Q & A with Sr. Gail Jagroop, facilitating retreats in Trinidad and Tobago

by Soli Salgado

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Since founding the Dominican Wellspring Retreat Center in Trinidad and Tobago in 2012, Sinsinawa Dominican Sr. Gail Jagroop has become more of a "yes" person.

The center began as reflections at school assemblies while Jagroop was still a chemistry and religion teacher and later evolved into parish retreats that last days. Five years ago, after she entered the novitiate, Jagroop decided not to return to teaching, instead dedicating herself to retreat work in the town of St. Joseph, Trinidad.

Although she now lives with two other sisters, "at the time, I was living alone here in a house that was conducive to retreat work. The surroundings, the atmosphere, the space was really kind of a readymade space for retreat work," she told Global Sisters Report. "So we opened the space for retreat, inviting others and sharing the beauty and quiet of the space and prayer."

Drawing students from both primary and secondary schools, parish ministries, candidates for sacraments, pastoral counsels, and several groups, all retreats center on a theme.

Jagroop: If it's primary or secondary schools, I put a lot of activity into it: role plays, art, things that would get them involved in groups. With the adults, it's more reflective. They spend more time in quiet reflection. They, too, are involved in group discussions, but I find that adults don't care as much for role play.

Through it all, I try to insert what I feel God is calling me to whatever theme the group might want. Sometimes in prayer, I insert into all my retreats the things that I know will help them and help build a better country. For example, this year, I found God calling me to develop the theme of nonviolence in my retreats. With the kids, I did activities that have them develop a sense of care and love for each other, respect for each other, and the activities will go with that.

Last year, God placed in my heart the theme of care for creation, which is one of my passions, so at every retreat, I inserted the need to revere and care for creation, because that's such a tremendous need in our country. So even the simple things, putting out the bins of recycling and teaching them about it, that's something new in our country. Taking them for a walk around the yard and showing them how we compost, how the little vegetable garden we have got started — those little bits of education help develop in them an awareness of the possibilities of what they can do, even with a little space, to grow something, to become self-sufficient, and in the process to restore Earth.

GSR: How are the themes chosen? Do you reuse them every few months?

Sometimes groups call and come with their own theme, but occasionally, I develop my own. When most groups come on retreat, it's seasonal — like during the season of Advent or Lent — so the rest of the year, once a month, I plan a retreat based on a particular theme, again, coming out of prayer and what I sense might be a need for the country.

In addition to peace and nonviolence, something I developed was, in the Year of Mercy, a lot of retreats along that line of mercy and forgiveness, the whole idea of God forgiving and how we are free to go to God for forgiveness. I really stressed God's mercy and love for all of humanity, which is part of the mission of the Dominican Wellspring: to help people come to deeper consciousness of who they are and how they're made in the image and likeness of God.

I recall Pope Francis, how each person is immensely holy and deserving of our love, so it's really stressing that and developing a love for themselves and how they are in the image of God, and of course a love for others as well, to see their relationship with others and their love of all creation. Pope Francis has really inspired me through Laudato Si' and the kinship model that he is putting on us, that every creation is a brother and sister.

What kind of feedback do you get? What have people told you about the effects the retreats have had on them?

A lot of them say that when they come here, they feel a sense of peace, and they leave with peace. The peace, the gratitude, the feeling that they leave with a greater appreciation for their deepening relationship with God — for some of them, it brings about a change in their life. They sense a greater call to service, the service to others and to share the fruits with others, as well.

I met a student who I taught so many years ago, and she told me things that I had said that I don't remember, and that really touches me. You just see the fruits long after; it's not like you get immediate rewards. When you get the feedback like that, you really feel like you're doing something at the service of God and humanity. That gives me a sense of hope and gratitude.

What has so much reflection done for your personal well-being?

I have become more aware of what God is doing in my own life. But the word is really "contemplative," because I know I'm growing in that and developing that attitude with myself, awareness in myself of the need to develop my contemplative side even more.

I've become more trusting of God and relying on the Holy Spirit to inspire me, to lead me, to tell me what to do and command me to do it. It also helps me to become more creative, because sometimes in a retreat, a group asks for a meal, so in addition to planning the retreat and preparing the environment, I also have to plan the menu and get that part organized. It helps me manage my time and become more creative to use all my gifts, and that's the beautiful thing about it. It seems that everything I did in the past, my teaching and involvement in all these ministries with music and so on, all that I lived there, I'm using in my retreat work.

It also helps me to stretch myself, to take risks in doing things that before I might have said no to. For example, now that my retreat work is developed, people are asking me to come out to parishes in big groups for a retreat — something that in the past I would have said no to because I prefer small groups, but I found myself saying yes to this and accepting that challenge, and that has really helped me to grow as a person. The university here that I live very close to, the campus minister asked me to do a series on Laudato Si' and "The Joy of Love" [Amoris Laetitia] with some of the students on campus and the high school nearby. It was a challenge to accept, but I really enjoy doing it.

How do you see the Holy Spirit in your work?

I can't live without the Holy Spirit. It's everything: my inspiration, my direction, my strength, my ability to be spontaneous. I plan, but as I execute the retreat, I'm always open to see how the Holy Spirit might want me to change what I've planned during the course with the needs of a particular person or group. So in my prayers, I ask the Holy Spirit for whatever plans it has for my life to be fulfilled and to stretch me beyond my limits of what I think I can do or cannot do. And I'm seeing the fruits of people's lives, those who give me feedback — the peace they experience, the gratitude, the greater appreciation for Scripture, their greater call to service and to reach out to others. And in my own life, accepting the challenge, to serve in places where I would not have gone.

[Soli Salgado is a staff writer for Global Sisters Report. Her email address is ssalgado@ncronline.org. Follow her on Twitter: @soli_salgado.]