By: Br. Ed van Merrienboer, O.P.
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, 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 our Constitutions that Provincial Chapters would be held every four years to elect leaders and legislate those things necessary to guide the province.
The 19th Provincial Chapter of the Province of St. Albert the Great began Thursday June 11 in St. Louis. Each of the Central Province’s six priories sends its elected leader (Prior), as well as a second delegate, while the six remaining houses and friars living alone create clustered colleges and select representatives of their own.
The Prior Provincial governs the province and sits on the Provincial Council, made up of representative friars. Shortly after 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. 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 Constitution 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 comprised of 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 also elects three councilors, who join the four diffinitors and three ex-officio members to form 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.
This year, 19 delegates formed five commissions to address the issues that face the province: Evangelization, Government, Intellectual Life, Leadership, and Mendicancy. Another task for a Chapter is to appoint 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 are to 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. 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.
19th Provincial Chapter Delegates
Blessed Sacrament Priory (Madison, WI)
St. Albert the Great Priory (Minneapolis, MN)
St. Pius V Priory (Chicago, IL)
St. Vincent Ferrer Priory (River Forest, IL)
St. Dominic Priory (Denver, CO)
St. Dominic Priory (St. Louis, MO)