Building and Sustaining Community
By Richard Peddicord, O.P.
Every religious order is marked by a unique charism, a defining grace, a particular mission. At the same time, in light of that charism, each founder of a religious order discovers a distinctive way to be his or her community’s leader. In this post, I will explore the way that St. Dominic led the Order of Preachers as its founder, and will offer a reflection on the uniqueness of Dominican leadership. In this, offering one’s gifts for the common good, respect for subsidiarity, and collaboration will take center stage. Ultimately, the goal of Dominican leadership will be revealed as the building and sustaining of community.
Traveling through the South of France in the early 1200s, Dominic encountered people deeply affected by the Albigensian heresy. His intuition told him that the best way to help the Church counter this divisive and harmful movement was to engage a community dedicated to preaching the truth of the gospel. This community would be an “Order of Preachers” and its members would live by the pillars of prayer, study, community, and preaching. The friars would “practice what they preach” and give to others the fruit of their contemplation. Dominic believed that the witness of his community’s life and the grace-filled reality of its preaching would win people to the truth.
Dominic had long recognized that he had been given the gratia praedicationis—the grace of preaching. He put this gift of his at the service of the common good and took on the project of establishing a religious order. In this, he left behind his native Castile and his former way of life as a canon regular attached to the Cathedral of Osma.
Dominic’s first challenge was to articulate his vision and to persuade others to join with him in the task of preaching the gospel. Of course, the radical freedom of those he addressed had to be respected; there could be no coercion, no trickery. Fr. Simon Tugwell, a member of the English Dominican Province, in his poem “Homage to a Saint,” writes this about St. Dominic’s style as leader:
He founded an Order, men say.
Say rather: friended.
He was their friend, and so
At last, in spite of themselves, they came.
He gave them an Order to found.
Writing several decades before the appearance of Facebook, Fr. Tugwell says that Dominic “friended” the Order rather than “founded” the Order. Dominic built relationships of trust and intimacy. He was a man who was inclusive, who welcomed others with open arms. He shared his vision in a way that helped others see that their gifts and talents would be respected and honored and put to use in a positive way in the Order.