Father Joe Amar is a powerful, yet contemplative, preacher rooted in his study and prayer with St. Ephrem. He is professor emeritus of Syriac and Arabic languages at the University of Notre Dame, an author for America and Commonweal magazines, and currently writing Ephrem’s biography. He is ordained in the Syriac Maronite Rite.
Father Michael Demkovich, OP, is a Dominican friar who has written on spirituality, theology, and Meister Eckhart for journals and books. He holds a PhD and a Pontifical Doctorate from the Katholiek Universiteit Leuven in Flanders, Belgium. From 1981-1986, Father Michael taught and worked in campus ministry at Aquinas College in Grand Rapids. Father Demkovich taught in St. Louis, Missouri, from 1991-1996 before becoming the founding director of the Dominican Ecclesial Institute in Albuquerque, New Mexico. In 2009, he was named the Gerald Vann Visiting Fellow at Blackfriars, Oxford. He served as president of the International Dominican Foundation and is currently serving in the Archdiocese of Santa Fe as the Episcopal Vicar for Doctrine and Life.
Sharon Garlough Brown is a spiritual director, speaker, and co-founder of Abiding Way Ministries, providing spiritual formation retreats and resources. She is the author of Shades of Light, the Shades of Light Study Guide, Remember Me, and the bestselling Sensible Shoes series, which includes the spiritual formation novels Sensible Shoes, Two Steps Forward, Barefoot, An Extra Mile, and their study guides.
A gifted pastor, teacher, writer, and leader, AJ Sherrill has more than 15 years of pastoral experience in diverse church settings across the nation. He is the author of Enneagram and the Way of Jesus, Quiet: Hearing God Amidst the Noise and Urban Disciple: Following Jesus through the Gospel of Matthew. He currently is the lead pastor at Mars Hill Bible Church.
Shannon Cohen, Inc. [SCI] is a boutique firm founded and operated by Shannon Cohen. Shannon helps leaders honestly uncover and address the tough challenges they face behind their smiles, titles, and roles, and helps organizations tackle the issues they wrestle with behind closed doors. Shannon creates safe spaces for leaders and organizations to unveil their truth and walks alongside leaders to strategize and pace solutions that yield results.
The Shannon Cohen, Inc. brand consists of three components:  Motivational Speaking and Corporate Training,  A positive affirmations retail product line, and  Book/Leadership Blog, and  Equity and Inclusion work. Shannon’s work has taken her to serve the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy as well as systems and organizations across the Midwest.
Shannon’s heart beats for what she lovingly calls, “rockstar difference makers” - leaders who are pillars in their homes, marketplaces, and communities. Her Tough Skin, Soft Heart messages encourage rockstar women to lay down the burden of perfection, invincibility, and fearlessness to practice self-care. Her authentic and inspiring messages are catching—they pull you in and lift you up, leaving you confident in your purpose. Outside her writing and speaking, Shannon serves as an adjunct faculty member at Grand Valley State University, is the co-founder of Sisters Who Lead, the 2017 ATHENA Young Professional Award Recipient, and was recently named among the 2018 50 Most Influential Women in West Michigan by the Grand Rapids Business Journal. She is active in her community and gives freely of her time and energy so that other leaders can thrive at the intersection of joy and purpose in every aspect of their lives.
Fred Bahnson is the author of Soil & Sacrament about which environmentalist Bill McKibben wrote, “This book is profoundly, beautifully down to earth, which is almost certainly where we all need to spend more time on a planet in crisis.” His essays have appeared in Harper’s, Oxford American, Emergence, Orion, The Sun, Image, and Best American Spiritual Writing 2007. He is founding director of the Food, Health, and Ecological Well-being Program at the Wake Forest University School of Divinity and is at work on a new book exploring contemplative responses to the climate crisis
Sister Chela Gonzalez, OP, was appointed Vocations Director for the Dominican Sisters ~ Grand Rapids in July 2016, after three years of being on the vocations team. For more than 30 years she has served in a variety of ministries at both the parish and diocesan levels.
