The Holy Preaching: Pondering 150 Years of Dominican Parish Life – Pastor’s Reflection (August 20, 2017)
The Dominican Friars have exercised parish ministry in this area since 1867. We were joined by our Sisters in 1880s and since then primary and secondary education have formed part of the ministry here. As the hospital complex emerged along York Avenue, tending the sick came to be a signature work of the Dominicans. Today, our parish holds two Dominican churches, two communities of Friars, two communities of Sisters, two high schools, and a hospital chaplaincy. It also contains an administrative center for the Order. But what has shaped the whole enterprise over these generations is the common life the Brothers and Sisters share at home.
Today, if you walk into the Church of St. Vincent Ferrer or the Church of St. Catherine of Siena you will find outstanding architecture, and you will find paintings, carvings, and stained glass deployed in beautiful and evangelical ways. But these elements serve a purpose beyond pleasing the eye and informing the mind. The agenda of our churches, and hence of our parish, comes clear in a paradox you can see played out all day long. On the one hand St. Catherine’s and St. Vincent’s are places of great grandeur and they accommodate crowds gathered for solemn worship. On the other hand, someone can walk off the street into either church, for the first time, stand alone in it, and feel instantly at home.
Put simply, the churches preach. They proclaim to you the all-powerful and all-knowing God, and they make you at home with Him. Neither part of this paradox compromises the other. God is awesome, and close enough to sit with for a good cry. Our buildings convey this perception of God to you, because the life of our Order conveys it to us.
By St. Dominic’s design, dating from 1216, the men and women of the Order live an intense life in common. We pray together, and we place our income at the disposal of the Community. We share our working lives in ministry and our leisure hours at the end of the day. We all receive training in a very ancient way of life, and each community shares the task of applying that tradition in our time and place. Most religious orders could claim this list of traits, but St. Dominic added to them the work of study. Every Dominican accepts study as his or her manual labor, and so we should study assiduously even when there is nothing to prepare. Here is the intimacy of the Order; the Dominican, the book, and God. Here we learn to be in awe before Him and to befriend Him at the same time.
This common life, especially study, ordered the environment in which you pray, as it continues to order the preaching you hear on Sunday and the education our students receive on Monday. It gives shape to the way we form the faith of adults and children: it molds the way we steward resources, and collaborate with staff and volunteers.
In the ancient days of our Order, our houses were often referred to as a “Holy Preaching,” not just because the Dominicans gave sermons but because their way of life proclaimed the Gospel to their contemporaries. Our hope is that this parish will preach by what we say and sing, by how we invest our resources, by how we treat our elders and our young, members of long-standing and those who just joined.
If we take this mission seriously then we can set about deepening our own life of faith, and we can present that faith to those who have left its practice, or who know nothing of Christ and His Gospel. The key to all preaching, whether individual or communal, is recognizing that we have wealth to share.