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Reflections on the Fanjeaux Seminar

Several students, faculty and staff from Dominican University of California have taken part in the Summer Fanjeaux Seminars over the past few years.

Feel free to contact us for more information:

Ruth Ramsey and Susana Palma have written about their experiences at Fanjeaux below:

Ruth Ramsey - summer 2001

Assistant Professor and Director, Occupational Therapy

This summer I had the privilege of traveling to Fanjeaux, France, to be part of a learning community of students, staff, and faculty from Dominican universities and colleges throughout the United States. It was a wonderful experience, one that I heartily recommend for any member of our own Dominican community.

When I was asked to say a few words here today to the new faculty, I was at a loss to know how to adequately express the richness and diversity of that experience. How to describe the wonder of the French countryside at dawn, the air alive with birdsong, the fields ripe with wheat and grapes, the coolness of the stone walls? The pleasure of a walk down the hill past secret gardens bursting with roses for a fresh croissant or pain au chocolate shared with friends over a bowl of café latte? The daily lessons in the life and times of St. Dominic, given by exemplary individuals, whose knowledge, love of learning, and enthusiasm for sharing was infectious? The heartfelt discussions that followed, as we talked about how to incorporate Dominican values into our daily work?

I often think metaphorically, and the Fanjeaux experience has struck me as a metaphor for how to approach the challenge of working at Dominican. Early in the experience, we were asked to think of Fanjeaux as a sort of pilgrimage. We were told how the early Christian pilgrims set their affairs in order, said goodbye to the new and familiar, and set their foot on a path trod by others before, but still new to them. They took the path prayerfully, mindfully, asking themselves what were they willing to give up in order make room for something new to enter. What gifts did they hope to discover, and how did they plan to share those gifts? This " pilgrim mind" is useful for us here at Dominican, and these are also good questions to ask ourselves.

At Fanjeaux, I learned that breaking bread and sharing meals on a daily basis is the best foundation for friendship, understanding, and tolerance. This is why I am especially pleased and excited that we finally have a faculty/staff lounge to call our own, and I plan to eat lunch there as often as possible, spending time in communion with my colleagues. Of course, at Fanjeaux, we were served wine with lunch!

At Fanjeaux, I experienced the bridging of generations, as faculty and staff reached out to and shared our wisdom with the students, and the students shared their energy and playfulness with us. This too, is something I gain from my experience here at Dominican.

At Fanjeaux, we lived simply, eating the same meals, living in small, basic rooms, and sharing one washing machine for 40 people. Resources were limited, but by sharing, we found there was more than enough to go around, and often some left over. Here at Dominican, resources are often frustratingly limited, but when we share what we have, things somehow get taken care of.

At Fanjeaux, we were all challenged, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, to look at our religious and spiritual beliefs, to understand the religious and spiritual beliefs of others, and to find ways to put our beliefs into practice. Small daily things served as reminders that we were all there together to accomplish something and that everyone’s efforts counted. We were asked to help out in any way we could, and all responded, whether it was leading songs, clearing dishes, directing plays, or counting heads.

At Fanjeaux, we witnessed the sweep of time, from prehistoric cave drawings to modern Paris, and took time to think about and appreciate people who have been inspired by their beliefs to build churches, write music, create beautiful paintings and sculpture, and work to help the poor and afflicted. At Dominican, there are also opportunities amidst the hurry for reflection, and for appreciating the beauty around us.

At Fanjeaux, I met many new and wonderful people, and spent time talking with and getting to know them. We are a wonderful community here at Dominican as well. As I enter my sixth year, I regret that I have allowed myself to be so busy I still do not know and fully appreciate all who work here. Dominican and Fanjeaux are both about community, cooperation, and a shared vision of education.

Three exceptional Dominican sisters led the Fanjeaux Experience. Like the three good fairies in Sleeping Beauty, they each brought their gifts and talents to the process. Sr. Jean was the co-leader, fluent in French, knowledgeable about French history and culture, serene and judicious. Co-leader Sr. Patty was the energetic organizer, getting us on and off the bus, pointing out the nearest bathrooms, advising us on food and museums, and shops. Sr. Joan was the teacher poet. Whether gazing up at the statues at Chartres and telling us their stories, telling us about the life of St. Dominic, or directing medieval passion plays, she gladly shared her knowledge with the group. All the Dominican sisters I met at Fanjeaux were wonderful, strong, funny, and spiritual. Their faith and vision has helped sustain this order for over 400 years, and will, I am sure, sustain it into the indefinite future. Similarly, our collective faith and vision can help sustain and enliven Dominican University.

One of my special jobs at Fanjeaux (to which I was appointed by Sr. Patty!) was to count heads as we went on the bus each day for our tours. The lesson I learned from that, and the last one I will share with you today, is that no one goes anywhere until everyone is on the bus! At Dominican, we are always striving for consensus and inclusion, working towards the creation of a learning community. So… welcome aboard. We’re glad you’re here. I hope some of you choose to go to Fanjeaux, and sooner rather then later. You may come back with a clearer vision of Dominican history and values, a deeper sense of yourself, and a renewed commitment to your work. I know I did.

Ruth Ramsey wrote this for a presentation to new faculty on August 14, 2001.

Susana Palma - summer 1998

Undergraduate, International Studies major

My experience on the trip to Fanjeaux will be one of the memories I will carry with me for a lifetime. What started out as an opportunity to go abroad (for the first time) and get three credits, turned into a chance to experience a new culture.

At first I felt overwhelmed by insecurities about the food, traveling, or just how to communicate ( I may have taken French but I surely couldn't remember it!) but Fanjeaux was filled with friendly people willing to listen to my broken sentences. Helpful words like "Bonjour" and "Merci" were learned quickly. Since it was summer school I did have to take classes but it proved to be fun. Learning the history of the Southern region of France made understanding the culture much easier. For any future Fanjeaux students I suggest you bring walking shoes because you'll be doing a lot of it in Paris and in the daily trips while in Fanjeaux (and if you love climbing you'll be in heaven while climbing some of the fortresses). But if I had to name one thing about the Fanjeaux program that made it special, it would be the people on the trip.

Being a small group of only four students, it allowed each of us to become close friends. This closeness was inclusive of the entire group, not just students, which added a special intimacy. I was able to take very special individual memories of everyone there. For a few of us it was our first time in France and being together to see the sites and towns added a special bond to the situation. I went to France to get three credits and go on vacation and ended up learning about French culture, history, seeing wonderful sites and art and best of all making friendships that will remain with me for a lifetime.

Long after my pictures fade or my souvenirs begin to collect dust, I will continue to have my memories of the best three credits I ever got. To me Fanjeaux meant friendship and hopefully also to future Fanjeaux participants.

Susana Palma was an undergraduate at Dominican. She graduated in May 1998.


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