In his Guide to Thomas Aquinas, Josef Pieper explains that Aquinas' genius was rooted partly in the fact that he could find, where others could not, a balance between seemingly opposing ideas. "Thomas," Pieper asserts, ". . . undertook the enormous task of 'choosing everything'." Would he choose Aristotle over Augustine? He chose both. Would he prefer the sovereignty of philosophy or the sovereignty of theology? He would prefer both. Scripture or metaphysics? For him both were essential. Christian authors or non-Christian? Both, of course.
Aquinas' ability to find a higher synthesis for the intellectual life between apparently opposing forces paralleled a similar capacity exercised by St. Dominic in the organization of our Order. St. Dominic would not choose between the activist life of the secular and the contemplative life of the regular; he chose both. He did not see a conflict between the pursuit of the intellectual life and the ministry of preaching; or between the monastic observances and the itinerant life of the preacher; or between the solemn vow of obedience and the freedom which democracy affords; or between the stability which a religious order needs and the occasional necessity for making rapid changes; or between dispatching his first brethren to the universities and desiring at the same time to go and preach to infidels; or between the direct experience of his call from God to a special work and the personal need to seek approbation of that work from the Holy See. Like Thomas, Dominic rose above possibilities which might have seemed to others to be mutually exclusive and, in a higher synthesis, he chose both.
My brothers, we gather tonight to spend almost a week in what can prove to be a most special time of grace for each of us and for the Province of St. Albert the Great. Why, in fact, are we here? The last Provincial Chapter called for this congress and we are here in obedience to that call. But why was the call issued? Each delegate who voted in favor of this assembly had different reasons, varying insights. Summed up, I believe those reasons and insights fall under the simple rubric: unity. We are here this week to seek a fraternal unity out of which there can come into our lives and our works a new joy, a deeper commitment, and a more successful effort on behalf of our Lord, Jesus Christ.
We gather with uneasy feelings. Our numbers continue to decline and some wonder whether we are hemorrhaging to death. On the day when I became Provincial two years ago, there were 411 professed members of the province. Today, there are 393. Divisions among us continue. There are those who defend theological positions, sometimes in writing, which others cannot accept. One of our most important values, Thomism, seems to be waning, to the consternation of some of us. Some want living arrangements which are more traditional among us while others seek a more intimate, non-institutional way of living that can support only small numbers under one roof. Too many of our brothers live apart from community for reasons that do not bear directly upon their ministries. With worrisome frequency, I am approached by individuals who want to move away from community, again for purposes other than the apostolic. In ministry, there is the tension between the care and maintenance of institutions versus noninstitutional work under individual contract; an argument, that is to say, between those who want first to assume responsibility for works to which the Province has already committed personnel and resources and those who sense that there are new works and new approaches which a Dominican should responsibly undertake even at the expense of the Province's present involvements. We are at odds on whether and how much divergence from liturgical norms is personally or pastorally suitable; on styles of dress; on moral issues, particularly the meaning and the concrete applications of the vow of chastity; and, perhaps basically, on differing theologies concerning the vow of obedience.
Despite all of this, we should, during this week, discontinue the arguments which go on within the hearts and minds of each one of us concerning all of these divisive factors. instead, in a kind of loyalty to something especially Dominican, we should ask whether it might not be possible for us to surprise ourselves by finding a synthesis of seemingly competing ideas, practices, or trends. In many of those issues, is it not possible that we can choose both?
In some ways, I suppose, this sounds Hegelian. But I am not here proposing a theory of history nor am I defending philosophical principles. St. Dominic was willing to assert that his times required something that had not been seen before. So must we be willing. Dominic did not feel obligated to select between what had been before and something new. He chose both. For the Dominican is it necessary to place tradition and the contemporary in oppositions Not only should we not do this but it would be a violation of something in the innermost being of the true Dominican to do so.
St. Dominic gave us a book of Constitutions which made if fairly easy for the Order to change. He was not wedded to the static and surely not the notion that everything which he determined or found applicable to his age had to endure absolutely. Adapting a current phrase, is not ours an Ordo semper reformandus? Let us not pretend that the Order as we knew it on the day of our reception of the habit must remain unchanged. Let us not fall into the fallacy that in this special age we must reinvent the Dominican wheel.
