After being accepted by the Prior Provincial, the man goes to the novitiate at St. Gertrude Priory in Cincinnati, Ohio usually the third week of July. He is now considered a postulant. After a brief orientation and a week long retreat, the postulant is clothed in the full habit of our Holy Father Dominic on the founder’s feast day, August 8, and thus begins his canonical year of novitiate. During this intense year of prayer and discernment, the novice is instructed in elements of religious life by the Novice Master and learns how to live as a Dominican friar among brothers.
At the same time, the solemnly professed members of the novitiate community are discerning whether the novice truly has a call to the Dominican religious life. The novitiate year concludes with the profession of simple (temporary) vows, usually made for a period of three years. Only one vow, obedience, is verbally professed. The other two, poverty and chastity, are included under the vow of obedience according to the Constitutions of the Order of Friars Preachers.
What Is The Novitiate?
The novitiate of the Dominican Province of St. Joseph is located at St. Gertrude Priory in Cincinnati, OH. It is the house of formation for the men who have just entered the province and it is a time of continued discernment in preparation for profession of first vows. The novitiate year begins during first vespers of the Feast of our Holy Father St. Dominic when the postulants are vested in the habit of the Dominican friar and ends during the Mass of simple profession a year and a week later.
The novitiate is a time to discover whether one is fitted for the Dominican life – a blend of apostolic ministry and contemplative prayer. The emphasis is on prayer, the common life, and the study of the Constitutions and lives of Dominican men and women, both past and present. It is a time to ask the question: Can I see myself in the future as someone other than a friar preacher? Can I imagine myself doing anything else that brings me as much happiness and fulfillment? It is also a time for the Dominican community to determine the suitability of the man for Dominican life. It is a time of discernment of God’s will.
Definition of the Novitiate
The Dominican Constitutions offer a definition of the Novitiate as “…a time of probation directed to this purpose, namely, that the novices come to know more deeply their divine, and indeed Dominican vocation, experience the Order’s way of life, be formed in the Dominican spirit in mind and heart, and manifest their intention and suitability to the brethren (LCO 177).” These words serve as the foundation of any novitiate in the Order. Coming to knowledge of a religious vocation requires time, silence, prayer and solitude. Our Constitutions and the law of the Church require that a novitiate last at least one year. Silence provides the framework in which the Dominican can pray and study, which must always precede our preaching.
Father Damien Byrne, O.P., the former Master of the Order wrote that vocations are drawn to us by a desire to preach the Gospel and because of a love for study, but even motives as exalted as these need to be tested by the experience of sustained prayer and solitude. And while involvement in the apostolic life of the Order must not be omitted, that is not the primary purpose of the novitiate. More than just a time of probation, the novitiate is a place and it is people. For the past fifteen years the novitiate house for the Province of Saint Joseph has been located at Saint Gertrude Priory in Cincinnati, Ohio. One responsibility assigned to the friars of the house is the pastoral care of a large and vibrant parish; the novices and the Novice Master are part of this community.
Our novice brothers receive their most important formation by actually living the religious life. Classes in the life and traditions of the Order and assigned duties are part of the life but the matters that have primacy in the religious formation of our brothers are our communal celebration of the Eucharist and the Liturgy of the Hours. Each brother becomes familiar with the cycle of the Church’s celebrations by taking an active part in the planning and performance of the Mass and Divine Office. In addition to these, the novices are expected to receive the Sacrament of Penance regularly and to foster a love for Our Lord in the Eucharist and devotion to Our Lady, especially through praying the Rosary. Note that the Novitiate is common for both the cooperator brother and clerical brother candidates.
One day out of the week the brothers engage in some apostolate. Some work in a nursing home assisting the chaplain in his duties, others visit the homebound elderly of the inner city. Others are engaged in a hospital ministry or work with the disabled. Even though the apostolic component of the life is limited by the nature and the purpose of the novitiate, it is nonetheless a component that brings before our mind that the Dominicans are a missionary Order founded for the preaching of the Gospel and the salvation of souls. The fruits of our prayer and study are the treasures that we share with our brothers and sisters.