Sister Chela's leadership experience includes acting as Diocesan Director of the Office of Catechesis for the Diocese of Boise. She also served in the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, where she met the Dominican Sisters. Other ministerial experiences include Director of Permanent Deacon Formation for the Diocese of Fort Worth and Catechetical Formation in the Archdiocese of San Antonio. At the parish level, Sister Chela has served as a Pastoral Administrator, Director of Religious Education, Director of Youth Ministries, and has taught in Catholic schools.
Although she has never taken an art course, Sister Chela considers herself an artist. She attributes her artistic talents to her parents who encouraged her siblings and her by making up games that included drawing. Sister Chela is also fluent in both Spanish and English.
Teresa Pasquale Mateus, LCSW, E-RYT 200, is an author, speaker, teacher, professor, and the executive director and co-founder of The Mystic Soul Project. She has served as a trauma psychotherapist/traumatologist for more than a decade of her career. She is a graduate of NYU School of Clinical Social Work, Sivananda Yoga Teacher Training, and the Living School at the Center for Action & Contemplation.
Teresa is the author of Mending Broken: A Personal Journey Through the Stages of Trauma & Recovery as well as Sacred Wounds: A Path to Healing From Spiritual Trauma. Her upcoming book (working) titled Going Naked: The Camino de Santiago and Life as Pilgrimage is in progress. She has also contributed to a number of collected works, articles, print and podcast interviews, and presentations at various conferences in her areas of expertise - sitting at the intersections of trauma/healing, spirituality/contemplation, and action/justice-seeking.
Beyond that, she lives in Chicago in a little studio she calls her "hermitage in the city" with her two dogs - Gaia and Faith.
Sister Janet Brown's early years in ministry were spent teaching primary grades in Michigan and in New Mexico. She taught in many settings – urban, inner-city, farm, and pueblo communities. She treasured ministering in the Saginaw Diocese with Ken Untener as Bishop. Now, Sister Janet is the liturgical life director at Marywood. In this role, she strives to serve and model inclusivity in the liturgical life of the community.
Sister Joyce Ann Hertzig's early teaching ministry in Saginaw, St. Joseph-Sacred Heart allowed her to experience cooperative efforts of African American, Hispanic, and Anglo students and families. Through study, action, and conscience raising discussions, seeds of justice were planted. Issues of poverty, racism, and the cost of war propelled her to search for ways to be in solidarity with the ONE human family.
Working with teachers and curriculum in Catholic Schools – Mobile Alabama Archdiocese; supporting Parish Social Ministry – Atlanta Georgia Archdiocese; promoting the Bishop’s Justice for Immigrants and Catholic Campaign for Human Development were opportunities for Sister Joyce Ann to preach justice. Engaging others created a strong voice for those with none.
After serving on the Dominican Sisters leadership team, Sister Joyce Ann is now a professional tutor with adult immigrants.
Sister Nancy Sylvester, IHM, founder of the Institute for Communal Contemplation and Dialogue, ministered for 15 years on the staff of NETWORK, a Catholic social justice lobby in Washington, D.C. Following her service at NETWORK, Sister Nancy was elected to the IHM Leadership Council. During her six-year term, she was elected as president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. After her term, she founded the Institute for Communal Contemplation and Dialogue, which addresses the transformation of consciousness through contemplation. She is a national and international speaker and a published author.
As a practitioner of interspiritual direction, Cami firmly believes that the sacred resides deep with each of us. Interspiritual direction takes its lead from the seeker, whether through a practiced traditional faith-based experience or through a more eclectic spirituality. We encounter the sacred through our own life’s journey and bear a sense that there is something more to our experience of life. Interspiritual direction accompanies the seeker as they move deeper into the sacred, the holy.
