What are the steps to becoming a cooperator brother?
The steps to becoming a Dominican friar, whether cooperator or cleric, differ depending on the province that you are interacting with. The basic steps I am about to outline are based on my impressions of the process for my own province--St. Albert the Great, Central Province of the USA. These steps are generic, however, and the province vocation office certainly recognizes the uniqueness of each person in discernment.
Some basic prerequisites:
To be a Dominican cooperator brother, one has to be a relatively young man (18-40 years old), in good mental and physical health. The applicant would need both a high school diploma and college degree (or working toward completing the degree before entering the novitiate). He would need to have already been living a faithful Catholic life, and although he may have been dating before applying to the community, he needs to have been living a chaste life.
Contacting the Friars:
An important part of the discernment and application process is interacting with the friars. After all, you can read all the books you want about Dominican history and tradition, but a vocation is not lived in books. The only way you can know if the Order of Preachers is a community that you can commit your whole life to is if you go and meet the friars. Generally, Dominicans friars have many commonalities, but different provinces have different personalities. If you visit friars from one province and are put-off for whatever reason, visit the friars from a different province.
A good way to meet friars and to learn about the order is to attend a Come and See vocation discernment weekend. St. Albert's Province hosts two such weekends, usually in October and February, both in St. Louis, MO where the students of the Central and Southern Provinces study theology and philosophy. The weekend gives the visitor information about the history of the Dominican Order, a sense of its four pillars (prayer, study, community, and ministry), a taste of its foundation (preaching) and spirituality, and an impression of the friars of the province to which he is investigating. Some people attend more than one Come and See, just to get a better sense of the order and the province.
Applicants for my province will likely visit two or three key priories (Dominican communities): The novitiate in Denver, CO (where the first year of Dominican life is lived), the studentate in St. Louis (where he would do his theological studies), and the provincial headquarters in Chicago, IL (the seat of government for the province and the location of the vocation office, as well as the home of several of the friars on limited serve).
As the map above shows, St. Albert the Great Province encompasses the large midsection of the United States. There are communities in Albuquerque, NM; Bloomington and West Lafayette, IN; Chicago, River Forest, and Oak Park, IL; St. Louis and Columbia, MO; Denver, CO; Madison, WI; and Minneapolis, MN. (The province also has ties to its mission communities in Bolivia, and former mission communities in Nigeria.) If you live in a city that has a Dominican community and/or parish, feel free to contact that community to learn about opportunities to visit with them.
Speaking with the Vocation Director:
Often, one of the first Dominicans that a man in discernment speaks to, and rightly so, is the vocation director for the province. It is the vocation director's ministry to walk with those discerning, and help them learn more about the Order of Preachers by providing reading materials and helping arrange visits to Dominican communities. It is also his ministry to discern whether the young applicant is a good fit for the province. Speaking and working with the vocation director is imperative in the application process. It is important to be open and honest with him.
If the man in discernment receives an application, he will need to tell the friars on the admissions board a lot about himself by providing them with 1) a spiritual autobiography (an essay/reflection about his spiritual and religious life), 2) academic transcripts, 3) physical and psychological reports from doctors, and 4) letters of recommendation. He will then report for an interview with the admissions board in Chicago. Be not afraid! This process is much less arduous than it sounds, and the vocation director is there to help you every step of the way (not to mention the Holy Spirit).
Acceptance and Formation:
Once accepted as a candidate for the novitiate, the candidate's formation as a cooperator brother continues in the context of community, directed by the novice master, then the student master. With them and with the prior provincial, the cooperator brother in formation discerns his gifts, and how they might best be used for the province, order, and Church. As I have said elsewhere, bring the gifts and skills, and God will put them to good use. We have cooperator brothers who are or have been involved in various ministries,--teaching (high school and college level), preaching, nursing, campus ministry, chaplaincy, religious education, provincial administration, mission work, and parish ministry.
Contact our vocation director:
Fr. Andrew-Carl Wisdom, OP
You may also contact me, Br. Paul, OP, at: firstname.lastname@example.org for questions.