We must choose both the old and the new. But combining them in a successful synthesis is a work to be done by the Province as a community of brothers. It is not a work only for the isolated individual or even for the local community. Individuals should be allowed the freedom at times to experiment. So should local communities. But their attempts to seek appropriate new applications of our traditions must be on behalf of all of us in the Province and not merely for the benefit of the individual Dominican or local community.
This is not a call to idealism. Practically speaking, is it not true that some of us have adjusted to changes within the Church that we did not like initially? Haven't some of us even become quite comfortable with new practices to which we were originally opposed? And practically speaking, is it not true that others of us have had second-thoughts about some of the changes which we once entertained? I want to insist that, in fact, the ends of the philosophical spectrum are now moving toward the center. We must explicitly ratify that convergence in Dominican life and ministry. None of us is free to choose right or left. Each of us is obligated to choose both.
Frankly, the Church needs a sense of balance today almost more than it needs anything else. I believe, without conceit, that the Dominicans are prepared to provide clues for the finding of that balance better than any other group. Our training provides us with a larger view of things; our structures are more flexible than are those of most orders; our basic temper as an Order is more even. But we must first demonstrate true balance between competing forces in our own community life before we can undertake helping to lead the people of God toward such balance.
In some ways, St. Albert's Province is in a good position to be of advantage to the Church in this way. We have significant experience to bring to the discussions which must be conducted. We were among the earliest to try new forms and structures; a new formation program; a personnel board; appeals board; continuing education program; Economic Council; limited service policy and fund; and the like. Some of these we discarded, others we modified, still others we have ratified. I have already said that we gather here with many misgivings about our Province. But we must not allow those misgivings to conceal our very real strengths.
Foremost among these, without question, are the ministries in which we are engaged. in general, our apostolates are extremely well received. in many cases they are distinguished. personally, I am most enthusiastic about the renewed interest in the full-time preaching ministry which is presently a feature of our Province. Some of the works in which we are involved can be considered optional for the Province at one time or another. Preaching may never be. Our Order is known to have been founded from the beginning especially for preaching and the salvation of souls. Because we are the Order of Preachers, we have to assume an obligation on behalf of the entire Church for the preaching apostolate. Each of us must encourage and support our successful preachers unhesitatingly. In fact, we have some of the most effective preachers in the contemporary Church.
We have a major investment of priests and brothers in the parochial apostolate. I believe that this is altogether appropriate for many reasons. In the first place, almost all of our brothers who are engaged in the parish ministry are very successful, extremely effective. There are two complaints which one hears generally about priests in the United States. The first is that individuals are sometimes treated shabbily by the priests whom they approach, usually at parish rectories. The second is that the Sunday liturgy is poorly rendered and the sermon woeful. I am proud to say that I have seldom heard either of these complaints about our parish priests and brothers. Indeed, in every instance where I have directed that a pastor or associate pastor or cooperator brother be transferred, the objections from parish councilors and other parishioners have been vigorous. My physical well-being has been threatened in one instance. In another, Ronan Liles demanded that I contribute two dollars monthly to the Society for Vocational Support to redeem a loss which he was sustaining from a protesting parishioner in Louisiana. In still another, a sister-principal refused to speak with me because I was transferring her favorite associate pastor. In still another, a parishioner told me publicly that she could never forgive me for changing her pastor. Most of our churches are known both for the fine pastoral service which is always available and for the fine performance of preachers. Our parishes support our Province handsomely. Mainly, they offer the individual Dominican the deep satisfaction of seeing the effects of his daily ministry in the lives of those with whom he deals. For many of us, that is an irredeemable benefit because it fosters our own inner life with Christ.
Our most difficult pastoral ministry is in the university centers. Our brethren who work in campus ministry lack many of the advantages of the normal parish. Those to whom they minister cannot provide adequate financial support, so that our financial maintenance must come in part from dioceses or academic institutions. And the turnover of students in universities means, in fact, that each September, a new beginning must be made. On the other hand, the centers are still the primary source of our vocations. For younger Dominicans, the work in those centers remains a distinctive attraction. At the moment, however, we cannot meet all of the requests which we receive for priests and brothers to staff university centers. Requests continue to arrive because those who occupy campus chaplaincies work with great credit to the rest of us in the Province.
