On Saturday June 22, Our Lady of Lourdes Parish Hall was filled with people and an atmosphere of celebration, but also with a sense of recognition and gratitude amongst those gathered who shared a common, profound experience—the Dominican Republic Experience (DRE).
Grey Sisters of the Immaculate Conception Dominican Republic were special guests amongst the priests and Sisters, student participants and parents, principals and teachers, members of the RCCDSB Board and administration team, organizers and supporters who were in attendance… the room was full of people whose lives have been touched and changed over the last 30 years. They shared stories and shed tears of joy.
“Those who go receive a very powerful and wonderful gift in their life,” stated Father Bill Kenney.
In the words of Mark Conrad, RCCDSB DRE Coordinator and emcee for the evening, “The first group in 1989 had no idea what this would evolve into.” He likened it to “a great artwork by God and the first brush stroke was Father Bill Kenney.” In January 1988, Father Kenney had an idea and pitched the concept that it would be meaningful for students to participate in “an experience to see the world from a different perspective.” He shared that idea first with Sister Celia Turcotte and Sister Catherine Fairbairn of the Grey Sisters of the Immaculate Conception. After consultation with Robert Tate (then principal of Bishop Smith Catholic High School), a proposal was drafted and presented to the school board and approved. The concept became a reality only slightly more than a year later.
Three students—Christine Gervais, Paula Spotswood and Michael McCann—along with Fr. Kenney and Director of Education John Stunt made their way to Yamasá in April 1989.
Father Kenney wrote afterwards in his report “The trip far exceeded the goals that were set and all participants have memories that will be with them for the rest of their lives.” Gervais told the gathering on June 22 that it opened her eyes “to the plight as well as the potential of the Dominican people. I am grateful for the profound learning at a pivotal time in life.”
“Transformative” was the word used by Jason Dedo, Chaplaincy Leader and Religious Education Teacher at St. Joseph’s Catholic High School in Renfrew and second year (1990) student participant. He recalls the tremendous welcome from the Dominican people, “the contagious happiness of the people, their acceptance and generosity to strangers.”
Thirty years later, the mission has grown from a team of 5 who stayed with the Sisters, to a team of more than 20 students and adult supervisors who stay with local families; from taking a few school supplies to taking medications, bedding and clothing.
It’s estimated that more than 400 RCCDSB students have taken part in the annual DRE since the inaugural trip. In the words of Father Kenney’s report, students have “…walked with, talked with, laughed with, cried with and found deep friendships with the people…”
They have been exposed to a Third World culture and met people who inspired and motivated them to make Christ a priority, they have become more aware of consumerism in our lives, and become involved with social justice activities within and beyond their communities.
Students who made the trip in February 2019 summed it up succinctly and unanimously with two words: “life changing.”
Conrad, in thanking all those who have been involved—remarkable people like the Grey Sisters who give their lives to live the gospel daily and to helping others, Roger and Gail Perry, the RCCDSB for its continuing support, numerous individuals and organizations—challenged participants: “Don’t stop after one week. Help your neighbours here who suffer poverty, loss, loneliness or poor health. Let it [DRE] be a starting point to be a voice for those who suffer in silence, and be the one to help them.”
On June 22, Principal Clint Young, Bishop Smith Catholic High School in Pembroke and Principal Brennan Trainor St. Joseph’s High School in Renfrew present plaques for their sister schools in the Dominican Republic to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Dominican Republic Experience.
Gathered behind the cake celebrating the 30-year anniversary of the DRE are: Jodi MacDonald, Teacher,RCCDSB, Father Bill Kenney, Sister Lenore Gibb, John Stunt, former RCCDSB Director of Education, Bob Schreader, trustee and former RCCDSB Chair, Jaimie Perry, RCCDSB Director of Education, Sister Noelia Hernandez, Lorne Keon, former RCCDSB Director of Education and Tara Crossman, Social Sciences Program Leader, BSCHS.
July 3rd, 2019
For further information, please contact:
Jaimie Perry, Director of Education
Renfrew County Catholic District School Board
499 Pembroke Street West
Pembroke, ON K8A 5P1
Phone: 613-735-1031 or 1-800-267-0191