Thomism, the Friars and the Truth

The Dominicans in Washington, DC

By Meghan Ferrara

Photos by: Fr Lawrence Lew, OP

For 800 years, the Dominicans have been forming priests at the heart of the Catholic Church. Nowhere is this more evident than in a truly Catholic, amazing seminary like that of the Eastern Dominican Province of St. Joseph in Washington, D.C.  Recently, REGINA Magazine’s Meghan Ferrara sat down with Fr. Andrew Hofer, OP master of students at the Dominican House of Studies, to discuss his seminary’s extraordinary work.

REGINA: What is the Dominican House of Studies?

ANDREW HOFER: The Dominican House of Studies is an English translation of the Latin term “studium” as it applies to the Order of Preachers. It includes both the Priory of the Immaculate Conception, founded in 1905 on the occasion of the U.S. Eastern Dominican Province of St. Joseph’s 100th anniversary, and the Pontifical Faculty of the Immaculate Conception. The Prior, the elected local superior, heads the priory and the President of the Pontifical Faculty heads the school.

“After the novitiate, professed brothers are sent to the House of Studies where they study to be preachers of the Gospel. Most of the brothers are clerical, meaning that they are studying to be ordained to the priesthood. Some of our students are cooperator brothers, meaning that they are Dominican friars, just as the clerical brothers are, but they are not called to be priests. St. Martin de Porres from Lima, Peru is probably the Order’s most famous non-clerical brother. “

REGINA: What is a Pontifical Faculty?

ANDREW HOFER: In 1941, our school was raised to be a pontifical faculty of theology, an honor and responsibility given to few seminaries in the United States of America. The Holy See has special oversight of pontifical faculties throughout the world, which grant pontifical degrees, degrees that one would receive in Rome. Among the degrees that we are authorized to grant are the Bachelor of Sacred Theology (comparable to a Master’s degree), the License of Sacred Theology, and the Doctor of Sacred Theology. The Middle States Commission on Higher Education and the Association of Theological Schools also civilly accredits the Pontifical Faculty of the Immaculate Conception. We grant the civil degrees of the Master of Divinity and the Master of Arts. Thanks to the Thomistic Institute within the Pontifical Faculty, we also grant degrees that are specialized in the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas, the Common Doctor of the Church.

REGINA: What is special about St. Thomas Aquinas for your Pontifical Faculty?

ANDREW HOFER: According to the Second Vatican Council’s Optatam Totius and the Code of Canon Law, men who study for the priesthood are supposed to have St. Thomas Aquinas as their teacher in dogmatic theology. In fact, St. Thomas is the only theologian singled out by the Second Vatican Council and the Code of Canon Law for this honor.

REGINA: Really? We didn’t realize this!

FR. ANDREW HOFER: Since the thirteenth century, the Order of Preachers has claimed St. Thomas’s teaching in a special way as its own. You could say that we Dominicans have a great interest in fulfilling the Catholic Church’s call to have St. Thomas as a teacher in priestly formation. His teaching is God-centered, pastoral, dialogical, open to further questions, and true. People really need to hear the truth.

REGINA: Speaking of truth, we understand that you have quite a lot of seminarians!

ANDREW HOFER: We usually have about 100 students in our student body for the different graduate degree programs. About half are Dominican brothers. Because the priory had over 80 resident friars last year and was running out of space, the Dominican Province of St. Joseph set up a new studentate of deacons at St. Dominic’s Priory, a priory and parish established in the 19th century near L’Enfant Plaza here in DC. The school retains its original purpose of forming Dominican brothers, and has brothers from both the Priory of the Immaculate Conception and St. Dominic’s Priory.

REGINA: What do your Friars go on to do?

ANDREW HOFER: The Dominican friars formed here go on to serve the Church and the Order in many capacities. The Dominican Province of St. Joseph sponsors Providence College in Rhode Island, the only liberal arts college in the U.S.A. run by Dominican friars. We also have seventeen parishes, three of which are university parishes with campus ministries, and six additional campus ministries—including service at schools such as Dartmouth, Brown, Johns Hopkins, New York University, and the University of Virginia.

REGINA: Do any go outside the US?

ANDREW HOFER: This Province has responsibility over the Vicariate of Eastern Africa, and we presently have one priory and two smaller houses in Kenya. As preachers in the Catholic Church, we also have friars dedicated to itinerant preaching and others who serve in various teaching capacities, including at The Catholic University of America.

