What's Happening


Sister Mariane Fahlman, OP, walks part of her 241-mile El Camino pilgrimage, behind cut-outs of walkers.

June 15, 2023, Santiago, Spain – Many Sisters make an annual retreat during the summer, and some even participate in a 30-day retreat. But Sister Mariane Fahlman, OP, made a special retreat this year: a three-week, 241-mile trek on the Camino de Santiago, the famous pilgrimage to Santiago, Spain. 

“The Camino for me was like a retreat, an internal journey,” Sister Mariane said in an interview after her adventure in May. “The Camino is the closest I will come to a 30-day retreat.”

Active and athletic, Sister Mariane is Professor of Kinesiology, Health, and Sports Studies at Wayne State University in Detroit. Given her background, walking the El Camino seemed to be a natural fit.

“I’ve been a backpacker all my life,” Sister Mariane said. “I did a lot of the Appalachian Trail from Maine to Pennsylvania and almost all the peaks in the Adirondack Mountains. I’ve always found backpacking and hiking to be a reflective and peaceful experience, so when I heard about the Camino, I was immediately intrigued.”

Sister Mariane reconnected with a friend for 45 years, Cindy, and heard she also wanted to walk El Camino so they decided to take the pilgrimage together. “We actually had plane tickets for April of 2020,” she said – but their plans were thwarted by the COVID-19 pandemic. “So now, three years later, we were finally able to do it.”

The Route
Sister Mariane said she was surprised to learn that there was not just one El Camino del Santiago, but several. “The most famous one is the Camino from France to Santiago,” a 500-mile walk that would take six to seven weeks to complete, she said. “I didn’t feel comfortable being out of the country that long and it would be irresponsible of me to ignore my ministry e-mail for six weeks, so we elected to do the second most popular route – Porto, Portugal, to Santiago.” 
The 154-mile route can easily be accomplished in 10-14 days, she said, but they added the “spiritual route” to allow them to stay at a monastery. The extra route – and the trip to Finisterre (“the end of the Earth”), recommended by Sister Durstyne Farnan, OP, brought their journey to 241 miles in three weeks.
Like a conventional retreat, El Camino involved a certain rhythm to the day, Sister Mariane recalled. “Every day you get up, you eat a light breakfast, and you start walking,” she said. “Stop along the way for rest, water, and the occasional chocolate croissant, arrive at your hotel, shower, wash your clothes, find dinner, go to bed, wash, rinse, repeat. One foot in front of the other for hours every day.” Sister Mariane especially appreciated the lack of distractions – “no phone, no news, nothing but you and the trail.”
The route itself gave the two pilgrims much time for reflection. The first three days were on the coastal route along the Atlantic Ocean, and much of the rest, on the Central Route, took them through farmlands, eucalyptus forests, and woods with streams. “No matter where we were, it was beautiful and perfect for reflection,” Sister Mariane recalled.

Sister Mariane rests along the way during her
three-week El Camino pilgrimage.

Surprises, Challenges, and Lessons
Though the rhythm sounds pleasant, Sister Mariane said she also found surprises and challenges along the way. She was surprised to discover that her fitness and training did not prepare her for the rigors of El Camino. “I was not ready for the terrain,” she said. “Every step had the potential for you to fall.” Her back foot often got caught on a cobblestone or on roots. “After a while I slowed down and started to pay attention to the ground,” she said.
She became acutely aware that she wasn’t fully prepared for the pilgrimage four days in, when one of her students, Heather, and her boyfriend, John, joined them for the walk. “Day four was when we had the boulder climb,” Sister Mariane recalled. “I watched Heather scamper up the boulders like a chipmunk, while I stood below, surveying them and trying to decide the safest way to ascend without risking my life. At that point, it occurred to me that Heather turns 50 this year, and when I was 50, I was still running marathons. … I can mitigate the impacts of aging a bit, but I cannot stop it.”
The experience of the walk taught Sister Mariane and Cindy other important spiritual lessons. On the third day, Sister Mariane recalled she and Cindy realized that carrying their 20-pound backpacks all day was a hindrance: they were too heavy and often threw them off balance. Following the example of Cindy’s experience with AA, they changed their thinking, and, for two days, shipped their packs ahead of them to a designated hotel.
“This was helpful, but the one thing we both wanted was the ability to be spontaneous – to stay in a town if we liked it and to walk until we either couldn’t walk anymore or found a town we wanted to stay in,” Sister Mariane explained. “Shipping our packs ahead daily made this not possible.” 
They emptied their packs of anything they wouldn’t need for the journey and shipped them to the hotel where they would stay on the final day. “My pack was now close to 10 pounds and I could easily walk 20 or more miles with it,” Sister Mariane said. “Lesson learned: get rid of the baggage and you’ll walk easier and lighter.” She took it a step further: “Take only what you need, not what you think you might need. The trail may turn me into a mendicant yet.”  

