This is the eighth in a series of profiles of Holy Name Province friars who are marking major anniversaries as Franciscans in 2015. The last article featured Karl Koenig, OFM, of Camden, N.J. Dominic and the other jubilarians commemorating 50 and 25 years of profession will be honored by the Province on June 24.
ALLEGANY, N.Y. — If you have a question about Church or Franciscan history, you’ll want to speak with Dominic Monti, OFM.
The former Provincial Vicar, who is marking 50 years as a Franciscan friar this year, is known around the world as an expert historian. He has dedicated most of his life to educating both religious and laypeople, and his students are serving the Church around the world.
Today, Dominic works as a distinguished professor of Franciscan studies at St. Bonaventure University, just 20 miles from his hometown of Bradford, Pa. As a child, he belonged to St. Francis Parish in Bradford, where the friars assisted the local pastor with Masses.
“I always liked their sermons better than the pastor’s,” recalled Dominic. But he did not seriously consider becoming a Franciscan friar until he began attending St. Bonaventure University.
“If I hadn’t gone to St. Bonaventure, I might not have joined the Order,” he said. “In high school, I was already considering becoming a diocesan priest, along with law and becoming a history professor. But when I came to Bonaventure, I spoke with the friars here, and it was during my sophomore year that I really began thinking that I might be called.”
Formation and Education
Dominic left St. Bonaventure after his sophomore year and, in 1963, enrolled in St. Joseph’s Seraphic Seminary in Callicoon, N.Y. One year later, he and his classmates began their novitiate year at St. Raphael’s in Lafayette, N.J., and professed first vows there in July 1965.
Dominic spent the next two years studying at St. Francis College in Rye Beach, N.H. During that time, he earned his bachelor’s in philosophy from St. Bonaventure University. He and his classmates then went to Washington to study theology at Holy Name College.
During this time, religious houses of study in the Washington area were forming a coalition of schools to pool resources. The Coalition of Religious Seminaries, established in 1968, became legally incorporated as the Washington Theological Coalition and granted its first degrees in 1971.
As a result of these changes, Dominic spent his first year of theology at Holy Name College, the second year with the coalition and third at The Catholic University of America. He received his bachelor of sacred theology from CUA in 1970 alongside Xavier Seubert, OFM, who also planned to go on for higher studies. They professed solemn vows in 1969 with the rest of their class at Holy Name College.
In 1970, Dominic and Xavier moved to New York City to attend the Union Theological Seminary, receiving a master’s in sacred theology in 1971. They were ordained to the priesthood with their classmates that year at the Franciscan Monastery in Washington.
A Teacher at Heart
After ordination, Dominic spent the summer preaching and hearing confessions at St. Francis of Assisi Church in New York City before being assigned to teach at Christ the King Seminary on the SBU campus in Allegany.
“Looking back, it was very bold of the Order and me to say that my first assignment was going to be teaching guys in the seminary who were just a couple of years younger than me,” Dominic said. “I was on a formation team evaluating these guys for ordination when I had just been ordained myself.”
Two years passed before he moved to Chicago in 1973 to begin working on a doctorate with a concentration in the history of Christianity from the University of Chicago. He returned to Christ the King Seminary from 1977 to 1978 to work on his thesis and teach, and in 1979 completed his degree in Chicago.
For the next 23 years, Dominic taught church history at the Washington Theological Union. During that time, he served as head of the department and also served as vicar of Holy Name College in the 1980s, with John O’Connor, OFM, as guardian.
“I enjoyed all of my assignments in different ways, but I think I enjoyed my years at the Union best because I was doing what I had trained to do,” Dominic said. “I was helping prepare laypeople, as well as men and women in different religious orders, for ministry in the Church. I enjoyed that very much.”
Since 1986, Dominic has also taught a course on Franciscan history during the summer at the Franciscan Institute.
“I’ve liked that because I get to meet a lot of men in formation from other provinces,” he said. “During the last few years, I’ve traveled to different provinces while doing work for the Order, and people know who I am because I taught them at Bona’s.”
