Dominicans see increase in vocations, need for expansion

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Wednesday 19, January 2011 | Category:   Vocation and Discernment,Clergy

While recent decades have seen declines in the numbers of members of religious orders—and the resulting closure of facilities—the recent upward trend in membership has produced the opposite challenge: not enough space.

DOMINICAN student brothers gather
at Aquinas Institute Spirit Week 2010.
For example, the Dominican friars in the central and southern U.S. welcomed 10 men last fall, their largest class in more than 20 years. Dominican Father David Wright, master of students in St. Louis, said two provinces have priesthood candidates living in St. Louis who attend Aquinas Institute, a graduate school of theology next to St. Louis University. In 2007, he said, “We had 18 students and this year we’re up to 25. Next year, if all those presently in the novitiate come in, we could have an increase of up to 30. It was time to expand.”

The Dominicans recently purchased the former Loretto Academy building in St. Louis. The renovated space will open in the fall as a Dominican priory, a residential community for men preparing to become priests in the order. The men will live in the house for five years while they study at Aquinas, which also educates laypeople to serve in ministerial roles. Those considering entering the order also go to the order's retirement community in Chicago where they experience the older members' life of prayer and living in community.

The building that will house the priory was designed by an architectural firm begun by George I. Barnett, who also designed the Missouri governor's mansion, the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis, and several of the earliest buildings at the Missouri Botanical Garden. It includes 32,000 feet of living space and an additional 16,000 feet of chapel, corridor, and storage space. Living quarters will undergo extensive renovation but much of the common space will be untouched. Features include a tile fireplace with carved wooden mantle and a chapel with stained-glass windows by artist Emil Frei. A new addition will include other common spaces and a fully accessible main entrance.

“We have a wonderful appeal both as a community and as an apostolate,” Father Wright said. “Preaching the word of God is what we're all about. And that can be done in hundreds of ways. Men don't join just to be in teaching, mission work, or whatever.” Continuing the work of their founder, Saint Dominic (1170-1221), the mission of the Dominicans includes preaching, teaching, and doing works of justice in a variety of settings--campus ministry, parish work, high schools, colleges, and retreat centers, full-time preaching, service in health care as chaplains and ethicists, the arts, and more. Community life, Father Wright said, involves not only living together under one roof but also the willingness to share one’s life with one another, being “of one mind and one heart in God.” The four pillars of Dominican life are prayer, common life, study, and ministry.

Twice a year the Dominicans have a “come and see” event for young men considering a vocation to experience that life, with the next one scheduled for the weekend of February 26-28, 2011 in Dallas.

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