Cami journeys with soul seekers as they explore their spiritual longings, hopes, and dreams by tapping into their own wisdom as it is divinely sourced through the source of all wisdom. Each session consists of a practice of attentive prayerful listening, deep noticing, and naming. Along with interspiritual direction, Cami is experienced in offering spiritual direction to those who are in spiritual distress due to spiritual woundedness, crisis, or spiritual abuse. We often have a language around physical and mental distress, but we don’t always have the awareness that we are experiencing spiritual distress. Spiritual direction offers a safe, sacred space to explore our wounds and find a sense of healing. Cami is humbled and privileged to accompany those with whom she enters this relationship of sacred exploration and deep trust.
Brian J. Plachta is a writer, spiritual director, and speaker. A lay ecclesial minister for thirty-five years, Brian holds a master's in pastoral counseling and is a frequent teacher on a broad variety of practical spirituality topics at workshops, retreats, conference centers, and colleges. He is an adjunct faculty member at the Dominican Spiritual Life Center in Michigan and is the founding partner of Plachta, Murphy & Associates, where he practices law. Brian’s passion is helping men and women discover their Inner Compass—the divine voice of wisdom in their souls.
Brian’s blog, Simple Wisdom for Everyday Living, has more than a thousand subscribers, and he’s been sending a new blog post to his subscribers every week since April 2016. He is also the author of two self-published books: Pillars of Steel: How Real Men Draw Strength from Each Other and Life’s Toolbox: Blueprints Included.
A life-long learner, Brian recently graduated from the two-year program at the Rohr Institute for Action and Contemplation and has taken theological courses at Western Theological Seminary and Creighton University. Brian has been a spiritual director for twenty-five years and volunteers at Guiding Light Mission, an addiction recovery center.
He and his wife of thirty-six years live in Grand Rapids, Michigan, with their dog, Riley, and cat, Rascal. Having successfully launched their fourth child, the Plachtas are empty-nesters who now enjoy an ever-growing brood of grandchildren.
Lorilyn Wiering is a soul care practitioner who is passionate about facilitating spiritual freedom rooted in Original Blessing, the acknowledgment that we are made in the image and likeness of God and pronounced to be not only good, but very good. She believes that this Original Blessing finds expression through Open Mind, Open Heart, and Open Will. Trained as a teacher, spiritual director, and Enneagram practitioner, Lorilyn is at ease speaking boldly and listening deeply, always drawing on her commitment to the nurture of her own and others' Open Mind, Open Heart, and Open Will.
An avid gardener, she comes alive in the presence of Nature’s rhythms, recognizing, honoring, and nurturing self and others in seasons of growth, fullness, loss, death, rest, and rebirth. She is married to Vernon, her husband of more than 28 years, and is mom to their three children, Madeleine, Basil, and Reuben.
Sister Megan McElroy has been a Dominican Sister of Grand Rapids since 1988. She ministered for a total of 13 years as a pastoral associate. Her first assignment took her to the cradle of the community in Traverse City where she ministered at St. Patrick Parish and lived at St. Francis Convent. After four years in the northern lower peninsula, she returned to her home Archdiocese of Detroit where she ministered for nine years at St. Blase Catholic Community in Sterling Heights. After earning her Master of Divinity from Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, Megan taught theology at Woodlands Academy of the Sacred Heart, an all-girls Catholic high school in the north shore area of Chicago. She was then called to eight years of formation ministry as co-director of the Collaborative Dominican Novitiate in St. Louis, MO. During her time in St. Louis, she successfully completed her Doctor of Ministry in Preaching at Aquinas Institute, St. Louis, MO.
Diane Zerfas, OP, is the coordinator for the Spirituality Center for Dominican Center at Marywood, and is deeply involved in the center's Spiritual Formation programs through the planning and teaching of Foundations in Spirituality, Spiritual Companioning, and Spiritual Direction Practicum. She holds bachelor's degrees in math, chemistry, theology, and education from Aquinas College; master's degrees in Arts in Religious Studies and in Pastoral Studies; a Specialized Certificate in Parish Life and Administration; and a Certificate in Spiritual Direction. Sr. Diane has ministered in many ways, including teaching high school as well as serving as formation director for Grand Rapids Dominicans, initiation and evangelization director at St. Mary Magdalen in Kentwood, Diocesan director of RCIA for the Diocese of Grand Rapids, co-director of Pastoral Life at Marywood, and leadership team member for the Dominican Sisters ~ Grand Rapids.