Return to St. Bonaventure University
In 2002, Dominic was elected to the Provincial Council. That same year, Xavier asked him if he would consider returning to St. Bonaventure University to teach in the theology department.
“At that point, I was 59 years old. I said, ‘If I’m going to do something different, this is the time to do it,’” Dominic recalled. “My parents were getting older, so I wanted to come a little closer to home.”
Though Dominic returned to Bonaventure to teach, he was asked to serve in an unexpected role in 2003, when the university’s basketball scandal erupted. That year, the NCAA discovered that an SBU transfer student and basketball player had not earned enough credits to play basketball at a Division I university. The team forfeited all but one of its victories and was barred that year from the Atlantic 10 Conference tournament. The student had been approved by President Robert Wickenheiser, who was forced to resign. St. Bonaventure University sank in the public’s opinion.
As it became clear that Wickenheiser would step down, Provincial Minister John Felice, OFM, who was serving on SBU’s board of trustees, called Dominic to ask if he would submit his name as a possible candidate for interim president.
“John said to me, ‘I think this crisis is affecting the school’s Franciscan identity because it looks like we’ve abandoned our Franciscan values,’” recalled Dominic. “‘I think it’s important for a Franciscan to step in. Would you be willing to have your name submitted to the board?’”
Dominic agreed and two days later received the call asking him to accept the position. “The first few months were very, very rocky,” he said, recalling days filled with meetings with the NCAA, other A-10 schools and the media. He served as interim president for 15 months while the university searched for a permanent replacement for Wickenheiser. In Dominic’s bio in the SBU Archives, the author remarks that Dominic “was able to restore faith and confidence in the university through his strong and humble leadership.”
Work for the Order
After Sr. Margaret Carney, OSF, was inaugurated as president in 2004, Dominic was asked to become chair of the theology department. He continued to teach at Bona’s until he was elected Provincial Vicar during the Provincial Chapter of 2005, and moved to New York City to work alongside John again. “The friars joked that they had elected their old formation team.”
During his term as Provincial Vicar, Dominic served the Order in various ways, including as chair of the secretaries of formation for the English-speaking Conference, and as a member of the interprovincial commission founded in December 2012 to explore collaboration between the U.S. OFM provinces. Two years ago, he was asked to chair the Commission on the Franciscan Intellectual Tradition (CFIT). He has been on the board of the American Academy of Franciscan History for 20 years, since 1995. In 2010, he was General Visitor for Assumption Province, and is currently serving in the same role for St. Barbara Province.
“I’ve enjoyed doing these things,” he commented. “It’s been very nice to meet all these friars, to become familiar with the men themselves and all the work they’re doing in different parts of the country. That’s been very enjoyable.”
From 1997 to 2005, Dominic served as the spiritual assistant for the U.S. territory of the Missionaries of the Kingship of Christ. He resumed this role last summer.
A widely respected historian, Dominic has written numerous articles, and provided translations for two volumes of the “Works of St. Bonaventure” series published by the Franciscan Institute. To celebrate the 800th anniversary of the founding of the Franciscan Order in 2009, Dominic wrote “Francis and His Brothers,” a popular history of the Order of Friars Minor.
His interest in history has made him the unofficial Provincial historian. “When Daniel Kenna, OFM, was master of novices in the ‘80s, he asked me if I would start teaching the history of the Province to the novices,” Dominic said. “After that, I gave a little talk at one of the chapters to explain the history of our ministries and why we chose to staff them.” He continues to give workshops on the Province’s history to the postulants.
“There is a wide diversity of things we do in the Province, from direct ministry to the poor to working in a parish to academics,” Dominic said. “Because of that, we have a great diversity of people. We’ve been very blessed in the supportive environment that we have, in the care and concern of the friars for each other.
“I’ve been very fortunate as a friar because what I enjoy doing coincided with the assessment of my superiors in the Order,” he added. “I enjoy teaching and they thought that it was a good fit. They were very happy to assign me to what I liked.”
— Maria Hayes is communications coordinator for Holy Name Province.