What is the typical profile of a candidate or new member of the Order?
There really isn’t a “typical” profile of a new member. They range from early 20′s to late 30′s (and sometimes older!). These members come to us with a variety of life experiences and college backgrounds. They come to us with a strong desire to put their many gifts and talents in service of the Church and our Dominican Order through prayer, community life, preaching and our many ministries in parishes, Newman Centers and schools. Generally, all candidates have a deep love for Jesus Christ & the Blessed Mother and live Sacramental lives focused on frequent Eucharist, Penance and deep prayer. They have a heart for the poor, both financially and spiritually, and they want to make Christ known and loved by any and all means possible. The Dominican is a person of commitment and creativity in bringing the Good News to all the world.
What is the primary work of the Novitiate?
The novitiate is the first year of formation and introduction to Dominican Life. The novices develop their prayer life, both communal and personal, as well as learn to live with others and build a community life together. St. Augustine’s opening instruction in his rule, by which we live, is a real inspiration to them and speaks to the heart of what the novitiate initiates: “The chief motivation for your sharing life together is to live harmoniously in the house and to have one heart and one soul seeking God” (Chapter 1 of the Rule of St. Augustine).
How long is Dominican formation?
Initial formation as a Dominican has a number of stages. The first year as a Dominican friar is always spent as a novice in Denver, CO. The next two years are spent studying and working towards a graduate degree at the Aquinas Institute of Theology in St. Louis while living at our new studium. The fourth year is spent outside of St. Louis doing full-time ministry work at one of our apostolates and living in a Dominican community. The fifth, sixth, and seventh year are back in St. Louis finishing up graduate studies. This is the typical schedule for student brothers who wish to be ordained priests. The experience can vary significantly if (a) the brother in question is a cooperator brother and therefore not pursuing Holy Orders or (b) if the brother already has an academic background in the area of either theology or philosophy.
What should I do if my family is against my religious or priestly vocation?
It used to be that parents were more likely to recognize what a great privilege and honor it is that God would call one of their children to serve as a priest or religious. Today, however, the values of the world cause some parents to doubt whether the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience will allow their son to live a fulfilled life. The sexual abuse scandal certainly did not do anything to help assuage these fears. However, the very term “vocation” gives us a clue as to how best to respond in the face of opposition. Vocation comes from the Latin word vocare which means “to call.” A vocation is a calling from God, the God who loves us, who knows us better than we know ourselves and who died on the Cross for our salvation, so strongly does He desire our eternal happiness. He is also the God who said things like, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me,” and “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me.” Ultimately, our own happiness in this life and salvation in the next depend upon doing whatever God asks of us. And if a man enters Dominican life and finds that it is not in fact his calling, he has plenty of time to discern and leave. The Order is not a prison but rather a fraternity to which one commits freely.
What kinds of studies do you have to do?
It depends significantly on a couple of factors. First, if a friar is a clerical student brother who hopes to be ordained a priest then he is bound by the requirements set down by the Dominican Order, the province, and the US Conference of Catholic bishops. In the end that means he will be getting almost two masters degrees: a Masters in Theology and a Masters in Divinity. The current practice of the province is to encourage all the brothers to do the little extra work required to graduate with both degrees. Cooperator brothers have much more flexibility and their course of studies will be determined by the province on a case by case basis. Unlike the Jesuits, it is not the usual practice of our province to send brothers (clerical or cooperator) on for doctorates in areas outside of theology and philosophy (literature, math, biology, etc).
What types of ministries do friars in the Central Province do?
Currently the province has campus ministries (at Purdue University, Indiana University, Hope College, University of St. Thomas, and Aquinas College), and a number of regular parishes in Chicago, Madison, Minneapolis, and Denver. The two most important educational ministries of the province are Fenwick High School and Aquinas Institute of Theology in St. Louis. The province has also sent men to teach at Providence College, the only college in the United States run by the friars. These are official ministries of the province but a number of men work outside of province sponsored ministries as chaplains, teachers, professors, missionaries, or administrators. The province has also recently begun mission work in Puerto Rico.
As a Dominican, can I choose what type of work I do in the Order?
No. The foundational reality of Dominican life is the vow of obedience to the Master of the Order. This means in practice that it is usually the provincial who assigns each friar of his province to a particular house and ministry. Friars certainly bring different interests and talents to the Order, and everyone is free to request a particular ministry assignment. Provincials try to use those for the good of the Order and the Church, but obedience makes us like Christ precisely because we say with Him, “Thy will be done.” Dominican life is not so much about what we do as who we are, and we are men who give ourselves over to God through obedience to human superiors.
What makes Dominicans different than diocesan priests and/or other religious orders like the Franciscans?
The three biggest differences between religious life and diocesan life are that Dominicans (1) live in community, (2) generally have a much closer connection to their superiors than diocesan priests do with their bishop, and (3) are not all priests. Each religious Order has its own particular focus or charism that defines how it approaches life and ministry in the Church. While the Franciscans have historically had a great deal in common with the Dominicans, our Franciscan brothers have a spirituality based around the ideal of poverty, whereas Dominicans offer study and preaching to the Church as our particular focus. There are poor Dominicans and studious Franciscans, to be sure, but the difference is in what we see as the foundation of our life. Franciscan poverty offers a corrective to the materialism of our day, while Dominican study proposes to alleviate the woeful lack of catechesis that affects so many in our time. Since the Church exists for the proclamation of the Gospel, it is safe to say that the Dominican charism of preaching will remain relevant until the Lord comes again.
What are the differences between the various provinces?
All the provinces of the Order are united in vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience and are therefore under the ultimate direction of the Master of the Order in Rome. We all try to live according to the four pillars of the Order: prayer, study, ministry, and community. However, each province has its own personality, ministerial focus, regional flavor, and practical philosophy of how to live Dominican life. Some provinces tend to have larger groups of friars living together and some smaller. Even within a province there can be considerable diversity since each house sets its own schedule and has different apostolates to attend to. The best way to get to know the different provinces is simply to visit them.
What is your prayer schedule like?
All the friars of the province are asked to complete the Liturgy of Hours according to the norms of the Church (5 sets of prayers per day for those who are ordained). The Order also asks all the friars to make every effort to attend daily Mass, preferably Mass in the house where they live. In addition, all the friars are asked to pray five decades of the Rosary and do at least one half hour of meditation per day. The Order has a strong history of praying for its deceased members, and we continue that today through the daily recitation of Psalm 130 (the De Profundis). Each house determines which prayers are going to be said communally. Generally, Morning Prayer (Lauds) and Evening Prayer (Vespers) – the two hinges of the day – are prayed in common.
How do I apply to the Province?
The vocations director of the province is responsible for deciding when a man is ready to apply to the Order and to guide him through the process. Before receiving papers a man must already have been in communication with the vocations director and made several visits to the province, including a Come & See weekend. Once the vocations director believes that someone is ready he receives application papers. The application includes several physical exams, a psychological exam, letters of recommendation, and an interview with the province’s admissions board.
How long should I discern my vocation?
There is no set time for discernment. The purpose of discernment is to know what it is that God is asking of us. It is not necessary for someone to discern that they have a definite calling to religious life in order to enter religious life. Oftentimes a person may enter religious life because they have discerned that God is asking them to further explore the option, not because they are already sure. Adult converts to the Catholic Church are not allowed to actually enter religious life or the priesthood during the first two years after their conversion, but that doesn’t mean they cannot or should not discern during that time.