What is a Lay Dominican? Many of us are asked this question when people see us wearing a white scapular or pin of the Dominican shield or cross. To quote one of the members of our Chapter, “It isn’t a social club or bible study. People come here to discern joining a religious order.” Then comes the next question, “If you want to join a religious order, why don’t you become a priest (or brother, monk, nun, or sister)? Answering that question is a little more complicated. However, people who discern joining the Dominican Laity are not called to religious life. Rather, we have been called to live the life of Dominican Spirituality in our secular lives. As our welcome to you stated, we come from all walks of life and backgrounds. We belong to our parish and we live in the world. We answer Christ’s call to ongoing renewal and conversion by living our Catholic lives in the spirit of how St. Dominic lived. We have suffrages that we are obligated to perform, we meet regularly, study, pray, and serve the Lord in a multitude of ways. In the ways we serve the Lord, we call this preaching. Lectoring, leading a bible study, feeding the hungry, speaking out for the unborn, the unloved, the unknown and being the head of our families are all ways of preaching. There are enough examples of how to preach to fill volumes. Living out Dominican spirituality allows us to be better preachers and more importantly, faithful Christians.
Lay Dominicans are also governed by the Fundamental Constitution of the Dominican Laity, and our provinces provide a General Directory and Statutes. According to the Fundamental Constitution of the Dominican Laity, sec. 4, “They have a distinctive character in both their spirituality and their service to God and neighbor. As members of the Order, they share in its apostolic mission through prayer, study and preaching according to the state of the laity.”
Lay Dominicans come from every background, joining the Dominican charism to their state of life in the world. In this unique Dominican way, they live out their special vocation “to seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and directing them according to God’s will.”Lumen Gentium 31
The Family of St. Dominic is large. There are 5,742 Dominican friars, including 4,302 priests. There are 25,000 sisters and nearly 3000 nuns. There is no general registry of Lay Dominicans. These are managed and governed by Province, area and chapter.
The best way to introduce you to the Dominican Family is to introduce you to us; to show you who we are, what we do, and how we live the spirit of St. Dominic in our lives. Considering this, I could not think of any individual better to introduce you to than Silvia T. She is the newest perpetually promised Lay Dominican in our Chapter. I had the privilege of attending Silvia’s Rite in October of 2018. It made a lasting impression on me to see the joy emanating from her.
I met Silvia at the first general meeting I attended in 2015. She has a joy that naturally fills a room. I was impressed by an inner peace that she exuded and was generously welcomed by her with an enormous hug. I later had the opportunity to sit with Silvia as I was discerning to move from inquiry to candidacy. She mentored me in a very special way…by sharing of herself humbly. She was a bit flummoxed when I asked her to sit with me and chat again. After a bit of prayer, she agreed to a conversation. I’ve outlined it here and hope that her example of how she lives out her vocation as a Lay Dominican will help you in your discernment of vocation and Christian life.
RJ: Well…here we are…
ST: Laughs. Yea, what are we doing again?
RJ: I don’t know. Let’s just talk and see what happens. I’ve been scouring the internet looking at different Dominican websites. They are all beautiful and have a lot of historical content, information about our Order, the Saints, the pillars of Dominican spirituality and more. I think that is great. Somehow though, I want people who come to our website to encounter us. I want to show what it means to be a Lay Dominican and a member of our religious order.
ST: laughs again And you want to start with me? Why on earth…
RJ: interrupts Yes. I have never seen a more joyous occasion then when you made your perpetual promises to live by the spirituality of St. Dominic.
ST: It was. I spent 5 years as a temporarily promised Lay Dominican. The Rite of Perpetual Promise was one of the happiest days ever. I am very grateful to our Lord for leading me to the Dominican Laity.
RJ: I always like to ask the question if someone is a cradle, convert, or reverted Catholic. It seems like when I asked you that question when we sat down a couple of years ago, you said something along the lines of “I am being continuously converted.” Is that correct?
ST: Yes, it is. The Lord has always been patient and loving with me. There are things that He led me to that impacted me years later in ways I would not have anticipated. I experienced renewal during a Marriage Encounter weekend. I like to call myself a retreat junkie. (laughs) It wasn’t always like that. I used to be scared that I wasn’t worthy, and I was quite pushy as a person. The Lord, however, was calling me to a life of obedience. The retreats helped with all of that. I learned that I was worthy. That the Lord, was calling me…ME, to serve Him, with the gifts that He gave me. In order to better use those gifts, I had to seek His will, and be willing to be patient.
I remember I was working in San Antonio, and I was up for a possible promotion. A coworker was also a candidate for this. We both had to give a presentation in order to be considered for the promotion. She had been given materials and an outline, I was not. I was going to have to wing it. I was very nervous and worried that I wasn’t worthy of this promotion. Prior to giving our presentations I offered to pray with my coworker, she was nervous too. She declined saying she didn’t want to. I persisted and said let’s just say the Lord’s Prayer together. She still wouldn’t. I prayed alone and just asked God for the gift to be able to speak. My coworker stumbled a lot during her presentation. My presentation showed them my potential. Not only was she offered the promotion; but, I was too! I had done a good job and though I wasn’t considered an optimal candidate at the beginning, I got the promotion. It was the Lord’s help that got me that promotion. It also prepared me later for preaching! That was more than a decade before I encountered the Order of Preachers of St. Dominic. God is so patient.
