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(A Personal Message from Fr. Benedict Croell OP, Director of Vocations)
After you have gathered sufficient information about the Dominican Order and the Province of St. Joseph (such as attending a Vocation Weekend or visiting another house or priory), that is, enough to begin thinking seriously about applying to enter the novitiate, you must indicate to the Director of Vocations that you wish to become an “aspirant” – one who “aspires” to join the Order.
Any young man eager to join the Order and get on with his life’s vocation quite naturally desires to make the process unfold as quickly as possible. A sufficient period of aspirancy helps to ensure that haste does not make waste. A hasty entrance into a religious order could lead to a hasty exit.
Pope John Paul II taught in his Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Pastores Dabo Vobis (PDV) that 4 aspects of a young man must be developed simultaneously in any program of priestly formation. The four areas needing development are: the human, the spiritual, the intellectual and the pastoral. PDV no, 43 states: “The whole work of priestly formation would be deprived of its necessary foundation if it lacked a suitable human formation.” In other words, the lack of a suitable human formation will hinder spiritual, intellectual and pastoral development. The document goes on to expound what a suitable human formation is.
Even though PDV is addressing the formation of future priests, these four areas of development can be applied fruitfully to formation in a religious order. During aspirancy the aspirant works with the Director of Vocations and his Dominican mentor to explore where he stands in relation to his own human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral development. If an aspirant is to apply to the Order, there will need to be signs that these four areas of development are initially underway – even though it belongs to the Province’s program of formation to bring them to mature development.
Put simply, aspirancy assists you and us to determine if you have, more or less, the “right stuff” to become a Dominican preacher. Aspirancy is a new step of commitment which invites you to consider even more seriously just what the shift from your current way of life into the life of a consecrated religious will entail and whether this is truly a realistic option for you. Typically, if he hasn’t done so already, during aspirancy a man begins to share his desire to enter the Order of Preachers with those closest to him (family, relatives, friends, etc.).
The length of aspirancy depends on where an aspirant is in his discernment. Its duration is up to the discretion of the Director of Vocations in consultation with the aspirant, his Dominican mentor and anyone else the Director wishes to consult. A typical period of aspirancy is a year. Some men need more time than that and some need less. For instance, a freshman in college who hopes to enter the Order upon graduation would need to be an aspirant for at least four years. A senior in college or a young professional working may need only a few months.
The Bottom Line
As soon as the aspirant believes that God could be calling him to enter the next novitiate class, he should contact the Director of Vocations for the application interview which must be done in person. The final goal of aspirancy is that you and the Director of Vocations observe sufficient evidence to show that an application is a realistic option for which you are well-suited and truly ready.
Some Further Details of Aspirancy
If distance is no problem, an aspirant is assigned a Dominican friar who will act as a mentor for him in his discernment of a Dominican vocation. Where possible, this mentor is chosen from the Dominican community which is closest to where the aspirant lives. The aspirant stays in touch with this Dominican friar on a regular basis (i.e. every 5 to 6 weeks by telephone, Email or in person). If it seems appropriate to the aspirant and the Director of Vocations, this Dominican mentor might also act as a spiritual director and/or confessor for the aspirant. From time to time, the mentor will invite the candidate to join the rest of the Dominican community for prayer and a meal or perhaps even an overnight stay. Overnight stays are always coordinated through the Director of Vocations. Throughout the entire period of aspirancy, the aspirant is responsible for maintaining contact with the Director of Vocations.
We generally ask that a man wishing to become an aspirant indicate his interest by October 15 of the year prior to the summer he hopes to enter the novitiate. Since the deadline for giving out applications is April 15, this gives the man roughly 6 months in the aspirancy phase before applying. Exceptions to the October date can always be made depending on the man’s circumstances. The decision to become an aspirant is one’s initial commitment to focus discernment upon the Dominicans of the Province of St. Joseph before actually applying. As long as a man has intentions of investigating other religious communities, provinces of Dominicans or dioceses, he isn’t ready to become an aspirant in the Province of St. Joseph.
*** As soon as the aspirant believes that God could be calling him to enter the next novitiate class, he should contact the Director of Vocations for the application interview, which must be done in person.
If there are no impediments, and it seems prudent to do so, the Director of Vocations may supply the application. Application will involve the following: writing an autobiography, obtaining sacramental documents, college transcripts, a medical, eyes and dental examination, letters of reference, a criminal background check, a social media background check, a psychological evaluation, interviews with the Vocation Council and financial records.
At any time during aspirancy or application, the Director of Vocations may choose to consult with the aspirant’s Dominican mentor for his opinion and advice. Once all the steps of the application are completed, the aspirant’s petition is voted on by the Vocation Council who then passes along the result to the Prior Provincial. Acceptance by the Prior Provincial admits an aspirant to the novitiate.
Applications for the next novitiate class are generally not given out after April 15 each year.
Next: The Novitiate