Ups and downs of the Catholic Order of Preachers (Dominicans)

[ by Charles Cameron — bearing in mind that ups and downs are transitory, and the eternal remains eternal ]

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In what was effectively a DoubleQuote in my terminology (see note below), Gregory DiPippo at the New Liturgical Movement blog today juxtaposed two articles about the Dominican Order of Friars. One had to do with a downswing in vocations to the Order, the other with an upswing.

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Fra Angelico

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First, the downswing: “the shortage of vocations in the order of Saint Dominic has reached dramatic levels.” Sandro Magister writes in San Marco Must Not Die:

The fathers of the province of St. Catherine of Siena met again in chapter at the end of last May and reiterated to the superior general the request to suppress the convent of San Marco.

If that were to happen, in the cloisters and in the cells wondrously frescoed by Fra Angelico (see above the Annunciation, from 1442) there would no longer be any friar to pray. From the library designed by Michelozzo, the first library of the modern era open to the public, the robes of the learned would disappear. What has been for centuries a cenacle of men of letters, artists, bishops, saints, would give way to a trivial guest house.

The Masses in the church attached to the defunct convent would be officiated by someone from outside: from the not-distant convent of Santa Maria Novella, the only Dominican convent that would remain open in Florence.

Second, the reverse: “The man who sets aside his personal dreams to more perfectly subject himself to God is not primarily saying ‘no’ to the world, but saying ‘yes’ to a renewed life with God.” The Dominican Dominic Bouck writes in First Things:

After the ordination of eight of our brothers, there are over fifty of us studying for the priesthood or preparing to live life as a consecrated brother, about to be joined by fifteen more on July 25.

Among those roughly 75 men are lawyers, a medical doctor, a congressional staffer, professional musicians, a radio host, several PhDs and professors, a particle physicist from Stanford, a former Google employee, a dean of admissions at a medical school, Ivy Leaguers, Golden Domers, and more who were successful in the world, but sought a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ and his Church, and desired to serve his people.

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It would be a tragedy for the Dominicans to close down their convent at San Marco, “as if the Franciscan friars were to decide to close the convent of Assisi” as Magister says — and in counterpoint, I’m heartened to receive news of an increased interest in the contemplative life here in the US.

A note for Fr Augustine Thompson, OP, who writes for the NLM bog and is the author of the standard work on St Dominic’s brother friar, brother founder and friend, Francis of Assisi: A New Biography: my DoubleQuotes format is a format for the juxtaposition of ideas, based on Hermann Hesse’s concept of the Glass Bead Game, and philosophical kin, to my mind at least, with Peter Abelard‘s Sic et Non.

3 comments on this post.
  1. Lexington Green:

    Dear God please grant that your Dominican sons and daughter will enjoy a renewed flowering of vocations, and that your beautiful church and convent of San Marco will again be filled with young and ardent souls devoted to your service.
    St. Dominic, pray for us.
    St. Albertus Magnus, pray for us.
    St. Thomas Aquinas, pray for us.
    St. Catherine of Siena, pray for us.
    St. Rose of Lima, pray for us.
    St. Martin de Porres, pray for us.

  2. Scott:

    Maybe the Benedict Option should be the Dominican Option…

  3. Charles Cameron:

    Fr Augustine Thompson replied to my note at New Liturgical Movement thus:

    Thanks for the kind words.
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    Although I value Sanfro Magister as a reporter, his characterization of San Marco is not accurate. He writes that when the Dominicans leave San Marco, “in the cloisters and in the cells wondrously frescoed by Fra Angelico there would be no longer be any friar to pray there.” In fact, no friars live or pray there. Those cloisters and cells are a public museum. Friars have to pay the entrance fee to see them just like any tourist. I have.
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    And he claims that in “the library designed by Michelozzo … the robes of the learned would disappear.” In fact, no Dominicans are seen in that library. That library is part of the state museum, and it is not a research library. It is a display room where lovely books and manuscripts are shown as historical objects, not as items for theological research.
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    There is currently little priestly service done at San Marco other than the daily Mass. To combine the San Marco and the SMN communities would produce a more healthy Dominican community in Florence, and still provide a daily Mass at San Marco by supply. The last time I said a daily Mass at San Marco (30 years ago), there were five people there. At SMN, the daily Mass is said in a side chapel built in the early 1900s. The daily Mass attendance was 10 at most when I was there. Sunday Mass (in the Church!) had 60 or so. With hundreds or so angry tourists waiting to get in to see the art.
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    Again, this is not a “defense” of the shrinking Italian provinces. Rather, it is a reality check on what it means that Italian Dominicans have responsibility for maintaining tourist attractions where there is little possibility to preach or evangelize. These are Italian government pay-to-enter tourist sites. The government will not permit any evangelization in their property.