Urban parish ‘beats’ with the heart of Dominican spirituality

Urban parish ‘beats’ with the heart of Dominican spirituality

The “heartbeat” of the parish of St. Dominic is the Order of Preachers, the Dominican friars whose life of prayer, study, community and preaching fosters a parish that attracts people from around the Bay Area.

“The Holy Spirit is alive and on fire right now, in this space and in this time,” said parishioner Kathy Folan, who drives with her physician husband and children from their home in Belmont to St. Dominic to sing in the choir at the 11:30 a.m. Mass and on Thursdays to lead a popular Bible study for women.

With a priory of 10 priests and brothers, including the novitiate, St. Dominic “is one of the major hubs of Dominican life on the West Coast,” said pastor Dominican Father Michael Hurley.

“St. Dominic’s is such a beautiful parish it kind of piques people’s interest. It’s like a small European cathedral,” said parishioner Jay Hurley, no relation to the pastor.

Professors at the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology, novices, priests in other ministries, and retired priests share a life in the priory – one that opens out to the parish. Daily at 7:15 a.m. and 5 p.m. the Dominican friars pray morning prayer and vespers publicly in the church and invite parishioners to join them. There is daily Mass at 6:30 a.m., 8 a.m. and 5:30 p.m.

The Shrine of St. Jude Thaddeus is based in the church although technically separate from the parish, and its 1:30 p.m. Sunday Mass in Spanish attracts hundreds of pilgrims, Father Hurley said, as does its annual St. Jude Novena and procession through the streets.

“I feel lucky to have found them,” said Carly Queen, 35, a member of a small faith sharing group who moved to the Bay Area 12 years ago from Detroit and happened upon the church one and a half years ago while looking for a place to light a candle to St. Jude in honor of her grandparents. “From the moment I went there, I felt like they were talking to me.”

“The heartbeat of the parish really comes from the communal life led by the friars,” said Father Hurley, which is structured around Four Pillars of prayer, common life, study and preaching.

“What that attracts is a strong lay community, a living of the Gospel,” Father Hurley said. “That great commission that Christ gives to go out and teach, preach and heal. All these things flow from that sense of community, of Dominican life. “

“It’s such a mix of people, which I love. There is a place for everyone. The friars speak with hope, yet are very practical in their homilies on how to live a Catholic life,” said Kelly Connelly, a graphic designer and one of the founding organizers of the Walk for Life West Coast. “I leave the church happy and well fed — truly heart, mind and soul. “

Faith formation, for adults and children is central, and there are a myriad of options from Landings for those who may have fallen away to the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults for those who want to become Catholic, as well as Christian meditation and Bible studies, among others. This summer a Dominican novice who is an astrophysicist is lecturing on “Questions about the Universe: Perspectives from Science and Faith.”

“As a parish we need to be studying. We need to know what our faith is all about,” Father Hurley said.

The parish has more than 70 ministries. Parishioners make sandwiches weekly for a rehabilitation center. A homeless drop-in center under the church, a Laudato Si focused group and a volunteer gardening and landscape maintenance crew are other ministries.

“There is not one size fits all,” said Father Hurley. “As best as we can we try to have contact points where anyone might be possibly connecting to the church.”

The Dominicans arrived in San Francisco in 1850 during the Gold Rush. The first St. Dominic’s Church, blessed in 1873, was built on the site where construction began in 1923 on the existing Tudor Gothic style edifice. A $7.2 million seismic retrofit was completed in 1992. St. Rose Academy, a girls’ Catholic high school, was shut down after the 1989 earthquake, and St. Dominic grammar school closed in 2011.

The parish has re-invented itself in the past few decades, becoming known for its young adults group, started in 1989.

“For many people it was a formative part of their adult Catholic faith experience,” said Michael O’Smith, St. Dominic director of adult faith formation. Today there is also a 30s-40s group and a 50-plus group.

“We have lots of weddings here. Even if the couple moves away to the suburbs, they may come back regularly once or twice a month,” O’Smith said, “just to keep the connection, to keep the sense of the sacred. That’s a draw that’s unique.”

Mass on Sunday spans the gamut from quiet 7:30 a.m. Mass through the 9:30 a.m.  family Mass, 11:30 a.m. high Mass, contemporary music at 5:30 p.m. Mass and the candlelight 9 p.m. Mass. The Dominicans offer the sacrament of penance before each Mass.

“I love a church that is open where you can go any time of the day,” said Queen. “There aren’t many churches like that.”

Valerie Schmalz


(1 August 2017)