Chain of Preachers of Hope: Lay Dominicans in a “young” Province

Chain of Preachers of Hope: Lay Dominicans in a “young” Province

The Province of St. Albert the Great of Southern Germany and Austria, founded in 1939, has been called a “young Province”, which it undoubtedly is by Dominican standards. A report from the Laity in this Province.

The Dominican Laity in our Province – at least on a supralocal level – is even younger. Some Fraternities (e.g. in Graz and München) can look back on a long history while others have disappeared altogether. The existence of a Third Order tomb in the lovely Austrian town of Graz bears witness to a once flourishing Third Order life with several Fraternities and more than 150 members. Sadly at present, membership has shrunk to only two active lay Dominicans. However, half of the present groups and Fraternities in the Province were founded during the past 10 years. Although a directory existed as from 1992, the individual Fraternities in the Province lead very separate lives. This situation changed profoundly after 2008 due to the commitment of Br. Johannes Weise, who served as assistant to the Provincial Promoter and between 2011 and 2014 as Provincial Promoter of the Dominican Laity. In 2011 the first Provincial Chapter of Lay Dominican Fraternities in the history of our Province met in Ausburg and elected its first Provincial Council. This Council erected Provincial structures, reformed the directory, established a formation plan and annual study days and initiated regular relationships between the Fraternities and between lay Dominicans and the other branches of the Dominican Family. This successful work has since been carried on by the second Provincial Council, which was elected in 2015.

Currently our Province has 8 Fraternities (with 6 or more members) or groups (fewer than 6 members) and a number of lone / individual members in two countries with a wide variety of activities that range from a prayer- and contemplation-centered life, teaching and pastoral commitments to social, parochial and communal involvement or work for the Order.

The Lay Dominican Fraternity Jordan of Saxony in Freiburg (Baden) may serve as a hope-inspiring example for the evolution of a Fraternity that was first founded in 2009 but has since grown slowly but steadily to its present 10 members plus one associated “lone member”. The number of members could by now be much higher, but the Fraternity has been very careful in selecting for the admission of applicants to the postulate, let alone noviciate. Applicants must clearly be interested in and ready to live the challenging principles of a full Dominican life of prayer, study, community, and apostolate and not only in finding a community as a warm nest and spiritual support.

The members are distributed across a large area between Heidelberg in the North of the archdiocese of Freiburg and Waldshut at its extreme South on the border between Germany and Switzerland. Its spiritual centre is the equally young Dominican priory, founded in 2012, at St Martin, a branch church of the Freiburg cathedral. Rare nowadays in church groups, the Fraternity has more male than female members. It brings together a wide variety of personalities with very diverse professional backgrounds that enable them to engage in equally diverse apostolic activities.

Two members have been meeting regularly for 10 years to provide a weekly Bible study group. Others work with the aged and disabled, engage in parish work, offer expert knowledge as scientists in discussions pertaining to current political conflicts or the influence of modern biology on the view of the human person, or work as teachers of religion in public schools. Several members hold or prepare themselves for a Church office as Deacon, pastoral assistant, or as extraordinary minister of Holy Communion. Music can be a special apostolate and thus one member leads both a schola with a traditional (Gregorian) repertoire and a band with a modern spiritual repertoire to musically enrich the various forms of worship in his parish. Another member is engaged in writing essays for various church press media throughout the Province in order to promote awareness of lay Dominicans and their saints. Of special interest is the fact that one member of the Freiburg Fraternity together with her husband owns “the most pious café” in Freiburg. The Mocca Cabana is located in a central district of Freiburg with a high percentage of non-believers or people inclined to esotericism. The walls of the Mocca are “decorated” with pictures of saints, displays of the Sacred Heart, of Our Lady of Lourdes and with the crucifix. It goes without saying that this scenery inspires apostolic opportunities, by and large based on the model of St. Dominic’s conversation with the heretic in an inn.

Formatio permanens
The Freiburg-resident members of the Fraternity meet about once a month, and every other month are joined by the scattered members that live farther away. These meetings provide the opportunity for perpetual formation. In 2014, the members used their professional backgrounds or their individual interests to interpret the signs of the time. At present, the Fraternity’s religious assistant, Br. Philippe-André Holzer, former professor at the Angelicum, uses these meetings to introduce the Fraternity to the thinking of St. Thomas Aquinas. However, the Fraternity is not only blessed by this extraordinarily gifted (and patient) Dominican teacher. His efforts have more recently been endorsed by Br. Richard Schenk, a son of the Province of the Holy Name of Jesus and retired President of the Catholic University of Eichstätt and renowned Thomist, who has joined the Freiburg priory and engages from time to time in the permanent formation of the lay Fraternity.
The common meetings are also used for the admission of postulants or novices and the celebration of temporary or perpetual promises.

