Deceased Friends and Benefactors

September 5, 2012

In the 13th century Fr. Thierry of Auxerre, O.P., recalls a wonderful story while he was prior of the convent at Paris. One day he found himself without any means of providing for the convent and infirmary. They were burdened, moreover, with debt, and the procurator estimated that one hundred pounds (a very large sum in those days) must be raised immediately. As he walked outside the priory, buried in anxious thought, a traveler came to the gate, and said: ‘A nobleman has died lately in Greece after bequeathing you one hundred pounds; take the money and pray for him.’ The gift was very joyfully accepted, and, after thanking God in prayer, the prior met his brethren’s needs with this timely aid. As Executive Director of the Dominican Foundation I find solace in this story!  This is the Gospel poverty, which our Holy Father Dominic wished to be the foundation for preaching in our Order. Even the saints can not accomplish their missions without the help of others. Living on God’s Providence has drawn many friends and benefactors to help us in fulfilling this evangelical mission, either by actually associating themselves with us or through material gifts. Today in one common celebration we remember our deceased friends and benefactors who have been connected with the work of our Order in so many ways. Eight hundred years later, this legacy continues to lay at the heart of every friar throughout the world. Fr. James Sullivan, O.P., offers the following reflection on the importance of this holy day.  “Their names will never be forgotten: Bishop Edward Dominic Fenwick, O.P., Father Nicholas Dominic Young, O.P., and Father John Augustine Hill, O.P. In the early days of the Province of St. Joseph, these men made unique contributions to the establishment of the Province and the apostolate of the Order. Dominicans easily remember their names, and often sing their praises. But what about Jacob Dittoe, Daniel McAllister, and John Shorb? Their names, outside of scholarly circles, are barely remembered. They were not Dominicans, but it is unlikely that the Province would have flourished had it not been for these laymen’s efforts. Jacob Dittoe welcomed the Dominicans to Somerset, Ohio, in 1808. By 1818, he had contributed so generously that the first local Catholic Church was a Dominican-run parish created under the patronage of Saint Joseph. It would be in Somerset that Father Nicholas Dominic Young, O.P., was buried in 1878, after a fruitful life of preaching throughout the region with the town as his home base. Daniel McAllister made it possible for the Order to set up shop in Dungannon, Ohio in 1812. His own home became the operational base of the first parish in all of northeastern Ohio. Bishop Fenwick—known by many as the “Apostle of Ohio”—named the Church Saint Paul. The prelate would visit as often as he could as he made his missionary circuit rides. John Shorb made a home for the Dominicans in Canton, Ohio in 1817. The city’s first Mass was celebrated on his property, in the shade of an oak tree. Shorb’s financial support helped build the Church of Saint John the Baptist. Father John Augustine Hill, O.P., served as pastor there until his untimely death in 1828. Each year, on Sept. 5, the Dominican Friars of the Province of St. Joseph say Mass for their deceased friends and benefactors. On this day, the Dominican community prays for that nobleman, that traveler, and for Jacob Dittoe, Daniel McAllister, and John Shorb. They were our dear benefactors and the greatest gift we can offer them in return is the Mass. What makes this yearly Mass so special is that we are praying for people whom, for the most part, we have never met. But their generosity lives on in our lives and works. That day, the Order and its benefactors are united precisely in the gifts which are offered. For their part, these men and women have offered us their material assistance—that which helps us to avoid being “buried in anxious thought” concerning the things of this world. For our part, we have offered them our spiritual assistance—that which helps them to avoid being “buried in anxious thought” concerning the things of the world to come. Of course, their gift is not a ticket to heaven. Nor is our own offering some kind of escape from the world. The two offerings need each other in order to be sanctified. Our prayers and preaching assure them of God’s blessing, while their material support makes it possible for us to continue praying and preaching. Brother Thierry gave his heartfelt thanks to the Lord for that “timely aid.” We know that he never forgot the generosity of that benefactor. He told the story to inspire each friar who would follow him—to encourage him to pray wholeheartedly for those whose sacrifices made his life as a Dominican possible. We pray for and thank Jacob Dittoe, John Shorb, and Daniel McAllister, as well as their families; we thank you, and pray for you and yours too.”

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