RJ: Amen to that. You mentioned you are a retreat junkie?
ST: Oh, yes. I attended the Marriage Encounter weekend and that led to another type of retreat that I was able to not only attend but help facilitate. It is called Christ Renews His Parish (CRHP). That also led me to ACTS retreats and others as well. It eventually led me to the idea of joining a lay order.
RJ: Have you discerned with other religious orders?
ST: Yes, I discerned with the Carmelites for a while. Their spirituality is beautiful and it focuses a lot on contemplation. I didn’t feel called to the Carmelite Spirituality though. There were Lay Dominicans in my parish in Atlanta that invited me to come and see. I should have known that this would have been a good fit. My confirmation saint is Catherine of Siena. I also claim St. Thomas Aquinas as one of my patron saints. Hindsight is always 20/20. There was an immediate feeling of peace when I encountered the Lay Dominicans in Atlanta. I knew I was at home. I am so grateful to the Lord for loving me and calling me to live the spirituality of St. Dominic. It isn’t always easy. Serving the Lord is rewarding though.
RJ: So, let me back track a little bit. You attended CRHP in 2007. You are almost 70. Most of the time, when someone is approaching 60 they know what they want to be when they grow up….
ST: loudest laughing known to man. Yea, I’m a little slow. But that is ok. Roy, I was always so afraid. I masked it by always having to be right. The Lord slowly removed that from me. The retreats helped. When I first talked at a retreat, I was so afraid that I wouldn’t have anything in common with people. I was a short Hispanic from the barrio in San Antonio. How would all these white women relate to me? (laughs). I was in adoration, shaking and crying. I prayed again for the Lord to give me the gift to speak. And you know, what- He did! The relationships that I made with those women was important. When I was sick I had a community of friends, sisters we call each other, to help take care of me. When I had cancer, they removed my kidney. These women helped me in every way imaginable. One of those white ladies came and cleaned out my cabinets. It was humbling for me. I knew she was very successful. Heck… She had a walk-in refrigerator. Yet here she was, cleaning my cabinets. God is so good, Roy. I am so grateful for Him.
RJ: You mentioned that you had cancer…
ST: I have cancer now. I had a kidney removed about 12 years ago. Later I had a lumpectomy because I had breast cancer. I had my adrenal gland removed a few years later because it was cancerous. These were all different types of cancer. None were related to each other. My breast cancer returned, and I had to have my right breast removed. Soon after, I learned that the cancer I had, had spread to the bone. I take medicine now to keep the cancer from spreading. It works but has side effects. We don’t know how long it will work for, but I am happy that it works today.
RJ: I am not sure I could muster a tenth of the gratitude and joy you have, if I had cancer five times.
ST: The bouts of cancer have taught me to always to trust in the Lord. My life is in His hands. I am here because there are things, he still wants me to do. I am still called to live my faith. The cancer doesn’t allow me an excuse to stop. I have cancer, and you know what? God still calls me to step outside my comfort zone. He leads me in His own gentle way to do the things that He wills.
RJ: I know your mobility is a bit more limited, and you use a scooter to get around. Can you share a little bit about how you live out Dominican spirituality now?
ST: My children don’t currently practice our faith. I don’t preach at them. I don’t stop being Catholic though. When my kids were younger, we would go to a Posada at Christmas. My daughter expressed interest in going this last year and she took my granddaughter. I must remember to be patient. I like to be pushy, remember. I must trust the Lord and be obedient that His will shall be worked in the lives of my children and grandchildren. I gave my daughter a crucifix. She asked why, and I told her that she knows what the crucifix is and what it means. I heard her explain it to my granddaughter. I pray for them every day.
RJ: You mentioned that your praying for the gift to be able to speak is connected to your preaching today and Dominican Spirituality…
ST: Yes! Here in our retirement community, I help deliver communion to those who cannot get out. We also have a spirituality group that meets once a month. I lead that group. There is always a topic for discussion. We also pray with the Gospel reading for the following Sunday. I often go to The Preacher Exchange and use Fr. Jude Siciliano’s First Impressions as a guide to the discussion.
Our group also put together a food drive for Lent. We donated food to the N. Texas area Food Bank. We were so successful that the management for our retirement community was shocked that we filled the space to overflowing for the food drive. We had to end it early because we ran out of space!
I continually focus on what the Lord is calling me to do. That is my focus every day.
RJ: I think that your actions and how you live the Spirit of St. Dominic is a powerful witness to the power of God in your life. What do you want to do next?
ST: Even though my mobility is limited some. I would still love to go on 1 last pilgrimage to Rome. It is the getting there that is difficult. The long plane rides are not good for me.
I would also like to see my children come back to the faith. I love them so much. To see them embrace our faith, would bring me great joy. I want them to know the faith and know what it has done for me, and what being a lay Dominican has done for me. I must let go and let God handle the details of that. The Lord has been so merciful, kind, patient and gentle with me. I also believe that He is with my children as well. I think that is what St. Faustina meant when she said, “Jesus, I trust in You!”
RJ: One last question/comment. You talk about gratitude a lot. What are you grateful for?
ST: I am grateful that the Lord has heard my prayers and blessed me with gifts that I get to share with others. I am grateful for St. Dominic, Dominican Spirituality, and the Order that welcomes the laity to a place within the Order. I am grateful for the life affirming purpose that He has given me to preach the Good News.