For centuries, the Dominican Order has provided some of the finest education in the world. Nashville Dominicans Sister Matthew Marie Cummings, O.P., and Sister Elizabeth Anne Allen, O.P., explore the essence of this proud teaching tradition in their book “Behold the Heritage: Foundations of Education in the Dominican Tradition.”
Released in August 2012, “Behold the Heritage” is a thought-provoking compilation of essays and church documents examining the history, foundations and philosophy behind the esteemed Dominican educational tradition.
The sisters, both faculty members at Aquinas College in Nashville, compiled and edited the book in the summer of 2012.
“I’ve been thinking about the need for a book like this for some time but I actually started bringing things together for it beginning in May 2012,” explained Sister Matthew Marie, who teaches Education in the Dominican Tradition, a foundational course for all education graduate students at Aquinas.
Although the compilation was born out of a desire to educate graduate students about the Dominican teaching tradition, “Behold the Heritage” ultimately speaks to a wide variety of readers.
“The book had as its immediate goal to serve as a text and resource for students in the graduate programs at Aquinas College,” noted Sister Elizabeth Anne, provost and vice president for academics at Aquinas. “However, anyone serving the church through the apostolate of education will find the collection of documents and essays both useful, and inspiring.”
“The goal is to provide anyone interested in Catholic education – and I mean anyone and everyone, teachers, principals, and parents – with what the church teaches about Catholic education and also to provide a resource for Dominican education as well,” said Sister Matthew Marie.
The book does a comprehensive job of covering the fundamental aspects of Catholic and Dominican education, looking at it as a vital tool of evangelization in the modern world. Nine church documents addressing education make up a good portion of the book. These range from the Vatican II Document “Gravissimum Educationis” published in 1965 to the Congregation for Catholic Education’s 2007 document “Educating Together in Catholic Schools: A Shared Mission Between Consecrated Persons and the Lay Faithful.” These documents examine the role of both religious and laity in Catholic education from the elementary school level to college.
“The most essential aspects of the Dominican education tradition can be summarized by the phrase used to describe St. Dominic, ‘in medio ecclesiae’ (in the midst of the Church),” Sister Matthew Marie said. “That is why the church documents on Catholic education are so important.”
Complementing these official documents are three essays written by prominent Dominican friars. Each piece contains a unique perspective on the Dominican educational tradition.
Historian Father Thomas C. McGonigle, O.P, contributes his thoughts in an article entitled “The Dominican Tradition.” Also included is, “A Dominican Philosophy of Education” by former president of Providence College, Father Philip A. Smith, O.P, as well as “The Healing Work of Teaching: Thomas Aquinas and Education,” by Father Vivian Boland, O.P., vicar of the master of the Dominican Order.
Central to all the writings contained in “Behold the Heritage” is the Dominican devotion to truth and the mission to evangelize through teaching.
“Paramount in this tradition is the love for and preaching of the truth, the complementarity of faith and reason, respect for the dignity of the human person and the experience of prayer, study, service and community,” said Sister Elizabeth Anne.
Both sisters explained how these last four elements – prayer, study, service/preaching and community – are the traditional pillars of Dominican life. These pillars also make up the essence of the Dominican approach to education.
As educators themselves, Sister Matthew Marie and Sister Elizabeth Anne see the principles presented in “Behold the Heritage” implemented every day at their own institution of learning, Aquinas College.
“Philosophy and theology courses are taken by all students. Each class begins with prayer. The mutual respect of faculty and students is shown forth in their interaction. Love for the Church and the truths of faith and efforts to grow in virtue are evident. The motto of Aquinas is ‘Veritas et Caritas: Truth and Love.’ That is our goal,” Sister Elizabeth Anne said.
Ultimately, both sisters see their book as an introduction to the Dominican tradition and a guide and resource not only for educators but also students, parents, pastors and anyone else who desires to know more about the role of the faith in teaching.
“St. Dominic wanted his sons and daughters to carry out the mission of preaching ‘in medio ecclesiae,’ in the midst of the Church,” said Sister Elizabeth Anne, “And this collection of documents and essays sets the groundwork for this mission of teaching and preaching in today’s culture.”
“Behold the Heritage” can be purchased online from Amazon.com or from the Nashville Dominicans’ bookstore: http://nashvilledominican.org/Home/Bookstore.