Carol Johannes, OP
The Dominican Center, originally named The Detroit Center for Religious Development, was originally founded with the idea that, built on the model of the Center for Religious Development in Cambridge, MA, it would be one of a network of Centers throughout the country, established to introduce contemporary believers in the U.S. to the spirituality of Vatican II. This Detroit Center was meant to assist the people in the pews to develop an adult spirituality which enabled them to form a mature and confident relationship with God. Prior to Vatican II, much of the piety of the tradition tended in some ways to image God as vengeful and punishing, thus grounding the God relationship in childish fear.
For years the Dominican Center collaborated with the Cambridge Center and carried out its programs with the assistance of the Cambridge staff. However, after several decades, the Cambridge Center was moved to Boston College and became part of its School of Ministry, thus becoming a new entity and making collaboration more difficult.
The Dominican Center also provided many programs at the Weber Center on the Adrian Dominican Motherhouse campus, both its Colloquium and its directed retreats. At some point, however, Weber found it necessary to change its policy from sponsoring to hosting our functions, making a change in financial arrangements that resulted in Weber’s being too costly for the Center to manage. At this time, in an attempt to handle our expenses as responsibly as possible, we moved our programs, first to St. Paul of the Cross Passionist Retreat House, and later to Mercy Center in Farmington Hills.
The original Mission Statement of the Dominican Center spoke of assisting all people of faith to develop the contemplative dimension of their lives. This goal remained central to all the programming and remains crucially important to this day. In today’s world, anyone who relates to people of faith in our culture cannot help but notice their hunger for God, their spiritual longings.
Our Dominican charism, “Contemplata aliis tradere,” calls us to help people develop a personal relationship with God. This relationship, however, if healthy and well-directed, always leads to outreach to others, the “act justly” component of the Christian life. Our call to discipleship implies a call to healing, caring, acting on behalf of justice. If that element is lacking, then the spirituality is too inner focused.
Over the years, although our programs have never been limited to women, they have been especially attractive to women, and at this point, the Center can claim a significant role in their faith formation. Our on-line classes were designed with the interests of women in mind, and much more can be done to design programs that nurture the faith of women and move them to a deeper appreciation of their own ministerial gifts and their own dignity before God, something the church at large hardly excels at doing.
Looking toward the future, it might be possible to target various groups of women for special pastoral attention: widows, single mothers, grandmothers, divorcees, etc. Group spiritual direction on a regular basis might also a possibility.
My own experience of working with a women’s group at St. Mary’s Parish in Ann Arbor is not group spiritual direction as such, but it falls into that category. It strikes me that this could be a model for programming that the Center could offer parishes. Over a period of about eight years we have explored, reflected and shared ideas about such varied topics as Women in the New Testament, The Social Justice Message of the Beatitudes, The Great Women Mystics, and The Call to Care for the Environment. Every month we have about forty women participating, and they seem really hungry for the experience of input, prayer and sharing.
Throughout its 40 years, the Dominican Center’s internship for training spiritual directors has remained its largest and most ambitious program. Some today may question the need for training new spiritual directors for the future. But while it’s certainly true that a person can reach heaven without a spiritual director, spiritual direction is one of the most ancient ministries in the church because it addresses a believer’s capacity to relate to God.
Thomas Aquinas said centuries ago what we still believe, and that is that the sole reason God created any one of us among the billions of people who have inhabited the earth, is so that God could be Self-gift to us. And over the centuries, literally thousands, perhaps millions of people have found it immensely helpful to have another person of faith accompany them on their faith journey.
The Dominican Center offers a uniquely sound Internship. Faithful to the 800-year tradition of the Dominican charism and ministries, it is permeated with contemplation, study, community and faith-imbued pastoral ministry.
The internship has long been complemented and supported by an annual Colloquium, Seminars and Book Studyopportunities, and an annual retreat. In recent years through a redesigned website, a revitalized Facebook page, a Twitter account, and the launch of a quarterly newsletter, the Center has extended its services to the larger Dominican world and to all people seeking spiritual resources to support their mission in today’s world.
Individual programs and types of outreach inevitably emerge and fall away over time as needs and ways of communicating evolve. My confidence in the future of the Dominican Center is grounded in its commitment to remain faithful to its mission of assisting all people of faith to develop the contemplative dimension of their lives and to do that by faithfully sharing the fruits of contemplation with others, “Contemplata aliis tradere!” Such is the true “Preaching” of the Dominican tradition we proudly share.
Carol Johannes, OP