Your Excellencies, Bishops of the Church; Father Every, delegate of the Master of the Order of Preachers; Father Ebben, provincial-designate of the Southern Dominican Province; Reverend Monsignors; Reverend fathers, brothers, and sisters, and especially those of you who serve your communities as major superiors; Dean Rowland, representative of the Episcopal Church; Honorable Congresswoman Lidy Boggs; my brothers and sisters in Christ.
On January 21 in the year 1217, Pope Honorius III issues the bull, "To the Giver of All Good Gifts." By this bull, the second issued on the same subject by that Pontiff within less than four weeks, he approved the plans of Dominic Guzman to develop a new religious order. The bull of January 21 applauded the freshness of Dominic's ideas and summoned into being, as the bull stated: "An Order that would be called and would be an Order of Preachers." Within a few weeks, papal authorization in hand, Dominic returned to Toulouse where the sixteen members of his original band waited expectantly. They rejoiced with him because their plans had been ratified by the Roman Pontiff. But Dominic gave them little time to relish their achievement. On August 15th of that same year, 1217, he dispersed his brethren. To Paris, he sent seven of the first Dominicans to study, preach, and establish a priory." To Spain, he sent four. Three remained at the first Dominican house in Toulouse. Two were sent to nearby Prouille to aid the first monastery of Dominican nuns. When challenged about his tactic of dispersal, Dominic replied: "Seed when scattered fructifies; when hoarded, rots."
Then he was off on still another journey; the itinerant preacher. One of our fondest images is of him traveling by foot, singing along the highways of Europe, ever alert for an opportunity to preach Jesus Christ, hungry to bring any listener to a deeper love of the Savior. To everyone, he was "Brother Dominic, Preacher." To his followers, he was a joyful master who always presented himself as their brother, the perfect model of fraternal love.
Dominic's daring dispersal of his first followers was quickly rewarded. The houses newly established in France and Spain attracted immediate recruits in very large numbers. Meanwhile, the founder himself established new communities as he traveled. Three and a half years later, in May of 1220, Dominic presided at the first General Chapter of the Order at Bologna. One year later, in May of 1221, the second General Chapter convened under his presidency. In that second Chapter, the Order was divided into eight provinces or territorial jurisdictions. Each province was given significant autonomy and internal self- government exercised through a thoroughly democratic process. Each province would elect a provincial who would be established in full authority over his brethren for a fixed term. To him were answerable the priors of the priories within his jurisdiction, each of these priors having been himself elected by the governed. This concept of a province was new, another of the several structural innovations with which Dominic endowed religious life for the future.
Dominic died in August of the same year. But his death was no deterrent to the work he had inaugurated. History has shown, in fact, that he was a brilliant lawgiver and a marvelously inspirational father. Despite the several crises of its nearly eight centuries, the Dominican Order (as it can to be known popularly) has continued in existence, though always a pilgrim in this world, like the Church itself, often facing the intense demands, the sufferings even, which times of renewal and renovation call forth.
In the era that opened with the Second Vatican Council, the Order of preachers was plunged into yet another of its crises. Is the Order's style-of-life relevant? Should it seek other ministerial directions? Can it cling to St. Dominic's original inspiration yet modify that inheritance to respond effectively to the contemporary world? Or was Cardinal Newman correct when he asked in 1846 whether the Dominican Order is not a great ideal that is now extinct? Could the Order survive the serious losses in its membership which it was sustaining? The first answers to those questions were provided at River Forest in suburban Chicago eleven years ago. A total renewal of the Order's Constitutions was achieved there by a General Chapter of the Dominicans. But a far more reassuring answer is offered today with the inauguration of the Southern Dominican Province of the United States.
This new province is not born out of domestic schism or internal disharmony or intramural contesting between Progressives and traditionalists. Its creation is the result of an exemplary generosity and fraternal altruism that has been demonstrated by the provincial councils and other leaders of the two parent provinces, the Eastern Province of New York and the Central Province of Chicago, and supported by the enthusiastic encouragement of the Western Dominican Province at Oakland. The new province, in fact, is a proclamation of the Order's unity in the United States.
The tangible unity that binds the American provinces is a marvelous achievement of the past ten years. This unity came about because of the first steps taken by a former provincial in Chicago, Father Clement Collins, who is presently serving as pastor of this very parish. His call for a national meeting of the Order's leaders engendered the first interprovincial meeting which was held under his sponsorship in 1970. Fathers Kenneth Sullivan, Paul Scanlon, and Gerard Cleator, former American provincials, continued these annual meetings with great effectiveness. The present provincial in New York, Father Terence Quinn, has been especially keen to pursue opportunities for closer collaboration. Proximately, his efforts are mainly responsible for the new province. His presence here today, together with Father Paul Raftery, Provincial of the West Province and Father Louis Every, American Assistant to the Master of the Order, gives evidence that the Southern Dominican Province is not a division of our Order but a deeper unification of it.