Carmelita Switzer, OP, serves as a staff facilitator and presenter for Dominican Center at Marywood. She holds a Master of Arts Degree in Religious Studies from Aquinas College and a Master of Arts Degree in Biblical Studies from Providence College. She completed Pastoral Studies with an emphasis in Formation Studies at Aquinas Institute on the campus of St. Louis University. Her ministries include teaching, pastoral ministry in a parish setting, and pastoral administration in a parish that had no priest. She has also spent time in ministry on behalf of the Grand Rapids Dominican Sisters as director of formation and as co-director of Pastoral Life for the Marywood Campus. Coming from a rural farm community background she loves Michigan’s many lakes and natural beauty and God’s creatures large and small. Study of spirituality and living an integrated contemplative and active lifestyle have been long-time interests and priorities.
Ann Walters, OP, earned her master’s degree in Christian spirituality from Creighton University. Sr. Ann is active in leading adult faith formation classes, workshops, and seminars; preaching at and directing retreats; and providing spiritual direction. Her past work includes serving as co-director of Collaborative Dominican Novitiate of the United States Dominican Women’s Congregations; director of formation for Grand Rapids Dominicans; and elementary and high school education administration. She has also been active in inner-city ministries in Detroit; Chicago; rural northern Michigan; St. Louis, Missouri; and Gusau, Nigeria, West Africa.
Sister Joan Williams, OP, received a bachelor’s in music education, a master’s in theology from Aquinas College (AIRS program), as well as a Master of Theological Studies from Catholic Theological Union in Chicago.
Sister Joan taught music to students in preschool through high school at Marywood Academy (early grades), in multiple schools in Saginaw, while commuting to St. Boniface, Bay City, and St. John’s in Essexville. Parish liturgical music, choirs, piano, organ, and band and guitar lessons were always part of her daily and weekly program. Her home base was in the multicultural-racial and bilingual parish of Saint Joseph in Saginaw. Following the II Vatican Council she began doing adult formation to help make the necessary transitions of thought and practice of religious expression in liturgy and sacrament.
Sister Joan also served as Coordinator of Religious Education for the Hispanic population in twenty parishes while working in the pastoral center of Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. It was there that she received the call to discern mission in San Pedro Sula, Honduras. God and her pilgrim spirit led her to respond.
To best prepare for this call, she studied Spanish and theology for a semester at Xavier University in Bogota, Columbia. Living among the people of San Pedro Sula from 1998 through 2017, she provided theological pastoral formation, accompanied men and women in prison, and provided HIV education and support to multiple families with children HIV+.
Nancy Brousseau, OP, has been a spiritual and retreat director for more than 30 years. She facilitates an interfaith committee, and her work with group spiritual direction with the people of the Heartside Neighborhood in Grand Rapids is published in Group Spiritual Direction: The Lived Experience. She offers ecumenical retreats, spiritual direction, workshops, and programs in prayer, spirituality, and spiritual formation for churches in Michigan, Indiana, and Ohio. Sr. Nancy has certificates in the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius and Spiritual Direction, and is a certified grief-recovery specialist. She was director of Dominican Center at Marywood for five years and director of Spirituality Programs for six years. Sr. Nancy has a Master of Arts in Religious Education, a Master of Divinity, and a Doctor of Ministry in Spiritual Direction. She taught middle school students for 17 years and served five years in school administration.
