One of the church’s oldest religious orders, the Dominican Order of Preachers, now has a lay component in New Zealand.
This year a group of lay devotees to the way of St Dominic and closely linked with the sisters and the friars has set up a network. Its main activity is to produce a regular newsletter offering some Dominican reflection with a lay tinge, and to keep people aware of what is happening.
One of the new movement’s leaders, Mike Kelly, gives some background.
I’ve always been the sort of person who needs to understand, when it comes to matters of religion. I can’t just sit and absorb passively. So I like to listen and learn, and my faith has changed and grown over time. And I’ve also always been outraged about situations where people are treated unjustly or oppressed. So learning, talking and acting on a whole lot of things naturally led me to the Dominicans.
What appealed to me about the Dominican way was the Four Pillars. They seemed to fit my spiritual niche—prayer, study, community, mission – I think they came naturally, in the places I was looking.
A Dominican friar once talked about a stool: on two legs it won’t even stand; on three it can get wobbly; but on four legs it is balanced and steady. That’s the four pillars.
The Dominicans have been in New Zealand for a long time. There must be thousands of New Zealanders who were taught by Dominican sisters, mainly in the South Island and in Auckland.
Friars have had a lengthy association with education, and with parish work. So many people have been touched by the warmth of St Dominic and St Catherine of Siena.
I like the story of how Dominic got going. 800 years ago most ordained men lived in some kind of monastery and seldom became involved in the world.
Dominic loved the contemplative life, but he also saw the need to get out and live among the people. He believed that God was found not just in the quiet of the monastery but also in the hustle and bustle of everyday life.
This faith took him and his companions out into the inns and marketplaces, the universities and workplaces.
This is where those four pillars began because Dominic led a community of people who lived a life of prayer, who studied and thought about God and the world God had made and who engaged with that world to find God there.
This makes good sense to me!
The friars and the sisters have been active in New Zealand over many years, developing a range of spiritual activities. They have run summer schools, invited inspiring people from overseas to visit, organised a preaching team, and conducted retreats and many lay people have become part of these initiatives. But, until recently, there has been no specifically lay Dominican connection.
In some parts of New Zealand there are groups that meet occasionally for prayer and reflection. In Dunedin a group including all parts of the Dominican family—a friar, sisters and lay people—have set up a house of contemplation and are beginning to live in community. For other people, just keeping in occasional touch, at a summer school or around the feast of St Dominic, is as much as they can manage.
There are many different ways of holding the torch of Dominic. But the group that chose to identify the lay Dominican network had in mind these things:
To contribute to the ongoing life of the Dominican charism in Aotearoa New Zealand;
To create spaces where we can respond and enable others to respond to the signs of the times;
To live and promote the four pillars of Dominican life: prayer, study, community, and preaching;
To promote a theology based on finding God in the world around us—an incarnational theology;
To recognise and promote the sense of belonging to the Dominican family;
To affirm and support the prophetic voices and actions;
To be part of the Dominican prophetic voice within our church and society.
If this is a spiritual path that seems to suit you, you are welcome to join the network.
We can let you know if there are gatherings from time to time near you and you can receive the newsletter every second month. Contact Mike Kelly, network coordinator ph (06) 370 2084 or firstname.lastname@example.org, mail to PO Box 346, Masterton 5840.