Sister Mariane places the special intentions of family
members, friends, Sisters, and Associates,
represented by a shell.

Along with the physical load of her backpack, Sister Mariane also carried with her the intentions of Adrian Dominican Sisters. “All along the route, there are places where people have left prayer intentions, and I carried the intentions of our Adrian Dominican family with me at all times,” she explained. “Cindy brought a bunch of shells with her, and we placed them at every prayer spot.”
Along with the scenery and the time for reflection, Sister Mariane counted the people she met in the cities and towns along the way as a highlight of her El Camino experience. “One of the things that was very dear to me was how proud the people were of their history,” she said. “If I spoke any Spanish at all, they would go to great lengths to explain all the wonderful things about their history.” The people were also proud of the Camino route and solicitous of the pilgrims, always pointing the way to Santiago when Sister Mariane and Cindy took the wrong path. “One woman said to us in English, ‘Always, someone to help you.’” 

Finesterre – the “end of the world” – gets its name
from the vast stretch of ocean, giving the
impression of being at the end of the world.

Another highlight was Sister Mariane’s experience of Finisterre (End of the Earth), the cape on the coast of Spain so named by the ancient Romans because, at that point, they could walk no further and saw only the ocean. “The End of the Earth was well worth the extra walk,” she said. She and Cindy followed the tradition of leaving something behind as a symbol of starting a new life. They left the last shells, “our final tribute to all those we carried with us on the journey.”
But to Sister Mariane, finally arriving at Santiago was less of a highlight. By the time they arrived in the city, the square was crowded and the cathedral – site of the daily Pilgrim Mass – was too full for them to enter. However, Sister Mariane said, they attended the Pilgrim Mass the next day and heard their names announced as pilgrims who had completed their journey.
Sister Mariane encouraged anybody who is so inclined to make the El Camino pilgrimage. “Everyone’s Camino is their own and there is no right way,” she said. “The Camino will tell you what you need. You just have to listen.” 

Specify Alternate Text

September 1, 2016, Adrian, Michigan — Five Adrian Dominican Sisters are attending the Jubilee International Congress on the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights: Past, Present, and Future. The Congress begins Thursday, September 1 and concludes Sunday, September 4 in Salamanca, Spain, at the Convent of San Esteban Protomártir.

Patricia Siemen, OP, Prioress, was invited to facilitate one of the workshops and to draft a policy paper that will form the basis for action by Dominican chapters, provinces, and congregations worldwide. Sister Pat's paper expands on human rights to include the rights of all of creation, drawing on her experience as founding director of the Center for Earth Jurisprudence, and on Pope Francis' 2015 encyclical, Laudato Sí

The General Council asked two of our Sisters who work with children from displaced communities to participate: Basilia De la Cruz, OP, principal of Espíritu Santo Fe y Alegría School in Baní, Dominican Republic; and Jolyn "Jules" Dungo, OP, who ministers with the indigenous Aeta people at Villa Maria, Porac, Pampanga, in the Philippines. 

Also invited to the Congress are Luisa Campos, OP, champion of human rights and founding director of Centro Antonio Montesino in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, and Durstyne Farnan, OP, past Justice and Peace Promoter for North America, currently ministering in peace and justice with the School Sisters of St. Francis in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. 

The international Congress is intended for Dominicans who work in human rights and social justice ministry, academics and scholars specializing in human rights, leaders and faculty members of Dominican universities, those who work with indigenous peoples, and experts in international law.

The historic convent is the site of the School of Salamanca, where Dominican Friar Francisco de Vitoria, informed by the experience of Dominicans such as Antonio de Montesinos and Bartolomé de las Casas, articulated the beginnings of international human rights law by challenging the harsh treatment of the indigenous peoples of the Americas. The Congress is intended to be part of the "Salamanca Process" initiated by the Dominican men at their last General Chapter to more closely link study and intellectual life with ministry. It will begin on Thursday evening with a keynote address by Bruno Cadoré, OP, Master of the Order.


Feature photo: Clockwise, from top left, Sisters Luisa Campos, OP, Durstyne Farnan, OP, Jolyn "Jules" Dungo, OP, and Basilia De la Cruz, OP, are all attending the Jubilee International Congress on the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights: Past, Present, and Future with Sister Pat Siemen, OP, Prioress.



Search News Articles

Recent Posts

Read More »