The president of a Dominican-founded college reflects on a recent pilgrimage in the steps of the saint whose feast day is Aug. 8.
I sometimes chuckle that I am a Franciscan friar who is president of a Dominican-founded college: Mount St. Mary College in Newburgh, N.Y. And to top it off, we have a Carmelite chaplain.
Yet, there’s much to be gained from enriching one’s Catholic intellectual recipe with the high points of various charisms.
Recently, with some fellow presidents of Dominican colleges and universities, I experienced a pilgrimage in the footsteps of St. Dominic, whose feast day we celebrate Aug. 8.
Highlights of the pilgrimage in Spain were Caleruega, where Dominic was born in 1170 to Felix Guzman and Jane de Aza; and Salamanca, the university city where Francisco de Vitoria promoted human rights of native Americans.
Early Dominicans, and Franciscans, readily gravitated toward the great universities of Medieval Europe, because they wanted to understand the great mysteries of the Catholic faith before preaching them.
We Franciscan friars can readily rattle off a list of scholars, including Bonaventure and John Duns Scotus.
Dominic also inspired luminaries in the Catholic intellectual tradition: Albert the Great, Thomas Aquinas, Catherine of Siena, Pope Pius V, Bartolome de las Casas and many more. Thomas Aquinas, in particular, laid the course of exploring the relationship between faith and reason.
In France, our Dominican pilgrimage took us to Fanjeaux, where Dominic briefly lived while debating the Cathars (an immensely intellectual activity), and where he established nearby at the Church of Sainte Marie de Prouilhe the first community of Dominican nuns in 1206.
In Toulouse, Dominic founded the Order of Preachers in 1215, and Thomas Aquinas is buried there in the Church of the Jacobins. Dominic himself is buried in Bologna, Italy.
My overriding question on this pilgrimage was: what is the heart of Dominican spirituality?
It’s preaching the Word of God, the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
An important motto in St. Dominic’s community, found in a Dominican hymn, captures that spirituality: “Praise God, laudare! Be a blessing, benedicere! Preach the Gospel, praedicare!”
This pilgrimage made me realize how truly evangelical Dominic was. Preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ was his passion. And that passion inspired others to do the same.
Vibrant communities were formed by persons who knew who they were and rejoiced in it.
And, noting that the Feast of St. Clare of Assisi is not too distant from that of St. Dominic (on Aug. 11), we can’t help but be inspired that these leaders had such strong identities. The terminus of their earthly lives did not terminate their Gospel appeal, but instead continue to inform us on our journeys today.
May this brief thought from a prayer on our Dominican pilgrimage inspire us as we celebrate the feasts of these great saints: “We trust in God and hunger for truth … teach us your ways, O God, and we will walk in truth; give us an undivided heart that we may seek your face.”
— Fr. Kevin has served as president of Mount St. Mary College in Newburgh, N.Y., since 2008.
Friars who would like to submit a reflection on a seasonal topic for a future issue of HNP Today are asked to contact Jocelyn Thomas, in the HNP Communications Office by email or phone (646-473-0265 ext. 321).