Can you talk about the different steps of your formation until permanent vows?
Initial Discernment: Traditionally people used to have their first encounter with the Order by direct interaction with the friars at ministry sites (parishes, schools, campus ministry centers, etc.). Nowadays, many learn about us through the Internet and then contact our vocations promoter and begin to have regular conversations with him. If the candidate lives near one of our communities, he is encouraged to visit periodically, and share in prayer, dinner, and recreation with the local friars. He is then asked to participate in one weekend “Come and See” experience with other candidates. There are two come and see weekends every year, one during the fall and one during the spring. After that, he may also visit our Studentate or House of Studies at Saint Louis, MO. When the candidate feels ready, and if the vocations promoter also feels confident about the vocation and potential of the person, he may apply and seek to be accepted for that year.
Pre-novitiate: This is similar to the year long postulancy of many congregations and orders, but normally lasts only a few weeks, as immediate preparation for the canonical novitiate. One of the weeks of the pre-novitiate is for a retreat.
Novitiate: This begins with the reception of the habit and lasts for a year. During this year, the focus is on transitioning into the different aspects of Dominican life, with emphasis on prayer, community, non-academic study, discernment, learning about religious life, and about the Order and its charisms and mission. Ministry is light during this year. At the end of the year, we make first profession for either two or three years, and move to Saint Louis, MO to begin formal studies.
Studentate: In Saint Louis, we live in a large priory or convent, Saint Dominic Priory, and study at Aquinas Institute of Theology. This formation program is a collaboration between the Province of Saint Albert the Great (also known as the Central Province) and the Province of Saint Martin de Porres (the Southern Province). We are in simple vows for a minimum of three years, after which the province may accept a friar’s petition for solemn (final) vows. However, the practice now is to make vows for two years, and then renew for two additional years, after which the friar may petition for solemn vows.
Studies: Our order is predominantly priestly, but there are also brothers not called to priestly ordination, known as cooperator brothers. For future priests, the course of studies involve earning two degrees, a Master of Arts in Theology and a Master of Divinity, which together take care of the doctrinal, intellectual, pastoral and practical aspects of preparation for ministry (spiritual and human formation happen in the context of community). For cooperator brothers the course of studies may be the same or different depending on the individual call and talents of the brother. For example, one option is to do a Master of Arts in Pastoral Studies combined with a Master in Social Work at Saint Louis University. Another possibility is to finish one of the degrees for basic theological and pastoral preparation and then move on to pursue a professional or academic degree in a field directly related to the ministry the brother intends to develop. Also, some may seek to pursue advanced degrees in theology or other fields and serve the Order and the Church as academics.
Pastoral Year: In the middle of our initial formation, after the second year of studies, we move temporarily into one of our local communities and engage for a year in some form of pastoral ministry. At the end of the year, we return to Saint Louis and continue living in the formation community and studying at Aquinas Institute.
Study Abroad: During initial formation, some of our brothers have studied abroad for a year, typically right after solemn vows. This is a good way of taking advantage of the international scope of the Order. Last year, one of our brothers went to Oxford, England. While abroad, the brother lives in a Dominican formation community.
Ministry and Summers: During the second year in Saint Louis, we start supervised ministry, taking a few hours from our studies each week to serve in a broad variety of settings within the scope of the Archdiocese of Saint Louis. During the summer after the first year of studies, we have a social justice focus, and get involved in some type of ministry working in favor of the poor. During the summer after the second year of studies, we do an intensive summer of Clinical Pastoral Education, normally in hospitals within reach of our Dominican communities. The following summers vary depending on the formational needs of the individual brother, but have often been focused on preaching in one of our parishes or campus ministries.
For cooperator brothers, initial formation ends with solemn vows. For clerics, it ends with priestly ordination, often two years after solemn vows. There are three components in formation for clerics: completion of the two academic degrees and graduation, solemn vows, and ordination.
Advanced Degrees: Intellectual work is within the charisms of our Order. The brothers with a passion for learning are encouraged to do doctoral studies.