The Dominican Cooperator Brother: Interview with Br. Ignatius Perkins, OP
November 12, 2014
In 2011 the Master of the Order called on the cooperator brothers throughout the world to meet and discuss their charism, mission, and part in the Order of Preachers. After two years the Dominican Cooperator Brothers Study “Dedicating Ourselves to God, Following Christ to Lead an Evangelical Life in the Order” was completed. The study involved 9 regional meetings throughout the world, meeting with 180 cooperator brothers from 24 of the Order’s Provinces and General Vicariates. Br. Ignatius Perkins, OP, who was appointed to the Core Committee by the Master, offered some reflections and thoughts on the cooperator brother vocation in general and the study in particular. What are Dominican Cooperator Brothers? The vocation of the Dominican Cooperator Brother is an extraordinary treasure of the Church and vitally important in assuring the authentic fulfillment of our Order’s world-wide mission of evangelization as envisioned by our Holy Father, St. Dominic. As men called to embrace Dominican life as non-ordained friars, we are committed, courageous, free, happy and holy. As preachers and evangelists, we freely endure suffering and loss and willingly become vulnerable in the journeys of transformation of ourselves and of others in order to be free to integrate and then to share the Gospel Message of healing and hope with one another in our Dominican communities and then with the whole world. What occasioned this extensive study of the Dominican Cooperator Brothers in the Order? Several reasons brought the recommendation for this world-wide study to the attention of the Master of the Order following the General Chapter of Rome in 2010. Perhaps the most significant reason was centered in the heart of the call for renewal of the whole Order as it prepares for engaging in the work of the New Evangelization. For renewal to be authentic and enduring, it was important to critically assess our fraternal life in community and in mission. Attendant to this central question then moved to the vocation and ministry of cooperator brothers and the vitality of their role in the mission of the Order in the Church which led to these more critical questions: is the vocation of the cooperator brother essential to the Order’s charism; will the disappearance of cooperator brothers in the mission of the Order radically change St. Dominic’s vision for his community of friars called to preach the Gospel; can the Order be sustained without cooperator brothers? These questions then moved to the need to critically examine why vocations have been in steady decline since the 1980’s. In some province cooperator brothers have disappeared altogether. The findings of the study provide clear and convincing evidence that cooperator brothers are a radical and essential element of our Order and not distant from it. The study speaks of the “mystery of the vocation of Dominican Cooperator Brothers.” This is striking. What are some parts of this mystery? The mystery of the vocation is constantly evolving and maturing as God is persistent in calling the Dominican Cooperator Brother, through contemplation, into an intimate union with Him – to come to understand what it means to be consecrated to the Word in the world – to understand what plans God has determined for each of us even before time began. Only with freedom and courage to listen, ask for His help, and accept His plans for us and become vulnerable in the encounter with the Living God will we come to understand how God loves us and that we singularly called to do His work for the Church universal. What might be some of the reasons why vocations to the Dominican Cooperator Brothers are increasing? This is part of the mystery of the vocation; why and when God calls men to the consecrated life. From my own perspective, God calls men to do his work when He needs them. And we are always not aware of His plans for the Order. But I also believe that there must be an openness of the community to understand how religious brothers in the Church and the Order are essential and not peripheral or adjuncts in the mission of the Order. There is an increasing development of interest in men being called to Dominican fraternal life as their first call. Later in the discernment process, men are then called to priesthood and brotherhood. Additionally, opportunities for ministry have greatly expanded thus providing more venues for preaching, teaching, and other apostolic initiatives. The role of Cooperator Brothers in the government of the Order, with voice and vote, has broken down barriers that once discriminated against Cooperator Brothers and, even as full members with Solemn Vows, often were not considered full members in the Order. What are some of your hopes for the vocation of Cooperator Brother? The consecrated life of the Dominican Cooperator Brother is actualized in our vocation by actively living the mission of the community, the Province and the worldwide mission of the Friars of the Order of Preachers. The General Chapter of Bologna (1998) reiterated that the ministry of Cooperator Brothers flows from their dignity as persons, and as Dominicans. The delegates noted the vital importance of our vocation and ministry of the Order when they stated:
Since it is the whole community which preaches, the Order’s mission and community life is weakened in the absence of our Brothers. Proclaiming the good news to people and in places that others cannot reach is the special charism of the Dominican Brother.
Our ministry conjoined with that of our priest-brothers, is the dynamic expression of St. Dominic’s vision. It empowers each of us to enter into the lives of people and travel to places wherever the Holy Preaching is desperately needed among the wounded and broken in our midst and among people and places where our priest-brothers have not yet entered. For further information about the study, contact Br. Ignatius Perkins OP, Chair of the study’s Core Committee at firstname.lastname@example.org or 801 Dominican Drive, Nashville, TN 37228.
Image: Br. Ignatius Perkins, OP