Jeanette Banashak has been teaching and leading international trips since 1998. Professionally, her interdisciplinary focus includes education, spiritual formation, creativity, and Spanish. She holds two doctorates in education and a certificate in Spiritual Direction and the Enneagram. Most recently, she completed her dissertation on the interrelationship between creativity and contemplative prayer/meditation. She is passionate about creating experiences where people interact in new cultural environments. She is a Creativity Coach and former Professor of Creativity. When she's not teaching, she enjoys playing board games and telling stories.
Brian is a certified spiritual director and volunteer with the Kaufman Institute, serving the Grand Rapids interfaith community. He is passionate about helping people become aware of their own inner journey while affirming their individual path or tradition. He believes we each have a unique love language with the Divine, and through spiritual practice we are able to find wholeness and experience meaningful spiritual connection.
Brian has lived overseas and traveled extensively, both professionally and on various faith pilgrimages. He is a contemplative at heart and believes what we all need most is healing (body, mind, spirit) and connection (with each other and the Divine).
When Brian is not working with Dominican Center and Kaufman Institute, he manages a team of architects for Steelcase, where he has worked for 25 years. He holds a master's degree in contract law and has served on many boards.
Kim Bartz has more than 10 years of experience as a social worker. She is a graduate of Western Michigan University’s Master’s of Social Work program and has a clinical license in the State of Michigan. She has worked with people from all different backgrounds and walks of life. Currently, she is a mental health counselor in her own private practice in Caledonia.
Joshua Banner is director of The Invitation, a resource for spiritual direction, retreats, teaching, and consulting. He is also creator and host of the Invitation's podcast, which serves the spiritually hungry and has a special focus on pastors and prisoners. Much of Josh's joy is discovering how God is actively involved in the lives of the men he prays with at the EC Brooks Correctional Facility in Muskegon, Michigan.
Josh has served extensively in local churches and in campus ministries in worship arts and discipleship. He has degrees in literature and philosophy (Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois); a master's in interdisciplinary studies (Regent College, Vancouver, British Columbia); and is currently writing a dissertation on the spirituality of confinement for a Doctor of Ministry in spiritual direction (Fuller Seminary, Pasadena, California). Josh is also an adjunct professor at Hope College in the Studies in Ministry.
Josh and his wife, poet Susanna Childress, their two sons Casper and Shepherd, and daughter Merritt live in Holland, Michigan.
Nahed Fernando is a certified spiritual director in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Nahed emigrated from Egypt to America at a young age and has a diverse Christian church background and multicultural perspective that informs her worldview. She enjoys sharing contemplative readings of Scripture and meditative prayer processes one-on-one or within group settings. Nahed is a former homeschool mother and enjoys reading, writing, watercolor journaling, and sharing tea-time with others. She also offers retreats guiding others through meditation on God’s word with the use of watercolors.
After discovering the Zentangle® Method on her own, Amy W.M. Kam felt called to share this relaxing and transformative drawing practice with many others. She pursued certification by Zentangle founders Maria Thomas and Rick Roberts. As an avid “Tangler,” runner, gardener, and breast cancer survivor, Amy seeks to share the life lessons embedded within the patterns her students learn through simple step-by-step instructions and the outcome of beautiful pieces of art.
Amy derives her greatest joy as an instructor when a student uncovers a new appreciation of their own uniqueness and embraces the diverse beauty of different patterns they see around the table.
Amy serves on the Big Brother Big Sister Advisory Council at D.A. Blodgett-St. Johns, is a founding member and treasurer of Sole Sisters, and serves the Sunday Assembly at Dominican Center at Marywood Chapel in multiple ministry capacities.
When I began practicing yoga more than 15 years ago, I realized the many benefits that this approach to wellness has to offer. I wanted to share this practice that nurtures mind, body, and spirit with others so I completed yoga teacher training through Prairie Yoga in 2015. I have completed additional training through LifeForce Yoga, focusing on yoga to manage anxiety and depression, and I am certified in children’s yoga through Global Family Yoga. I believe that yoga is accessible and beneficial to everyone and I adapt the practice to meet the needs of my students.
