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A pilgrimage of formation

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When 50 junior and senior girls from Saint John Paul the Great Catholic High School in Potomac Shores spend four days traveling together, friendships form and memories are made. Over the years, Dominican Sister Ann Dominica Mahowald has witnessed the impact a trip to the motherhouse of the Nashville Dominicans can have on travelers. Sister Ann Dominic enjoys a unique perspective on the school's trips; she has participated since the first.

Sister Ann Dominica was in the novitiate for the school's first trip to Nashville in March 2011. The group was small in size and included students from all grades, but she remembers the arrival of the first group of girls. "It was like welcoming family home," she said. Sister Ann Dominic knew most of the girls from her previous years teaching at John Paul the Great before she entered the Dominican order.  On the first trip, the students spent the day sightseeing and enjoyed evenings and activities at the motherhouse.

In recent years, the journey has become an especially popular experience and is now offered exclusively to juniors and seniors.

"The trip to the motherhouse has changed over the years," she said. "Our time spent in Nashville is more intentional, whereas before the students were just excited to be going, we now focus on experiencing the Dominican charism in origin — the students are on a pilgrimage of formation."

The four days away offer the young women an opportunity to see how the sisters live each day. They learn about the Dominican charism by spending time with the sisters, listening to talks and asking questions. Mae Salitsky, an English teacher at John Paul, spoke of the girls' recent experience. She was impressed by how the girls interacted with the infirmed sisters. "The most beautiful thing is not that the girls think they are doing a great work of mercy, but rather they are genuinely receiving the joy and wisdom these sisters have to offer," she said.

The girls also took part in lots of fun and meaningful activities such as exploring nature around the beautiful convent, periods of meditation and prayer, and even participated in a service project at Aquinas College in Nashville.

John Paul the Great recognizes the positive impact a visit to the motherhouse can have on someone as they experience firsthand the Nashville Dominicans. This June, for the first time since opening, Sister Ann Dominic will lead a group of John Paul the Great faculty and staff on a pilgrimage to the Motherhouse and Aquinas College in Nashville. Sister anticipates that the pilgrimage will strengthen the St. John Paul and Dominican Charism(s) at the school. She also believes the faculty and staff will share an experience similar to the one experienced by the student travelers. New bonds will be formed and the John Paul will community will be strengthened by this pilgrimage of formation. "They will make the Dominican Charism their own, and that is the best way to pass it on-- by sharing in a lived experience."

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2020