But the new province is chiefly the work of its first 171 members. The genuine fraternal charity which has brought this day upon us was palpable in a special assembly of interested brethren who gathered at St. Louis last July. At the conclusion of that event, they voted to accept one another and together to launch the new province. Priests, cooperator brothers, and student brothers from the Eastern and Central Provinces agreed to embrace, despite differences of practices or observances in the two provinces, and to offer themselves to the Order as its newest jurisdiction. St. Louis was a stunning moment for the American Dominicans. Its result cannot fail to beget a great enrichment of the Church in the South.
The services of the Church in the Southern tier of states is, of course, the major reason for the new province. The Church grows rapidly, as does the civic population, in this part of the Sun Belt. A Dominican province dedicated to a Southern ministry will claim the new province's urgent attention in a way that is nearly impossible to provinces headquartered in New York and Chicago. And the new province will thrive and with it the Order and the Church. For that which originates in genuine fraternal charity cannot fail. Moreover, seed when scattered, fructifies.
The St. Louis assembly was followed by a special elective assembly celebrated two weeks ago here in New Orleans. That body of 144 friars chose leadership for the Southern Province and decided basic structural questions. During the meeting, the members caucused publicly to consider nominees for provincial leadership. After a fair and open exercise of frank questions and answers, the assembly nominated Father Bertrand Ebben as its first provincial. In the same way, provincial councilors were also chosen. Their selection was ratified by the Master of the Order who specified that their assumption of office on this day will mark the inauguration of the Southern Province.
Father Ebben made it clear to his brothers during the Assembly's caucus that his first priority for the province would be the ministry of preaching. Without compromising the other apostolates to which members of the Province are committed, the new provincial will seek to lead his province to a service of the Church in the South through a ministry in which he has already distinguished himself. In this, he will resolutely follow the original goal of the Order: to place at the service of the Church a self-perpetuating body of men of faith, sound in doctrine, instant at prayer, given to study, for the effective proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Preaching, properly so called, is fundamentally the right and the duty of bishops. It was St. Dominic's vision that saw the possibility of extending this mission to priests especially prepared to assist the bishops in this serious responsibility. Thus, the enabling bulls of Honorius III are of serious historical consequence. Afterwards, the preaching ministry was open to trained diocesan clergy and to other Orders. But it has remained the vocation of the Order of Preachers to be especially concerned for the preaching needs of the Church.
Preaching is thus the special duty and the first priority of the Dominicans. The primitive Constitutions of the Order -- developed between 1216 and 1220 -- declare that a superior shall have power to dispense his brethren from the requirements of the Constitutions; "when it shall seem expedient to him, especially in those things which are seen to impede study, preaching, and the good of souls, since it is known that our Order was founded from the beginning especially for preaching and the salvation of souls."
It was almost inevitable that the Southern Dominican Province would choose St. Martin dePorres as its heavenly patron. His life exemplifies all of the priorities to which the Province will commit itself. Martin was dedicated to the service of the poor and the defenseless, and so stands as a model for those who accept the Church's contemporary summons to the works of social justice. He was born of mixed parentage, sharing the blood of both the Hispanics and the Blacks, the ministry to which minorities in the South will necessarily command the strong attention of the Southern Dominicans. Though not himself a preacher, Martin made the efforts of preachers possible through his domestic service to his own community and in this he demonstrates a commitment of our entire brotherhood to the preaching enterprise, even if some of us may be called to serve the preaching office in less direct, even hidden ways. This year, indeed, tomorrow, we celebrate the 400th anniversary of the birth of Martin dePorres. Our recollections of his life in this solemn observance should surely enkindle the enthusiasm of the Dominicans in the South to pursue his example.
Auspiciously, the Southern Province begins its life on this feast of the Immaculate Conception of Our Lady. We celebrate today a major feast of the universal Church and the patronal feast day of our nation. Of equal note is the fact that at every important juncture in his life, St. Dominic turned to our Lady for the courage which he needed, the favors which he sought, and often enough for the inspiration which led him into the ranks of the Church's truly remarkable saints. It is no wonder that devotion to Mary, the Mother of God, has characterized the Dominicans from the beginning. And it is perhaps understandable that we should have hurried arrangements for this day so that the new province might hereafter observe its birthday on so great a Marian feast.
When Dominic Guzman lay dying in August of 1221, surrounded by many of his brothers, he was asked where he wanted to be buried. "At the feet of my brethren," he replied. When they wept openly at his impending death, he calmed them with the assurance that he would be of greater utility to them from heaven than he had ever been before. Each of the several episodes which has led to the formation of the Southern Dominican Province has filled those of us who have participated with wonder, for each episode was marked with that fraternal love to which I have already alluded. I am thus certain that Dominic's love to be with his brethren, so often proven in his life, is manifest here. His spirit dominates this day. More, his promise to be of heavenly assistance is again realized in this day's celebration. Were he here, he would rejoice that we dare to divide our American numbers in a time that is still fraught with uncertainty for the Church. He would smile, remind us that seed, when scattered, fructifies, and then he would set off, seeking to establish new communities of preachers and -- especially on this day -- joyfully singing as he went.