|St. Dominic founded the Order of Preachers 800 years ago.
Early in the 13th century, St. Dominic de Guzman, a young Spanish priest, traveled through southern France, begging for his bread and preaching the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and against the heresies of his day.
He was struck by the number of people he encountered who were lost to the faith and who had turned away from lives of Christian holiness, even among the clergy.
His answer was to found a new order of zealous preachers, who would study and contemplate the truth of the Gospel and then witness that truth to others through word and deed. Pope Honorius III approved in December 1216 and January 2017 the papal bulls establishing the Order of Preachers and recognizing it as an order dedicated to study and universally authorized to preach.
Eight hundred years later, his Order of Preachers has spread the faith throughout the world, including the Diocese of Nashville.
On Jan. 21, the Dominicans will close the jubilee of their 800th anniversary, which began on Nov. 7, 2015, the Feast of All Dominican Saints. Pope Francis will preside over the closing Mass in the Lateran Basilica in Rome, with Dominican nuns, priests and lay associates from around the world on hand.
“It’s been a great time to thank the Lord for the gift of the Dominican presence in the Church and for the gift of St. Dominic to the Church, and for 800 years of uninterrupted service to the Church,” said Sister Anne Catherine, O.P., the principal of St. Cecilia Academy and a member of the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia, known around the world as the Nashville Dominicans.
|Sister Mary Thomas, O.P., former principal of St. Cecilia Academy, talks to students in 2010 in preparation for the celebration of the 150th anniversary of the school’s founding. Dominicans have been part of the Diocese of Nashville since its founding. Tennessee Register file photo by Andy Telli
The very founding of the Diocese of Nashville has a Dominican flavor. The first Bishop of Nashville, Richard Pius Miles, was a Dominican from Kentucky before he took on the task of carving out a new diocese from what was then part of the frontier. He turned to his fellow Dominican priests to help him build the diocese.
His successor, Bishop James Whelan, was also a Dominican. He invited four Dominican sisters from Ohio to Nashville to open a boarding school for girls. St. Cecilia Academy opened in 1860 and is still thriving 157 years later.
The Nashville Dominicans didn’t stop with St. Cecilia Academy. In the century and a half since they arrived in Nashville, they have spread their influence teaching in schools across Tennessee, across the country, and now across the world. Today, the sisters teach in 16 states, the District of Columbia, Canada, Europe and Australia.
St. Peter Church in Memphis has been a Dominican parish since the 1850s, and last year hosted a celebration of the jubilee, featuring a talk by Father Bruno Cadoré, Master General of the Order of Preachers.
And in Nashville there is a thriving chapter of Lay Dominicans, who make a commitment to live according to the Rule of the Fraternities of St. Dominic, participating in a life of prayer and study, and then bringing the truth of the Gospel to the world through all aspects of their lives.
|Joy is part of the Dominican spirituality. That joy can be seen in the faces of newly professed sisters, from left, Sister Angela Marie Russell, Sister John Vianney Streacker and Sister Agnes Schreck as they exchange the sign of peace with other members of the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia Congregation during their Profession of Vows in July 2016 at the Cathedral of the Incarnation in Nashville. Tennessee Register file photo by Rick Musacchio
Lay Dominicans commit to several years of formation before they make their final profession.
The St. Cecilia Chapter of Lay Dominicans meets the second Sunday of the month from September through May at the Dominican Motherhouse in Nashville. The chapter meetings include small group discussions on various readings they study.
Lay Dominicans make a commitment to attend daily Mass, pray a portion of the Liturgy of the Hours every day, go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation frequently, and to pray the rosary every day.
“It’s not a legalistic commitment but a spiritual commitment about how you’re going to live your life, what you’re going to focus your life on,” said Benjamin Wolaver, a candidate with the St. Cecilia Chapter since 2015. “It’s about loving people through a love of truth.”
The study that is part of the Lay Dominicans formation and of Dominican spirituality generally, “is all about walking toward and understanding and accepting the beauty of God,” said Patricia Bradley, another member of the St. Cecilia Chapter. “It’s the greatest blessing of all the blessings in my life, and I’ve had a lot of blessings,” she added. “It’s life changing.”
Studying the faith, said Wolaver, who entered the Church in 2013, “has really made me understand that there are untold treasures of wisdom and knowledge and truth just waiting to be read, waiting to be encountered. … Every time I come to the meeting I feel the pull to learn more about the faith.”
For more information about the Lay Dominicans, visit http://3optn.com/web/.
Contemplative and apostolic
In forming his order, St. Dominic drew from both the monastic and apostolic tradition. From the monastic tradition, he took practices such as the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience; the observance of silence and the cloister of the order’s convents; penitential practices; community prayer, especially in the daily Eucharist and the Liturgy of the Hours; and daily life together in community.
But he did not want his followers to be monks living in one place. He wanted them to go out into the world, preaching the Gospel and saving souls, just as the apostles did in the Early Church.
Dominican spirituality still maintains that balance between the contemplative and the apostolic, Sister Anne Catherine said. “A life of prayer situates us to go out and preach.”
That balance is captured in the order’s motto: “To contemplate and to give to others the fruits of their contemplation.”
Study is one of the four pillars of Dominican life along with prayer, community and service. St. Dominic believed that one could not preach what they did not or could not understand. So he sent his followers to establish communities near the great universities of Europe. And throughout their history, Dominicans have established schools, preaching through teaching.
For Dominicans, “study is really an act of worship,” Sister Anne Catherine said. “You’re studying not just to get information but to be formed in truth so you can go out and preach the truth of Christ.”
Dominican spirituality includes “a real emphasis on joy and balance,” Sister Anne Catherine said.
“St. Dominic himself was known to be a joyful saint and believed in the goodness of human nature,” she said, even though he spent much of his life fighting heresies. “When you see the world truly, you see the presence of evil and the presence of error,” Sister Anne Catherine said. “But (St. Dominic) had a great zeal to save souls. That’s been the motivation down through the 800 years.”
It was the Dominicans’ prayerfulness and joy that drew Sister Anne Catherine to the order. “I had a lot of stereotypes of what religious were, boring and cut off from the world,” she said. “Dominicans are so lovably human.”
She saw the sisters praying in the chapel. “They were so focused, you could tell they were there for the Lord. Then they came out and they were playing volleyball and laughing,” she said. “It was a truly loving community, a joyful community.”
‘Always relevant to a new age’
There are similarities between the age when St. Dominic founded the order and today, Wolaver said.
“This is a Dominican moment in our world, really,” he said. Just as St. Dominic fought the heresies of his time, today we find ourselves “in an age of relativism and in an age when people are afraid to argue for truth or believe it even exists,” Wolaver said. “St. Dominic through 800 years still calls out for truth. …
“Just like when St. Dominic founded the order, people are looking for a center, they’re looking for an anchor,” Wolaver added. “The charism of the Dominican order never dies. It’s always relevant to a new age.”