Among our finest efforts are those which are being made by our brothers in the foreign missions. God's blessings on our works in Nigeria are very tangible. We now have twelve African priests in the Nigerian Vicariate, two transitional deacons, and two solemnly professed cooperator brothers. We have ten young men in formation and solid hope that novices each year will continue to fill the ranks of the Vicariate. Indeed, it is not unrealistic to hope that within a decade the Nigerian Vicariate may be established as a Province. If by God's continuing blessing, the Province of Nigeria is established, we shall take quiet pride in the fact that only one or two other provinces of the Order have given birth to a brand new province in this century. Thanks largely to the exceptional skills and devotion of its economic administrator, the Vicariate supplies over three-fourths of its own financial needs, another tangible sign of God's benediction and, humanly speaking, a well grounded hope for the Vicariate's future.
Our Bolivian missionaries, who face totally different needs and obstacles than do our brothers in Nigeria, perform works, deserving of the greatest praise, works which embody the spiritual and corporal works of mercy (if you will excuse my use of such old-fashioned categories) more directly perhaps, than in any other area of our labors. Although the Bolivian ministries are more personalized than those in Nigeria, they are radical attempts to meet directly the problems which confront the Church and civil society in Bolivia. Vocations have been few, though there is a reason to expect that candidates will be admitted to the Vicariate in the near future.
Our two high schools continue to enhance our reputation. Neither is adequately staffed with Dominicans, not only because our numbers are fewer, but principally because the ministry at Fenwick and Lynch has not been attractive for our younger brothers. I sincerely hope that this will change. High school teaching can be extremely rewarding and an effective approach in the formation of true Catholics. For some, high school teaching is also a proven vehicle for achieving self-confidence at the beginning of the apostolate. Fenwick enjoys a well-deserved prestige and remains, despite some financial and staffing problems one of the finest works in which we are engaged. Bishop Lynch High School differs from Fenwick in a number of ways. Lynch is co-ed, and we share direction of the school with the Sinsinawa Dominicans. Originally established as a regional high school by the diocese, Lynch has not enjoyed the privilege of selectivity which has characterized Fenwick from its inception. A few years ago, the Diocese of Dallas vacated its support of Lynch High School. Men and women of East Dallas then formed a school board for Lynch and that board has successfully raised funds to meet the school's large operating deficit in every year of the board's existence. Those annual fund drives are only one index of the esteem in which our efforts are held in East Dallas.
We have many other ministries which are not community apostolates as such. In many of these, the labors of our brothers are nothing short of outstanding. Their labors are ours because they consciously represent all of us. Whether on a Native American Indian reservation in South Dakota or in the midst of migrant workers or in other more stabilized works among the minorities, especially the Hispanics; whether in the field of medical ethics, or the healing ministry, or in health care programs; whether in the ministries of social justice, university teaching, research and writing, publications, or liturgical music; whether in official diocesan positions, diocesan evangelization programs, military service, or the shrine ministries at St. Pius, our Province has provided men and programs of consequence and sometimes of national leadership.
Aquinas Institute is a work of the Province which has had to live for many years in a defensive mode, being the subject for many years of criticism from members of the province, some of that criticism being my own. To some extent, a house of studies will always be a target of criticism and even carping. Years ago, when many of us here were students at River Forest, we got used to hearing older members of the Province refer to our community as 'the puzzle palace." Each one of us wants those responsible for formation to maintain the interpretation of Dominican life which is his own. But a house of formation can never be free of change, and this is the essential reason for its public relations difficulties within its own province. In a time of rapid and confusing change, its usual problems are extremely exacerbated.
At Dubuque, our theologate has had to endure additional assaults from many of us because it was transformed from a house of studies to an academic institution admitting every class of student, male and female, religious and lay, Protestant and Catholic. The premises of Aquinas Institute were shared with the University of Dubuque Theological Seminary, with a consequent disruption of community life. The program of studies for Dominican student brothers was changed dramatically from that which many of us experienced. Experiments and changes in community customs and style of life were pronounced. And some of us were concerned, alarmed possibly, by an academic shift away from Thomism on the one hand, and an apparent drift toward permissiveness on the other.
