Dominican Cooperator Brothers of the United States Gather for An Historic Meeting

Subtitle: 
“Dedicating Ourselves to God, Following Christ to Lead an Evangelical Life in the Order (LCO 189, I)
Picture: 
Cooperator Brother USA
Body: 

Recently, Dominican Cooperator Brothers throughout the U.S. met to discuss the vocation of brothers in the Order.  Below is a description of the fruit of some of their recent discussions.  The meeting of the brothers was requested by the Master of the Order to review the status of the cooperator brother vocation.  These meetings in the United States will culminate in meetings in Rome with brothers from throughout the world.

Is the Order of Preachers dying? Such a question would seem absurd to some, alarming to others, but the “vocation crisis” of men interested in the consecrated life as Brothers in the Church today is very real. The decline has been especially felt in the Order by the Dominican Brothers, who, as one brother described, have seen a 57% decline in numbers since the 1980s, as compared to a 20% decline in the number of Dominican priests (cf. Curia Generalizia Frati Domenicani). To combat this alarming trend, the Master of the Order has called for a study of the vocation, formation and ministries of cooperator brothers in provinces around the world.  The study, under the direction of a Core Team, consists of regional meetings in the Provinces where Brothers are asked to come together to discuss ways in which this decline might be addressed in order to promote the renewal of the vocation and ministries in the Order.  The meeting of Dominican Brothers in the United States was the first of several similar meetings to be held in the near future in Mexico, Canada, Vietnam, Poland, Congo and other Provinces throughout the Order. Information and recommendations gathered during these meetings will help the Master of the Order prepare for an international congress of cooperator brothers called for by the General Chapter of Rome (2010).   

Sixteen brothers, including five in initial formation, from all four U.S. provinces attended the regional meeting hosted by St. Albert’s Priory in Oakland, California from March 30th-April 1st, 2012. Under the theme “dedicating ourselves to God, following Christ to lead an evangelical life in the Order” (LCO 189, I), the Brothers were invited by the planning committee to prayerfully dialogue about their experiences as brothers, their formation, their ministries, vocation promotion, and steps the Order could take to radically challenge the decline and promote the revitalization of the vocation of Dominican Brother. It was an overwhelming impression among all gathered that the question of renewal of the Brother’s vocation was vital to the renewal of the whole Order. One Brother remarked “It is a question of renewal of our entire way of life.  We speak frequently about being a Dominican Family, but to be that family we need every part to be thriving.  As communities of friars, cooperator brothers cannot flourish without our priest brothers, and neither can the priest brothers without the cooperator brothers.”  It is the central hope of the Brothers who participated in the Oakland Meeting that all friars of the Order will come to believe that renewal of the Order is essential in the Church’s plan for the New Evangelization.  

But radically challenge the decline? What does that mean? The first step is giving a voice to the Dominican Brothers themselves to articulate what their vocation is all about. One of the central components of the vocation decline is the general confusion about or inability to describe correctly or adequately the vocation of the Dominican Brother by the friars themselves, including vocation directors, formation directors and local and provincial leadership.

Another component to the problem is the general lack of discussion of the Brother’s vocation as it relates to vocation promotion, formation and ministry and articulation with Dominican life, history and provincial ministries and identities. Indeed, several of the recently professed brothers reported “switching tracks” from clerical to brother status during early formation, showing the need for more information on brotherhood during the application process and novitiate.

The third key component is the current limbo state that the formation of Dominican Brothers is experiencing in many provinces throughout the Order.  Lack of formation structure and leadership for Brothers, the absence of brother formators and/or brother representatives in houses of formation stalls the on-going reexamination of possibilities for Dominican Brothers for ministry in today’s world.   

Clearly, many of the recommendation of the participants related to an overhaul of vocation promotion and formation policies and ministry.  Included were suggestions for new leadership responsibilities that would give Brothers and their particular needs greater voice in representation in the Order’s Curia. The creation of a “Promoter of Cooperator Brothers” would facilitate the on-going discussion needed Order-wide to bring about a greater sensitivity to the identity, ministry, and renewal of the Brother’s vocation and the Order at large. At the same time, it was acknowledged that every brother, cooperator and priest, is responsible for promoting the vocation of Dominican brother, and that much good could be achieved by the Brothers collectively, across provincial boundaries, to promote the vocation and to support those Brothers already in the Order.

While some of the hurts of the past and of current times were named, much more palpable was the joy that each of the Brothers generously expressed in having the privilege of being in the same room with men who understood and valued their vocation and ministry as Dominican Brothers and who were not hesitant to share their experiences.  As one Brother noted, “The discussions unveiled for me the absolute beauty of our vocation as it has played out in the lives of so many unique and holy men.  The variety of ministerial experiences and personalities was astounding, ranging from self-initiators and elite academics to those who had joyfully waited for assignments and met the needs of the Order and the Church in any way requested.” The presence of the Spirit and the vision of Christ and of St. Dominic was felt deeply, as were lives of many saintly brothers from the Order’s past—Martin de Porres, Juan Macias, Francis Shoyemon, James of Ulm, Carino of Balsamo, Simon Ballachi, Paul of St. Mary, the Bother martyrs, and Oderic of Normandy (first brother of the Order). With the turning over of the success of this historic study to God, the first such study in the eight hundred year history of the Order, emerged the profound sense of hope that what the Brothers were talking about was not numbers or ministries, but a beautiful way of relating to God that will continue to be relevant, a way worth calling others to join. Clearly, the theme for the study ““dedicating ourselves to God, following Christ to lead an evangelical life in the Order” (LCO 189, I) was given renewed life in this experience.

US Regional Meeting Planning Committee: Paul Byrd, OP (Central Province); Herman Johnson, OP (Southern Province); Frederick Narberes, OP (Western Province); Ignatius Perkins, OP (Eastern Province)

For further information about the study, contact Ignatius Perkins OP, Chair of the Core Team @ brotherignatius@aol.com or 801 Dominican Drive, Nashville, TN 37228.