The Concept of Dominican Family

Dominican Family

The Dominican Order was born as a family. St. Dominic clearly saw that the Sisters fulfilled an indispensable role in the mission of the Order. The first foundation at Prouille was a joint foundation with a prior and prioress. Apart from providing a refuge for young women, in the foundation at Prouille, St. Dominic saw the usefulness of having a domestic base for the preaching ministry. The life of the Sisters was devoted to prayer, asceticism and manual work through which they supported the preaching of the brothers. St. Dominic worked hard to make the Sisters’ foundations a success. At Bologna he insisted that building a house for the Sisters is more important than providing a house for the friars. At the chapter of 1221 he asked the friars in Madrid ‘to transfer to the Sisters the building and entire property’ of their house.

St. Dominic tried to create a sense of family among the Friars and Sisters. Blessed Cecilia records an incident when St. Dominic and Brother Roger arrived in San Sisto very late in the evening. After giving them a talk he offered them wine and insisted that all the sisters ‘drink as much as they wish’; an amusing incident at the same time revealing the family spirit that St. Dominic wanted to inculcate.

To each of the foundations of Nuns St. Dominic attached a small group of friars to assist them in the temporal and spiritual needs of the community. The consequences of this became apparent after his death when the number of the convents increased so rapidly that many felt that the preaching ministry was being hampered. As this work claimed increasing numbers of men, the Order turned to the Holy See, and was subsequently exempted from the ministry of Nuns. The Nuns were naturally deeply upset, and a royal battle ensued. They appealed the decision to the Holy See, and after thirty years won their point. In 1267 Pope Clement the IV placed the monasteries under the jurisdiction of the Master of the order.

One of the outstanding examples of cooperation between Nuns and Friars was the spiritual movement in Germany in the 13 and 14 centuries. It traced its origin to St. Albert the Great and his disciple Meister Eckhart, John Tauler, Henry Suso, and Margaret and Christine Ebner. A remarkable series of biographies and chronicles written in seven of the convents records the intense spiritual life which developed among the Sisters of the time, and which marked the beginning of a growing contribution on the part of the Sisters to the literary output of the Order.

Within twenty-five years of Dominic’s death the Dominican Family was expanded to include the laity. The 1244 statutes of Bologna states the purpose of such lay groups: “to encourage those who are at enmity to make peace, to visit the fatherless and orphans and widows and the sick and the prisoners and the poor and any others who are afflicted in any way, offering their brotherly service of help and advice”. Later on, from the 17 century onwards the active Congregations were founded for similar apostolates.

Dominican Family in India

The Dominican Family in India consists of the Friars, Dominican Contemplative Nuns, six congregations of Sisters, Dominican Laity Chapters at six places, and Dominican Council of Youth in five places. In the recent history of Dominicans in India the Dominican Missionary Sisters of the Rosary were the first to arrive (1956), followed by the Friars (1959). With the arrival of other Congregations a family spirit began to grow, thanks to the annual Family Conventions. Owing to the various problems, in meeting annually, the Convention began to be held biennial, but this did not lessen the spirit. It is heartening to see that the Indian Dominicans here by and large succeeded in living the family spirit visualized by St. Dominic.

However it must be noted that there is room for further collaborations. Family’s common programme so far are more in the realm of input sessions. We must admit that precious little is done towards a functioning system of combined ministry. True, in the Indian situation there are many hurdles. The communities are situated far apart from each other, and expense incurred in traveling is a concern.

Some apostolates of the Sisters like teaching are time bound, and to insert a Dominican family programme into it is quiet difficult. Most of the apostolates of the Friars are not different either.

What has been done so far as a Family?

1. Family Convention
The Dominican Family Convention is being held biennially, and the last one was in 2006 at Alwaye under the supervision of the Dominican Sisters of the Santa Maria of the Rosary. Participants included representatives from all the entities of the Family, and there were a noticeable number of the Friars. This is a positive sign.
2. The Dominican Novices’ Gathering
The annual gathering of the Dominican novices is faithfully being conducted, and the last one was in Mannarghat in the month of February 2008. It helps the novices to live as brothers and sisters of St. Dominic and enables them to understand the need of working together as Dominicans in the future in preaching the gospel of Christ. Some Congregations do not participate regularly, but by and large, this is the most successful family programme that has survived the test of time.
3. Seminar on Formation for Dominican Formators
At the gathering of the novices in Mannarghat it was decided to organize a seminar for all the Dominican formators in order to understand clearly ‘what is Dominican formation”. However, due to unavoidable circumstances the said seminar, scheduled to be held in September 2008, is postponed to a future date.
4. Dominican Juniors’ gathering
The biennial gathering of the Dominican juniors, last of which was held in Ashok Nagar in 2006, is somewhat satisfactory, and is picking up interest in the brethren.
5. New Chapters of the Dominican Laity
New Chapters of the Dominican Laity were established at Keralapuram, in Kollam, under the supervision of the Dominican Contemplative Nuns; at Palluruthy under the supervision of the Dominican sisters of the Santa Maria of the Rosary; and at Ashoknagar in the care of the Dominican brethren there.. These Chapters are growing in number. The visit of fr. David Kammler, the General Promoter of Dominican Laity, was a boost to the different Chapters of the Laity.

Some Proposals

1. It is suggested that a Core team of Co-ordinators be set up.
a.) A core team, comprising of Friars’ Director of Dominican Family and one each member from each Congregation of Dominican Sisters, is to be set up. The major superiors may come together and help to set up this core team, making sure that the team consists of members who are interested in the job.

b.) It is advisable that its members are not replaced at frequent intervals. This ensures continuity in planning and execution of various activities.

c.) The major superiors should periodically meet to evaluate the functioning of the core team and give further guidelines. A comment heard from many brethren is that the major superiors themselves do not show enough interest in the Family.

d.) It is the duty of the said core team to organize family gatherings, common novitiate programme, common juniorate programme, etc… in close co-ordination with the persons directly in charge of relevant departments.
2. It is suggested that the major superiors should also think of constituting a special fund to meet the various expenses of the Family programmes. Traveling and other expenses incurred in connection with Family gatherings, can be too burdensome for some Congregations. This fund can be the resource for other common programmes of the Family, and also the news letter.
3. It is suggested that all the major superiors must not only be present at the Family gatherings and other common programmes, but also meet separately soon after, to help in the immediate execution of decisions taken. This is especially important because most of the participants/office-bearers at the gatherings are not superiors, and as such, are ‘voiceless’.
4. It is suggested that we work hard to resurrect the Dominicana or the Dominican New Letter (why was the title of the newsletter changed?), even if it involves some expense. It is the additional duty of the Core team members to collect news from their respective congregations and hand over to the Editor at frequent intervals.
5. It is suggested that we initiate Dominican Laity/Youth movements in more places. The Sisters’ Congregations are to be encouraged to do the same. It is to be ensured that such movements are deeply rooted in Dominican Spirituality.

6. It is suggested that the Friars be encouraged to visit the communities of Sisters at least when they are in the town for some other work. Such visits will boost the family spirit. At the same time, we are to understand and accept the fact that the Sisters have various limitations to visit Friars’ communities.

7. It is suggested that the Dominican Friars and Sisters help each other more effectively in providing good vocations.