Trusting friendship
It has often been deplored that the appreciation of Lay Dominicans within the Order leaves room for improvement – to say the least – and also that many friars regard the Fraternities rather as a burden than as partners in a shared mission. This problem was again made obvious at the recent Congress for the Mission of the Order where Lay Dominicans were practically absent from the podium and panels, as our brother, Duncan MacLaren, did not hesitate to point out in the main auditorium of the Angelicum. However, the relationship between the Lay Dominican Fraternity Jordan of Saxony and the Dominican friars at St. Martin in Freiburg proves that a trustful partnership for the mutual benefit and the strengthening of the common mission between a Fraternity and a priory is entirely possible. The fact that both entities have in a way “been born and grown up” together may have facilitated this fraternal and respectful relationship. The Fraternity was founded in 2009. At about the same time the St. Martin parish and some other fields of pastoral care were entrusted by the archdiocese to a handful of mostly young Dominican friars. The new priory was elevated in 2012. Every day several members of the Fraternity take part in the friars’ liturgy of the hours and the common prayer is fundamental to everything else. Priory and Fraternity have a multitude of common projects such as Advent impulses, Lent exercises, organisation of special events, series of lectures and participation in the parish pastoral team. In return the friars show a true interest in, and actively share in, the life of the Fraternity. It is not seldom, that on the occasion of promises of Fraternity members all available friars take part in the celebration; they invite the Fraternity for dinner, organise barbecues, or a common guided tour to locations that witness to the history of Dominicans and other Orders in Freiburg, and once hosted the Provincial Council for one of its regular meetings. The close cooperation between priory and Fraternity is reflected in the substantial number of contributions of Lay Dominicans to the annual parish magazine of St. Martin. This year, the magazine has three main sections: Parish, Dominicans, and Festivities. Overall 7 of 32 contributions are authored by Lay Dominicans and in the Dominican section it is even 4 of 6. This fruitful cooperation, based on friendship and trust, inspires hope that one day the gulf that sadly still exists between Lay Dominicans and friars may be bridged.

Across borders: Connection to the Alsace
The ECLDF invited the European Lay Dominicans to celebrate the Jubilee of the 800th Anniversary of the Order with a Chain of Preachers of Hope and suggested that each Province or Vicariate develop links to a neighbouring Province or Vicariate during the Jubilee year, thus creating a network among all Lay Dominicans in Europe. Sometimes such things require effort and sometimes they just happen. During the celebration of the 75th Anniversary of the Province of St. Albert the Great of Southern Germany and Austria on February 14, 2014 with many guests from the neighbouring Provinces, the prior of the Dominican priory in Strasbourg very kindly invited the Freiburg Fraternity to the Alsace and established a connection to the Jean Tauler Fraternity in Strasbourg. After a period of email exchange a delegation of the Freiburg Fraternity followed the invitation to the celebration of the temporary profession of several young friars in Strasbourg, and afterwards several Fraternities from Strasburg, Metz und Nancy hosted a most generous lunch and provided the opportunity for the exchange of information concerning Lay Dominican life in the two Provinces. Several Lay Dominicans from Iraq who had been forced to flee and had been generously supported by the Dominican family of Strasbourg were also present and reported on the deplorable situation in their country.
In the Order’s Jubilee Year, the Fraternities Jordan of Saxony of Freiburg and JeanTauler of Strasbourg met twice. In April 2016 members of the Strasbourg Fraternity came to Freiburg to share a special day: three members of the Jordan of Saxony Fraternity made their temporaryl or perpetual promise in the conventual chapel of the priory of Freiburg.
Only two months later the two Fraternities met again in Colmar in the Alsace to visit the excellent Jubilee exhibition about 500 years of Dominican history “Dominicains 1216-1516. Lumières Médiévales: De la predication aux cathares á la defense des Indiens”. A considerable part of this exhibition was dedicated to the often turbulent history of the Dominican familiy in this ever changing border region between France and Germany, Alsace and Baden to which both Freiburg and Strasbourg belong.

During their meeting in Freiburg, the two Fraternities went for a stroll to the Loretto Chapel on one of the hills surrounding Freiburg. The chapel reminds us that it is only fairly recently that peaceful German-French encounters have been a matter of course. It was erected in 1657 in commemoration of the bloody battle for Freiburg during the Thirty Years War between Bavarian and Weimarian troops in 1644. And in 1744, during the Austrian War of Succession between Austria and France, the French king Louis XV watched the shelling of Freiburg from this hill. For another 200 years after this event armed conflicts continued to persist between Germany and France, two countries that are now connected in friendship. Let us hope and pray that these terrible times will never come back. Insignificant as it may seem, the friendship between Lay Dominican Fraternities across borders may well be a contribution to peace.


(11 April 2017)