.

Quite often I study the cloud formations and consult my cloud book for information about them. The bush is always a wonderful source of study, from the leafy tree tops to the leafy forest floor and all that grows and flies between.

There are opportunities for study all around and for opportunities to thank God for the creation around us and for the ability to absorb all we see, read and interact with.

Jenny Wilson, Masterton


Homily for the feast of St Catherine of Siena (John 14:21-26)

(With acknowledgments to Sr Judith Anne Sullivan OP)

Catherine – daughter of Lapa and Giacomo Benincasa; born in 1347; twin and last of 24 children; lay Dominican woman; mystic; social reformer; friend of the poor; pupil of God; challenger of unjust structures; theologian; Dominican preacher; lover of Christ and creation; doctor of the church; ordinary human being! The litany could go on. So what to say about this wonderful ordinary human woman whose feast we celebrate today? Let us be guided by the Gospel of today as Catherine was above all a lover of the Word.

The gospel reminds us that for those who live the commandments and keep God’s word, God is at home in them, abides within them. This indwelling of God the Trinity was the foundation of Catherine’s life. When she was at the eligible age for marriage her parents, concerned about the amount of time she spent in prayer, decided to deprive her of having a room to herself. To cope with this deprivation and serve amidst the hustle and bustle of her large family Catherine created a cell in her mind and heart where she could withdraw at will for contemplation. In this way she turned what could have been seen as a disaster into a gift. It was there in her cell of self-knowledge as Catherine called it that she learnt the great gift of the divine indwelling. Already we can see her likeness to Christ who began his public mission by withdrawing into the desert to be alone with his God. This place in her heart where Catherine experienced the fire of God’s love was also the place that sent her in mission to her neighbour. It was an inclusive mission to the ‘other’ with no thought of self. Catherine’s mission like that of Christ her beloved was the inseparability of love of God and love of neighbour, contemplation and action. In her “Dialogue”, God says to her “You cannot give me the kind of love I ask of you – this is why I have placed you among your neighbours so that you can do for them what you cannot do for me.”

Catherine was a frontier person always reading the signs of the times and on the lookout for places to preach God’s message of love, peace and mercy. Sadly it was in the Church she loved that Catherine saw the misuse of status and power and found herself called to speak courageously to the leaders and call them back to the way of gospel living. Catherine’s mission took her to the marginalized, prostitutes, prisoners, the sick and the poor, any place where injustice prevented people from living human lives.

In her “Dialogue” God reminds her “how often I have pulled you out of your cell to satisfy the needs of the poor” Thus Catherine lived the Dominican motto “to contemplate and to give to others the fruits of her contemplation”. In the “Dialogue” Catherine also speaks of going to God on two feet, love of God and love of neighbour.

In naming Catherine as Doctor of the Church in 1970 Paul VI recognized the contribution and presence of a laywoman teaching and preaching the word of God in a way that spoke to the ordinary people. When Catherine was elevated to the status of Doctor, Paul VI made special mention of her lucid and profound understanding of divine truth and her charism of exhortation. Catherine was a great encourager of all those she ministered to and of her sisters who belonged to the ‘mantellata’ with her. So where and how did Catherine acquire such wisdom when like the women of her day she was uneducated? Returning to today’s gospel, like Jesus she could say “the Holy Spirit whom the father will send will teach you all things and remind you of all I have told you.” Catherine’s teachings have their source in her mystical experiences, in the indwelling abiding presence of God in her cell of self- knowledge.

By now you may be thinking how can I live like Catherine who was so gifted? Well yes she was very gifted yet her greatest gift was her simplicity her ordinariness. She had a very spontaneous, fiery and fearless personality which she learnt to understand and adapt to in her cell of self-knowledge. Her way as we have seen was the way of two feet – love of God and love of neighbour, contemplation in action. You are all here this morning because that is your way too. If we do nothing else in life but love we are in the words of today’s gospel temples of the Trinity. Looking at this picture of Catherine walking with Jesus we too walk with Jesus and we too learn from this great book of wisdom they are reading – namely the gospel. We keep God’s word and God abides in us.

As you leave this Church you are never alone. You go out to love and serve your neighbour remembering God is at home within you. Be aware of the two feet which carry you and be aware of the presence of God within you. Take God’s love and truth to all those you encounter.

Sr Judith Anne OP


Meditation with Donagh O’Shea OP

Donagh is am Irish Dominican priest, currently director of the Dominican Retreat Centre, Tallaght, Dublin. A native of Co. Cork, he has lectured on spirituality in many countries including Britain, Italy, Ireland, Switzerland, USA, Albania and Philippines. From 1989 to 1996 he taught in Rome at the Regional Mundi Institute and at the Beda.

Donagh is a prolific writer and some of his publications can be seen on his website,


He will be in New Zealand in September, travelling to different centres, giving a series of retreats, days of reflection, days of contemplation.

Details will come later but you may like to note in your diary the days he will be near you:

3-5 Sept. Palmerston North

6-10 Wellington

11-17 Auckland

18-23 Dunedin

24-25 Oamaru

27-29 Invercargill

30 – 2 Oct. Arrowtown/Cromwell

The bustling city with the still centre: this is symbolic of every person’s life.  There is a vast amount of turbulence in our Church and in our country at present.  We will not survive the storms by running away from them, but rather by going into the still centre.

Donagh O’Shea OP

Blessings and peace.

Mike Kelly and Jenny Wilson Co-ordinators

Ph 06 370 2084