Mindy Hills is a spiritual director and assists with retreat coordination at Dominican Center. For her directees, she holds a grace-filled space so they can deepen their awareness of how God illuminates their faith journeys. Mindy is attuned with spiritual wisdom and loving intentions to walk with others. She believes when we connect with our inner light, we renew our sense of joy, thereby empowering our soul's purpose to reveal itself. Mindy's experience also includes working as both a respiratory and physical therapist, which allows her to lead with a compassionate heart for enhancing wellness.
Sister Mary Kay Oosdyke, OP, earned a Bachelor of Arts and a Master of Arts in religious education from Aquinas College and an MA in education from Michigan State University. Later, she earned an MA in systematic theology from the Aquinas Institute of Theology in St. Louis and a PhD in theology and education from Boston College.
Sister Mary Kay began her teaching career in 1965 in elementary schools in Michigan. In 1972, she began teaching at Aquinas College, first in the education department and later in the theology department. In the 1990s, Sister Mary Kay was the director of the Graduate Ministry Program at Ursuline College in Cleveland, Ohio, and in 2003 she became academic dean at Aquinas Institute of Theology in St. Louis, Missouri.
From 2008-2017, Sister Mary Kay served as director of the congregation’s Associate Life program and the taught theology at Aquinas College. For relaxation, she enjoys film, reading, dinner with friends, and kayaking.
Today, Sister Mary Kay Oosdyke is supporting pastors and parish staff by providing adult formation and spiritual formation workshops, seminars, and retreats.
Born in Denver, Colorado, Barry Brown was inspired to capture the beauty of the world in photographs from a young age. The son of a modern architect and educated in electrical engineering during his tenure in the Army, Barry is blessed with both technical skills and an eye for aesthetics.
With a bachelor’s degree in business and a minor in visual arts from the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, Barry launched a full-time photography studio in 2001 and quickly became a leading photographer in Colorado Springs.
Since earning a master’s degree in healthcare management from Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, Oregon in 2012, Barry has worked primarily the healthcare field and now consults in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Barry practices photography part time and is known for his intimate and emotional portraits. His knowledge of lighting, camera functions, and editing allow Barry to focus the viewer’s eye on the subject without distraction. Barry seeks to make photography accessible to all and enjoys sharing his knowledge and skills with others.
Susan is passionately committed to continually living a life of authenticity and to loving herself and others fiercely, knowing that her heart’s wisdom will never lead her astray. She feels deep gratitude for many things: vibrant relationships, yoga, meditation, nature, travel, a good book, and abundant laughter.
Susan’s heartfelt intention is to help her clients remember their wholeness. She specializes in assisting individuals to understand their core stories and to see how these stories can negatively impact their health, their relationships, their happiness, and their ability to fulfill their life’s purpose. She offers concrete ways to help people let go of thoughts and perceptions that prevent them from living a life filled with love, peace, and joy.
Although Susan has been an energy intuitive since childhood, in 2004 she pursued formal training with Master Intuitive Kathy Reider of Intuitive Services Inc. and with Reiki Master Jan Atwood, LLC. After working for several years with Kathy and with Jan, she earned her Reiki Master certification and honed her innate intuitive energy reading abilities. She has been an intuitive counselor and energy therapist in private practice ever since.
Susan holds a graduate certificate in Holistic Health from Western Michigan University and has taught WMU’s graduate course on managing stress. She is a certified integrative life coach with The Ford Institute, specializing in Jungian shadow work; a 500-hour yoga teacher with more than ten years of teaching experience; a Reiki master; a certified labyrinth facilitator with Veriditas; and a holistic stress management facilitator with The Paramount Wellness Institute.
In addition to working privately with clients as an intuitive counselor and as an energy therapist at The Eagle Park Wellness Collective in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Susan hosts retreats and presents transformative workshops as well as offers private yoga therapy, breath work intensives, meditation sessions, and weekly public yoga classes.
To learn more about Susan, please see her website www.susanduesbery.com