“Many religious communities established houses near CUA after it was founded in 1887. We are directly across Michigan Avenue from CUA and diagonally opposite the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. Both CUA’s School of Theology and Religious Studies and our own Pontifical Faculty are members of the Washington Theological Consortium, an ecumenical association that offers benefits such as cross-registration and library borrowing privileges. Our friars also have been teaching at CUA for many decades, and our presence at CUA has reached beyond the discipline of Theology. For example, Father Gilbert Hartke, O.P., founded CUA’s Department of Speech and Drama, and Fathers Ignatius Smith, O.P., and Kurt Pritzl, O.P., served as Deans of CUA’s School of Philosophy. Every year we celebrate the Feast of St. Thomas Aquinas in January near the beginning of the spring semester with CUA, which honors him as the patron of Catholic education and as its own proper patron, in a festive Mass at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.”

“For several decades the school has been open to students besides Dominican friars. Some religious communities have a formal cooperation with our school, and we attract additional religious—both men and women. We also have laymen and women and diocesan priests studying with us. Besides our typical study body of about 100 students, in the summertime we additionally have about 25 Nashville Dominican Sisters study with us.”

REGINA: Do you train teachers and professors?

ANDREW HOFER: Aside from priestly and religious ministries, our graduates (religious, clerical, and lay) often have jobs of teaching and service to the Church and to the world. Some go on to Ph.D. programs. For example, in the past six years we have had eight graduates (five Dominican, one Benedictine, and two lay) in doctoral programs in Theology at the University of Notre Dame.

“One guest to our priory’s liturgy once told me that she loved coming to pray with us because the liturgy is so reverent. A student brother serves as porter from 6:30 to 7:00 am to welcome people to the Mass and Morning Prayer.”

”Friars typically place great emphasis on the liturgical homily, as we want to be true to the charism of the Order of Preachers.”

“I think our choral office is quite beautiful, and it is usually accompanied by the organ. Many of our brothers have outstanding musical gifts. We currently have eleven student brothers who can play the organ. Our schola usually numbers about twenty student brothers, and they spend a lot of time learning various types of music, especially Latin pieces appropriate for the feasts to be celebrated. Student brothers serve as acolytes, lectors, cantors, sacristans, house chapel custodians, and florists. A lot of effort is made to worship God with reverence.”

“Our horarium, or liturgical schedule, is full. After the morning liturgy, on weekdays we have Rosary and Midday Prayer at noon, Office of Readings and Evening Prayer at 5:30 p.m., and Night Prayer at 9:00 p.m.”

REGINA: Besides studying and praying, what else do your brothers in formation do?

ANDREW HOFER: It is true that the brothers study and pray a lot; that is what most of a typical week is about for student brothers. But there are also other duties for them. They are gradually introduced to pastoral ministries, such as campus ministry, teaching in RCIA, caring for the poor and elderly, teaching in schools, serving at parishes, etc. Before a brother is ordained to the priesthood, he will have had many years of ministry experiences both part-time during the academic year and full-time in summer assignments within our Dominican Province and Order.

REGINA: Do Friars have chores?

ANDREW HOFER: In addition to pastoral work each week during the academic year, the brothers also do what we call regular “bellman work,” such as maintaining the community’s cars, computers, and library, as well as working in the advancement office, and so forth, plus being on rotation to clean bathrooms, cook Sunday dinners, waiter our family-style weekday formal dinners, etc.

“The brothers also love to recreate regularly in a variety of ways such as playing sports like soccer, softball, and basketball; playing board games; playing musical instruments, including Bluegrass music; watching movies or sports on television; listening to music; reading; or going out to see the sites of Washington, DC and its environs. It’s good that the brothers enjoy one another’s company. They truly are brothers in the Lord and in our holy father St. Dominic.”

REGINA: What would you advise a young man wishing to join your community to do?

ANDREW HOFER: Be open to the Holy Spirit and contact the Vocation Director! The Vocation Director has what are called aspirancy guidelines, expectations of what a man should and should not be doing if he thinks that God is calling him to be a Dominican friar in the Province of St. Joseph. The Vocation Director may invite the man to come to the House of Studies for a Vocation Weekend. We have four Vocation Weekends each year, and it’s a time for young men to experience something of the Dominican life here, listen to talks about the Dominican life, meet the brethren, and especially pray to the Lord to see if he is being called to take up his cross and follow Jesus in the way that St. Dominic did.

FRIAR WITH RELICS: 2016 will mark the 800th anniversary of the Order’s papal approbation. Dominicans believe that Our Lady interceded with her Son and expressed her desire for this Order of Preachers for the salvation of the world. A man interested in this vocation today should turn to the help of Our Lady of the Rosary, and she will guide him in the mysteries of salvation of Jesus Christ. He is Lord and Savior of us all.

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