Dear SVS Family,
Thank you for the thoughtful notes and cards on the passing of my father. The responses to my last letter were some of the most I had ever received. I shared them with my mother, who was touched by the beautiful expressions of comfort and faith. She said, “Now I know why you call them your SVS “family” and “parishioners at large.”
I had a chance to see my mother again for a couple of days earlier this month. I was back in Chicago from Denver to attend our three-day provincial assembly. Our relatively new vocation director, Fr. Jude McPeak, O.P., gave a comprehensive, well-received presentation updating all of us on what is going on with vocations these days. Let me share some of the more salient points. They offer a window into not only what attracts and sustains a young man to a religious vocation today, but specifically to Dominican life, as well as the practical aspects of screening candidates to the Order.
Fr. Jude shared he receives 4-10 vocation inquiries by e-mail/online each month. These requests have brought the names in our vocation database to 175. Of those, approximately 60 remain active and in touch. At this point, Fr. Jude reported, there are 15 men seriously discerning religious life as a Dominican and are eligible to apply within the next 4 years.
Specifics on recent applications to the Order offer insight into how some candidates move forward and why some do not. Fr. Jude said of the 13 applications he has recently given to interested candidates:
- 3 were discontinued following confidential psychological screening
- 1 voluntarily withdrew his application
- 1 was declined by the admissions board
- 3 were asked to apply again in the future after further growth and maturity
- 5 were accepted
These are good reminders of the importance of a screening process in religious life. Ours asks a candidate to complete ten separate sections, including the Recommendations Section. Candidates are asked to provide 8 independent recommendations from those who have had specific roles in their life, such as parents, a co-worker, pastor, friend, most recent supervisor or a boss. A national organization which studies religious orders, documenting their screening processes, told me in an affirming way, “The Dominican Order is the only one that asks for that many recommendations.” One applicant to the Order, reviewing all we require just to apply, remarked to me in passing: “This is worse than applying to Harvard.” I took it as a compliment!
Explaining what draws people to religious life, Fr. Jude cited a study last year by CARA (Center for Applied Research into the Apostolate) entitled, Emerging U.S. Communities of Consecrated Life Since Vatican II. (Washington DC: Georgetown University, 2017). It reveals which religious orders endure and why. We have been around for over 800 years, so we were outside of their study!
Since 1965, interestingly, 205 religious communities have been founded in the US and officially sponsored by the Church. Of these, 159 remain and only 43 are growing. The study examined the data and concluded five factors contributed to a community’s growth or decline:
- The importance of a community lifestyle within religious orders
- Practicing, and teaching others to practice, contemplative prayer forms such as Eucharistic Adoration, retreats, parish missions, and prayer groups
- The increased importance of evangelization and catechesis
- The increasing importance of apostolates among youth, young adults and the poor
- The attractiveness of particular models of religious life, such as wearing a religious habit, expressing fidelity to the Church, and a communal prayer life
In addition to this list, Fr. Jude found most of the men he talked to are specifically drawn to Dominican life because we offer:
- continuing intellectual development, a prominent feature of our religious life
- emphasis on effective preaching of the Gospel, especially itinerant preaching
- classical liturgy, daily Mass, and daily singing of the Divine Office
- Marian devotion, a pronounced aspect of our life
I think you’d agree Fr. Jude’s presentation is fascinating to say the least! It provides a present-day snapshot into the mind of the candidate and the ongoing promotion and evaluation of these candidates by the Order.
None of this is possible without you and your years of faithful support. Please continue to help us help the Church and the province by fertilizing the Church with new blood for the never-ending mission Jesus gave us: “Go out to all nations and preach the Good News in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.”
In the spirit of St. Dominic,
Fr. Andrew Carl Wisdom, O.P.
Director the Society for Vocational Support &
Vicar for Mission Advancement