In this issue of the DomCentralQuarterly magazine, we want to give readers a chance to learn some of the common language of the Dominican Order as a way to better understand its unique organizational structure and governance leading up to the 800th Jubilee (anniversary) in 2016.
In 1216, when St. Dominic de Guzman gathered his band of friars to preach, he decided they would govern themselves through regular meetings, or chapters. In the early years, the Order was small enough that all the communities of brothers could gather together in a General Chapter. But by 1221, the Order had grown to a size that the General Chapters were no longer able to address all the issues from the various parts of the world. That year a decision was made to divide the Order into provinces, or geographic regions. Over the centuries, it became part of The Book of Constitutions and Ordinations that Provincial Chapters would be held every four years to elect leaders and legislate those things necessary to guide the province.
For the 19th Provincial Chapter of the Province of St. Albert the Great, held in St. Louis this summer, each of the Central Province’s six priories sent its elected leader (Prior), as well as a second delegate, while the six remaining houses and brothers living alone created clustered colleges and selected representatives of their own. A student brother was elected to have a voice at the Chapter, but no vote.
Historically, the Prior Provincial governs the province and also sits on the Provincial Council, which is made up of representative brothers. As soon as the Chapter convenes, the Prior Provincial leaves office so the Chapter can elect or re-elect its leadership for the next four years. Because of its importance, the Dominican Order’s Constitutions require that there be days of prayer and discussion before any voting takes place. Elections cannot take place before the fourth day of a Chapter and must be completed by the eighth day. Any delegate can propose the name of a friar to be considered for all the offices that have become vacant. No friar can vote for himself. Our leaders are always under our Constitutions in a similar way that the United States President and elected officials must obey the nation’s Constitution.
The 18 delegates (the Student Peritus cannot vote) elect or re-elect the Prior Provincial and then select four diffinitors, who will ultimately finalize the Acts of the Chapter—the document containing the recommendations, ordinations, and commendations decided during the proceedings.
The Province of St. Albert the Great (Central Province, USA) is generally governed by 10 Provincial Council members. By virtue of their office, the Council includes the Prior Provincial, the Socius (“associate” or “companion” of the Prior Provincial), and the Regent of Studies (overseer of brothers enrolled in formal studies). The Chapter elects three councilors to join the four diffinitors, rounding out the new Provincial Council. The Chapter also elects a delegate to represent the Central Province at the General Chapter (in 2016), at which the worldwide Order continues to meet on its own three-year schedule.
Each Chapter also appoints members of the province to various Boards and Commissions. All are given a term of office and a mandate to do a particular task. In addition, some friars belong to the Admissions Board and they give their vote on men applying to enter the province. Others will be appointed to promote study among the members. These groups are under the oversight of the Provincial and Council during their term of office.
This year, the delegates formed four commissions to address the issues that face the province: Evangelization, Intellectual Life, Leadership, and Mendicancy. After all the work is completed the “Acts of the Chapter” are sent to the Master of the Order who with his Council will give approval or correct their actions so that the unity of the universal Order is maintained.
Similar to our American political system, the goal of a Provincial Chapter is to seek the common good of the province. This means that all decisions should promote the preaching for the salvation of souls for which the Order was founded. Policies, projects, budgets and appointments are all means to improve the preaching of the gospel. In particular, for the Central Province it challenges us to help people come alive with the spirit of Christ in their daily lives. All who are elected are merely servants of the Word of God.
Q: What is a Prior Provincial?
A: The Prior Provincial is the major superior of the province. In the four years he serves, he is obligated to stimulate and coordinate life and the apostolate of the Order, to promote study, and to visit the priories throughout the province.
Q: What is a Priory?
A: A Priory is a house containing more than six Friars, while a house is made up of six or fewer.
Q: What are the Acts of the Chapter?
A: This is the document containing the recommendations, ordinations, and commendations decided during the proceedings.
The goal of a Provincial Chapter is to seek the common good of the province. This means that all decisions should promote the preaching for the salvation of souls for which the Order was founded.