On the 1st of May the Dominican Family of Belfast celebrated with great joy the 800th Jubilee of the Order. Dominican Friars first arrived in the Diocese of Down and Connor in 1244 founding a convent at Newtownards, north of Belfast City. The Priory was destroyed during the persecutions of the 1600s and the friars fled for safety living in small houses of refuge in Castlewellan and Moneyscalp. In these places they ministered to the local people often celebrating the Holy Mass on Mass Rocks hidden deep in the countryside. The last friars left in the 1840s ending a long history in the diocese. In 1870 Bishop Dorian of Down and Connor invited the Dominican Sisters to the city of Belfast to open schools for girls and in time a teacher training college was founded. To this day, St. Dominic’s and Fortwilliam College are the leading schools for the education of girls in the city and the county.
Along with the arriving of the Dominican Sisters, fraternities of Lay Dominicans were founded and to this day Belfast has four thriving Lay Dominican Chapters, at the Cathedral of St. Peter, St. Dominic’s Convent, Falls Road, Fortwilliam and St. Brigid’s Parish on the Malone Road.
The celebration of the Jubilee was organised by the members of the Lay Dominicans Chapters in Belfast City. The day began with Solemn Mass at the Convent Chapel in Fortwilliam. The Principle Celebrant and Preacher was Fr. John Walsh, O.P., Promoter for the Dominican Family in Ireland and the Mass was concelebrated by Dominican friars and local clergy. Bishop Noel Treanor of Down and Connor presided in choir and spoke after the final prayer, thanking the Order and its many branches for its contribution to the faith and education in the city and diocese. Fortwilliam College Choir accompanied the Mass with beautiful singing, much to the pleasure of congregation.
After the Mass refreshments were served in the college and a talk was given on the role of the Lay Dominican in the modern world by Mr. Damien McDonnell, O.P., President of the Lay Dominican Chapter in Kilkenny.
Following the talk vespers was sung in the choir of the Convent Chapel.
This great celebration marked not only the joy of the Lay Dominicans fraternities but also the enduring presence of the Order in the Diocese from 1244 to the present time.