Of course, criticism came on easily from the early sixties and into the mid-seventies. Those who were involved in the formation of our novices and students, however, were living with problems of which many of us were often unaware. Some of their attempts to adjust to these problems were ill-founded, as has now been recognized. Some, however, were necessary. In my many visits to Dubuque since coming to office, I have been encouraged by what I have witnessed and experienced and discouraged by only one or two trends. We do have a fine faculty of theology at Aquinas Institute. We have solid men in charge of formation; and each of us must be chary of criticizing them, other than in direct conversation with them, because the directors of formation occupy the most difficult positions to which any of us can be called. The students at Dubuque are outstanding young men. For our Province, they are a very bright promise. Within the next two years, Aquinas Institute will move from Dubuque. We do not know where it will be located when that move is made. The move is called for and perhaps overdue. We have virtually no Catholic support in Dubuque. Many of us have a sense that we should never have gone to Dubuque in the first place, even if we leave behind many good friends and some important achievements, not the least of them being the ecumenical advancements which we have wrought there. We shall locate the Institute, intact, in a place where it can hope to attract more students and where the Province's investment of men and finances will be of greater advantage to the Church. Aquinas Institute ought to be one of our most special, most typical works. We shall not be in haste to determine its next location because of its significance to the entire Province.
Besides our ministerial accomplishments, the Province has three other strengths of which we must be cognizant. The first is our financial picture. I believe that the Province of St. Albert the Great is one of the most secure provinces of the Order, financially speaking. We are not, to be sure, wealthy. We have serious financial needs. But the Shrine of St. Jude continues to provide large sums of money for the Province's involvements. There is no indication that its income is declining, even in relation to the inflationary trends of the day. Each of us owes a vast debt to the directors of the St. Jude Shrine and, as well, to those who direct the Society for Vocational Support and the St. Dominic Mission Society. The Province's financial resources are complemented by financial strengths in many of our local communities, some of which have investment portfolios of real consequence.
Not only is our Province one of the strongest Dominican provinces financially, but we certainly have the outstanding system of accounting and accountability of any province. Our record keeping is precise, professional without being esoteric, a model for any religious community. Financial management in the Province is supported by a well developed theology of corporate poverty keyed to apostolic life. Another of our provincial strengths is our program of limited service. I limit the use of the word "retirement" and I ask each of you hereafter to do the same. We have no retirement policy. No one in the province may retire from the active ministry except when disability requires this. But disability is not per se related to age. We have no retirement age. Our policy is to provide those who cannot support themselves because of illness with a monthly subsidy. We also offer monthly subsidy checks to every brother of the Province who reaches the age of sixty-five. If he is able to do so, the recipient of the monthly subsidy is expected to continue in his ministry or to seek another in which he is supported. His monthly subsidy check would then be returned by him to the limited service fund managed by Father Marr. The policy of providing monthly subsidies to those over sixty-five is designed to meet two needs: first, to eliminate any embarrassment to those who health dictates that a lessening of involvement in ministry is required; and second, to give everyone on limited service freedom to live in any community without being a financial burden. But no one may altogether give up his ministry except by agreement with the Director of Limited Service and local superiors.
Limited service subsidies are drawn from ordinary provincial revenues and not from the Limited Service fund. Since its establishment in 1969, the fund has not been used. It is an interesting fact that the total monthly subsidies to those actually on limited service and those over the age of sixty-five are about equal to the total taxes paid to the province by individuals and houses. Our limited service fund now stands at nearly a million and a half dollars. But that figure will have to more than double before it can be of real utility to the province. Still, the size of the fund, considering that it has been in existence only ten years, is a commendable achievement, and we can expect that it will rise in the future at an exponential rate.
The third area of strength is our vocation picture. I have reason to expect that we shall admit at least ten novices, perhaps as many as twelve, in the next novitiate class. At the same time, the novitiate at Ibadan should admit six or seven African novices. I know that there are candidates in Bolivia who have expressed interest in joining the Order. I am fully confident that we have reached a nadir in vocation numbers and that hereafter our vocations will begin to offset our losses through deaths and departures. We have an excellent admission process, one that served as a model for the requirements established for all provinces by the last General Chapter. Our novitiate program in Denver has been successful, even if the accommodations there are less than ideal. We are all indebted to St. Dominic's in Denver for housing and offering community support to the novices. Every member of the Province owes a vote of sincere thanks to Ed Ruane for the work he has done over five years as Director of Novices. I am enthusiastic over the choice of Jim Barnett as the new Novice Master. Each of us should give him our unqualified support.
