The Provincial Chapter began on Monday 29th August with the Mass of the Holy Spirit, celebrated by the prior of the Tallaght priory in which the Chapter is being held, fr Donal Roche OP. fr Paul Lawlor OP, ministering in Teheran in the sermon, drew on his experience of witness within an Islamic culture, and to the study of archaeology opening our minds to how the Church became incarnate in different cultures. Archaeology also teaches the need to be careful in interpreting evidence and how ‘we learn that we have an incredible capacity to fool ourselves into thinking that things are what we wish them to be. Over and over again, the curved wall of a bathhouse was interpreted as the apse of a church and a bath was seen as a baptistery… Very often it is non-believers who, while they may have their own prejudices, confront our presuppositions and lead us to a deeper understanding of the situation before us.’ In his conclusion he recognized ‘that at present there seem to be different emphases about how to be a Dominican but in the tradition of tolerance we are called to dialogue, to friendship and respect; never to be dismissive of the other. We seek to balance our response to the needs we see around us while striving for a continuity in the way of life, to listen to each other in our desire to live the life inspired by our father St Dominic.’
The Assembly spent Monday afternoon on an open forum discussing the report of the pre-chapter commission, ‘Community and Preaching: Our Dominican Mission and Identity in Ireland today’. After Vespers, the brothers assembled for a festive dinner in the refectory, a thoroughly enjoyable occasion beautifully catered by the Tallaght staff.
Tuesday 30 August the morning and early afternoon were spent discussing the pre-chapter reports on ‘Vocations and Formation’, ‘Studies and the Province’s Intellectual Mission’, ‘Finance’, turning, after lunch, to ‘Governance and Accountability’. The later afternoon brought one of the high points of the Chapter so far, inspiring addresses by leaders within the Dominican Family: Sister Máiréad Mullen, Prioress of Siena Monastery, Drogheda, Sister Martina Phelan, Prioress of the Mission Area of Ireland of the Cabra Sisters; and Mrs Patricia Kelly, President of the Lay Dominicans of Ireland. All three speakers were grateful for the opportunity to take part in the Assembly as well as for the history of cooperation within the Dominican Family.
Sister Máiréad reminded us of how in the Dominican Family each part has its own function. She quoted the blessing of the veil at the solemn profession of a Dominican nun, in which she is described as ‘a house of prayer and a temple of intercession’. At the very heart of Dominic’s life was a profound contemplative love of God, which made him open to sharing the word. In response to a question of what to say to a young woman to interest her in entering a Dominican monastery, she said that the nun must fall in love with Jesus so that nothing else will satisfy except to adore, love and praise him.
For Sister Martina, shared with us the way the sisters have faced their challenge of moving away from school campuses run entirely by the Congregation to smaller ministries. She reminded us that changes in society bring us closer to the environment in which the Order first appeared. The first generation of Dominicans moved away from structures to walk with the people. Today’s task is a contemplative engagement with the world and with the word, sustained by the four pillars: community, prayer, mission and study. Reflecting on the broadness and flexibility of the Dominican charism, she quoted the Master of the Order telling us to go beyond the boundaries of our own safety. She informed us that the Nashville sisters, now in Limerick, will attend the next Dominican Family event. And when asked what she would say to a young woman about joining the Order, she told of her own vocation. While working in Dublin, she visited a friend in Kilkenny and at the Black Abbey she met one of the friars and told him of a sense of searching. Francis McNamara OP advised her to visit Cabra, and when she did so she had an immediate sense of belonging.
Patricia Kelly gave a moving and detailed account of events organised by the Lay Dominicans to celebrate the Jubilee and of how partnership with other parts of the Family made those events successful. She pleaded for a re-founding of the Dominican Youth Movement in Ireland, and that we revive the joint vocations committee.
After Vespers and supper, the Assembly resumed with an open forum on ‘Our Hopes for This Provincial Chapter’. Many speakers appealed for clear decisions, and for re-energising our commitment to preaching. To sustain that preaching we need both the contemplative spirit so beautifully articulated by Sister Máiréad and a detailed understanding of contemporary culture. A number of speakers stressed the value of involvement in schools as a means of evangelising present-day culture. We need also to develop our capacity to evaluate what we do. The Assembly ended with Compline