Looming like a giant shadow over this congress is the issue of the proposed Southern Province. Will it be established? We cannot be sure. The provincial councils of the Eastern and Central Provinces have agreed in principle to recommend its establishment. But those councils want some concrete assurance that there are not critical obstacles to collaboration between members drawn from the two Provinces. For this reason, the meeting at St. Louis University in July has been organized. If no insurmountable hazards to the proposed province are revealed during that meeting, then the two councils, using the agreements reached by the participants during the meeting, will frame a recommendation to the master of the order for the creation of the new province. The Master can establish this province with the approval of the General Council of the Order, or he can pass the recommendation to the General Chapter of Walberberg which convenes in September, 1980.
Some fear that the creation of a new province will only further weaken two Provinces which appear to be struggling to maintain themselves. On the contrary, there are those of us who believe that a new province will be a source of new vitality, of strengthening, and of growth. I believe that the territory of the proposed province will provide more than adequate vocations and that the generous financial arrangements which are being offered by the Eastern and Central Provinces will free the new province of undue fiscal worries. There can be little doubt that the separation of men and territory from the existing provinces will be a great difficulty for St. Joseph and St. Albert Provinces. But the separation provides critical challenges to these Provinces, and those challenges may be the greatest reason to establish the Southern Province.
I have used the word "separation" perhaps inadvisably. We are forging a closer unity among the three American Provinces, with an easier exchange of manpower, and we are moving toward programs of sharing resources. The American provinces hereafter will be, if I may use the expression, less provincial than was formerly the case. In fact, this implies that we are somewhat redefining what a province means. No one wants his province to surrender its needed autonomy. But autonomy is only essential at an administrative level and in the maintenance of certain special traditions. We should surrender autonomous structures that bar apostolic opportunities, inhibit our ability to speak with one voice to the rest of the Order, lessen our perceived unity within the American Church, and prevent our sharing of certain resources.
With the aforementioned supports for our life and ministry as a Province, we have well founded reasons to be hopeful for the future. There are critical weaknesses in our Province, as I have mentioned, particularly the difficulties we are experiencing with common life. We must not play pollyanna and deny or discount these. But our weaknesses are remediable. We must place those weaknesses in perspective by assessing them against the hard strengths of the province. We must confront them as men with confidence in the traditions of our Order. There is an endemic balance in the Dominican Order which an extraordinarily wise law-giver provided. We need to be searching for it constantly; but the possibility of finding it should be easier for us than for any other religious family because our structures, which themselves balance change and tradition, make it easier for us to make adaptations and, in some cases, even radical changes.
I am a weak man and I often fail to live up to the norms which I ask of others. Despite my shortcomings, I am moved by the solemnity of this moment to a quite genuine act of Faith in the Triune God, and in the intercession of our Lady of the Rosary, of St. Dominic, and a great host of saintly Dominicans. In the certain knowledge of such heavenly support, I rejoice that I am a Dominican. I face the week which now begins in the surest hope that it shall reinvigorate every Dominican here and through us, our Province.
This shall be a happy week for us. We have come here to enjoy one another, to reawaken friendships, to repair some lingering misunderstandings, to revel in fond memories, and together to discover something which individually we have known all along; that if we earnestly commit ourselves to one another in Jesus' name as Dominican brothers, we can be a desperately needed light to the entire Church. Then we shall thrive beyond our most optimistic expectations.
St. Dominic was a man of balance. He surprised his contemporaries by balancing unlikely opposites. Let us set out into this week in imitation of him, looking for the reconciliation of points of view that will surprise us. Mostly, let us enjoy this week by striving to love one another more, knowing that our love for one another will cover a multitude of imbalances. So may we become men of balance like our Father, Dominic, who is characterized by Bede Jarrett, in concluding in Life of the Saint, as a swinging wicket, set (balanced) between the unseen and the seen.